Labour goes even further left

February 1st, 2016 at 7:04 am by David Farrar

Labour’s announcement of three years “free” tertiary education is a remarkable lunge to the left. They’ve adopted what was a fringe Alliance Party policy.

Its what you get from a party whose leader, finance spokesperson and education spokesperson are all former student presidents. They’re spent so many years chanting “free” education on protest marches, they’re never outgrown it.

This is a very very bad policy. Not a moderately bad policy, but a really really bad policy. This is for numerous reasons.


Labour say once fully implemented it will cost $1.2 billion a year. It will in fact cost far more than this. Labour never ever properly take into account growth in demand if you make something “free”. If you make houses free, everyone will buy a house. Make alcohol free almost everyone will buy alcohol. Make tertiary education “free”, and of course you will get a huge explosion in people enrolling. They may not complete a course, but they will enrol.


Labour’s policy will be great for tertiary providers. All they have to do is get you to sign a piece of paper and the Government will give them $15,000 or so. Even under the current funding system we’ve seen a reasonable number of rorts where providers hire people to go around hamburger bars and sign people up for a low quality (but zero fee) course, so they get the funding for it.

Providers respond to incentives.  They will spend a huge amount of money on signing people up, and people will sign up with little regard for quality or usefulness – as they are not paying anything themselves. When someone offers you something for free you care far less about the quality than if you have to partially pay for it yourself.

Helps the most wealthy

People who get a degree will on average over their life-time earn at least $500,000 more income. This policy will see people who don’t go to university paying higher taxes to fund those who do go to university. Truck drivers will pay more in tax so that lawyers get $15,000 free money from the Government.

It is not unreasonable that in exchange for extra income of $500,000+, students contribute towards the cost of tertiary courses they undertake.

Not targeted

If there is an issue with wanting more people to do tertiary student, who are put off by having to get a loan, then you could target assistance based on income. This doesn’t. This is just a huge bribe.

Opportunity Cost

Almost every study in education shows that the most critical period is early childhood. If you went to 100 experts in education and said we have $1.5 billion a year to spend – where should we spend it to make the most difference to educational outcomes, no one would say spend it all on tertiary – let alone on a policy that will lower quality of education, not improve it.

So in summary it will:

  • Cost massively more than $1.2 billion a year
  • Incentivise lower quality courses
  • Help the most wealthy
  • Is not targeted to those most needing assistance
  • Has a huge opportunity cost

Tertiary fraud

November 16th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

A little over a year ago we learned a tertiary education provider, Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, had given the players and staff of the New Zealand Warriors league club an 18-week tourism course in one day. An investigation into such funding irregularities resulted in the institution returning $5.9 million to the Tertiary Education Commission.

Since then, investigations into six tertiary institutions, from Southland to the Bay of Plenty, have identified more than $25 million in misappropriation. One of them, we reported this week, has been stripped of its registration.

Why is this happening on such a scale? And how is it that only one of these places has been deregistered? On the face of it, this is fraud with public funds.

This is a reasonable question. If the only sanction for shall we say creative accounting is that you have to pay the money back, then these issues are likely to continue.However if the sanction is deregistration, then tertiary providers should be far more cautious.

It is well past time that when found out, these places face much greater penalties than merely handing back the money if they can. The Serious Fraud Office needs to make an example of someone. A salutary prosecution could wake up the sector to take its social responsibility seriously. It needs to ensure no course is a waste of money and everyone’s time.

If we prosecute people for stealing $1,000 from the Government, shouldn’t we do it if they steal $25 million?

How about less fast food and more toilet paper?

September 27th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Manawatu Standard continues with its advocacy for NZUSA with unchallenged students starving stories. The latest:

Using fast food wrappers as toilet paper and cutting fresh food from their diets are some of the desperate measures Manawatu students facing “financial distress” have resorted to.

A meal from McDonalds costs around $10. For that you can get 24 rolls of toilet paper. Seems an obvious solution. Less fast food, and then you can afford toilet paper.

New Zealand spends one of the highest proportions of tertiary funding on student support in the OECD. Our student support scheme is arguably one of the most generous in the world, due to interest free student loans. We spend 47% of our tertiary education budget on student support, compared to an OECD average of 22% or so. This is the second highest in the OECD.

If students need a higher level of income while poor and studying – I’m for that – so long as when they are earning good incomes they pay back the cost of the student loans, which includes the interest. So if we stick interest back on student loans (which won’t cost students anything while they are studying), then we can afford to give them more support while studying.

But what NZUSA wants is truck drivers to pay more in taxes, so doctors and lawyers get more income overall from taxpayers.


Jones against international students

March 8th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland University is in danger of slipping from a “storehouse of knowledge to a foreign warehouse” because it is increasingly catering for international students from Asia at the potential expense of New Zealanders, says Labour MP Shane Jones.

Mr Jones said the focus on increasing fee-paying students from China, India and other Asian counties was turning universities “into institutions designed to educate international populations rather than ourselves”.

Mr Jones, a graduate of Harvard in the US, initially made the comments at a political debate at Auckland University on Thursday night. One of those at the debate contacted the Weekend Herald to say there were calls of “racist” after his comments.

Mr Jones said he had not heard the “racist” comment but somebody told him that it was called out.

“If someone did say that, that would bother me not one iota. I believe a university should be a storehouse of knowledge, not a foreign warehouse. Universities have to serve Kiwis first.”

He said he was not being racist and international students were important, but a debate was needed about the purpose of a university in New Zealand. There was a risk that fewer places would be available for New Zealanders because of the need to cater for international students.

“They (universities) tell us they don’t have enough dough so, disproportionately, they are racing into the crescent from India through to China and bringing in more and more international students. I don’t want to have a situation where there is no room for Kiwis at the intellectual inn.”

 The comments by Jones seem to based on ignorance of university funding, or he is auditioning to replace Winston as NZ First Leader.

There is a limit on domestic students because each domestic student is subsidised by the taxpayer.

International students pay full fees. In fact they pay slightly more than full fees. Universities make a profit on each international student. What this means is that the more international students you have, the more domestic students you can afford. It is not a choice of one vs the other. So the comments by Jones are woefully ignorant.

The Auckland University website shows international students make up about 13 per cent of its student population.

Hardly a huge proportion.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said of Mr Jones’ remark: “It’s a very strange comment to make if you’re an economic development spokesperson and you’re supposed to be about creating jobs.”

Mr Joyce said the international education sector was worth $2.5 billion to the economy and contributed 28,000 jobs.

Jones is normally pro-jobs. Disappointing.

More degrees

October 10th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Steven Joyce announced last week:

A total of 43,700 domestic students completed bachelors degrees or higher qualifications in 2012, with bachelors degrees accounting for more than half of that total.

The number of domestic students who completed a bachelors degree in 2012 is the highest ever at 25,400, up 4,790 since 2010 – an increase of 23 per cent.

“Right through the 2000s the number of degree graduates flat-lined, despite big increases in tertiary funding by the previous government.  This Government’s focus on performance and not just bums on seats, has led to much better results for students and taxpayers,” Mr Joyce says.

A 23% increase in two years is significant.

  • The participation rate of Māori aged 18-24 years in bachelors and higher qualifications increased from 11 per cent in 2011 to 12 per cent in 2012

  • The participation rate of Pasifika aged 18-24 years in bachelors and higher qualifications increased from 14 per cent in 2011 to 15 per cent in 2012

  • The proportion of people aged 15 years and over with a bachelors degree or higher qualification increased from 11 per cent in 2002 to 18 per cent in 2012.

  • The proportion of industry trainees gaining between 40 and 59 credits increased to 13 per cent in 2012, up from 8.3 per cent in 2008.

The full reports is here.

Are degrees worth it?

September 30th, 2012 at 10:14 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

New Zealand university degrees are the most worthless in the developed world, an international report reveals.

The value of spending years at university has been severely dented by an OECD report that reveals tertiary study adds little to our earning power – less than $1000 a year for women, not much more for men.

New Zealand is at the bottom of the global league tables. The net value of a man’s tertiary education is just $63,000 over his working life, compared with $395,000 in the US. For a Kiwi woman, it’s $38,000 over her working life – that’s less than $1000 a year.

When I read this story, I was suspicious. I recall in the late 1990s looking at income data for graduates and calculating the average boost in income over a working life is around $500,000 (gross, not NPV), and having Ministers use this in 1999 to say that this was a good return on an average $10,000 student loan etc.

Danyl has beaten me to it, and blogged:

 The actual report is here. And the thing that they make really clear is that they distinguish between two categories of tertiary education. Type A – university degrees – and type B: (mostly polytechnics). Taken together New Zealand is at the bottom of the table. But if you look at degrees and advanced tertiary study then New Zealand isn’t doing that badly – and the countries that are doing extremely well on that metric are mostly countries with low rates of type A tertiary education. Their degrees are highly valuable because of their scarcity. Almost every statistic in the Herald story refers to non-university level education, but the entire story is about the alleged worthlessness of degree qualifications!

Yes, quite misleading to say degrees are worthless. We have a huge number of students at wananaga, with PTEs and the like who give non degree qualifications.

Tertiary education minister Steven Joyce, who has a zoology degree, said Government figures showing how much people earned four years after study were more positive. But even by that measure, those with a bachelor’s degree earned just 46 per cent more than those with a level-three school qualification.

Just 46%? That’s a huge difference.

Joyce said the Government kept an eye on under-performance at the lower levels of tertiary study. There was no improvement in pay for people who had done NZQA level-three and level-four certificates and diplomas. It was not until they reached a level five or six, or a level-seven degree, that earnings increased.

The point Danyl made.

The story generally had the right data, but it conflated tertiary study and getting a degree in an (unintentionally I am sure) misleading way.

The statement that university degrees are the most worthless is simply wrong. The 40% gain in earnings for a degree amongst 25 to 64 year olds is higher than Denmark, Norway and Sweden.


May 8th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by the Tertiary Education Union on the Performance Based Research Fund:

A recent report on the behaviour of New Zealand’s universities around research performance funding confirms a truism – you get what you reward. And when rewards for universities are based on their ability to generate research outputs, we should not be surprised at the lengths they will go to in order to be on top.

The Tertiary Education Commission confirmed last week that universities were gaming its performance research funding scheme (PBRF) to make sure they could get a higher ranking in the exercise than other universities. Universities have been changing people’s employment agreements, restructuring departments and people’s jobs and in some cases making teaching-focused academics redundant simply so that they can appear higher on a rankings ladder than other universities.

While institutions get no more tax-payer dollars from improving their rankings in the PBRF exercise, they are fighting for prestige – to be “New Zealand’s Leading University” or our “top ranked university for research quality”. This race for rankings was not the intent of the research performance exercise and the commission now believes the system warrants change.

But the commission faces a Herculean task in reforming PBRF while trying to remain true to the core principle of performance based research funding – that you can drive up research performance with the right competitive incentives.

One thing we have learned in recent years from universities is will take the most direct route to the cash and the rankings no matter what stands in their way (think Pamplona’s running of the bulls for the right mental image of universities pursuing performance funding).

A decade ago, when the incentive was ‘bums on seats’ tertiary institutions restructured courses and sucked students out of schools and other tertiary education providers onto their campuses. Some of the outcomes of this market model were positive – New Zealand has one of the highest tertiary education participation rates in the world. However, there were, as has been widely documented in the past, many perverse outcomes – from massive marketing budgets to the now infamous ‘twilight golf’.

So we identified the perverse outcomes of funding based on student numbers and declared the way forward was not about mass participation but about high-end research.

Student numbers were capped and a new competitive incentive introduced centred on published research ‘outputs’ (primarily peer reviewed articles in international journals written for the academic community). 

The aim was to calculate an aggregate research performance score for each institution in order to allocate them funding commensurate with their overall research performance.

TEU has no problem with rewarding excellence in our institutions, but research outputs are only one part of the work of tertiary education staff – academics also are responsible for teaching, administrative tasks, engaging in public meetings to share their knowledge, and so on.

Yet the lure of being ranked number one has meant universities have punished award-winning teachers; asked academics to shift their focus from community research to peer reviewed journals; and questioned the future of academics who perform vital administrative roles, because this takes time away from writing journal articles.

So how do we stop universities from narrowing the role of an academic down to ‘research’, when that is what is what the government rewards?

TEC has proposed changing the way the ‘rankings’ are put together, by only calculating the average quality score of tertiary institutions based on those staff who actually receive one of the quality scores (As, Bs, and Cs) and excluding those who (for a whole host of good reasons) don’t even reach the bar in this narrow performance measure.

This move will not help students who have lost their favourite university teacher, departments who have lost great administrative academics, or communities who couldn’t find an academic expert to attend a public meeting because they are all too busy writing journal articles.

It is a warranted action and will reinforce what the PBRF exercise was about and show institutions they should ‘play by the rules of the game’ with integrity. After all the rules are explicit: PBRF scores are not to be used for hiring and firing academics; not to be used for promotions or performance management. What PBRF aggregate scores are for is to provide an auditing and accountability tool that can help the government dish out the dollars ($1.6 billion over six years) to institutions.

However, changing the rules for calculating the average scores of universities is only a stopgap measure. What the latest report from the commission highlights are fundamental problems with designing performance measures in the tertiary education system. This means a much bigger debate is needed: how do we get the best out of our tertiary education staff?

TEU often argues that the evidence shows performance incentives do not work – you need only look at the mostly incentive-based packages of today’s CEOs to see that any chief executive not worth his or her salt is still clever enough to rort the system and generate an exponentially increasing take home pay. And the creative industries – such as major companies in Silicon Valley – are again realising that giving workers greater autonomy (rather than strict line-management) is the way to get great work from staff. Our worry is that the government sees the perverse outcomes of auditing measures like PBRF but thinks this can be solved by just adding in more performance incentives.

So instead of rethinking whether performance measures work in the tertiary sector, the government has set up a performance exercise looking at student retention and completion. For tertiary institutions the quickest route to achieving in this exercise is making sure students pass their courses. The simplest way to ensure students pass is to put pressure on academics to elevate grades (and in a few isolated cases this is already beginning to happen in a range of institutions across New Zealand).

Should we just sit back and hope that gaming is not so accepted by our tertiary providers, and that they will not pervert good credentialing (the awarding of qualifications) or research performance exercises just to be ranked number 1? Or should we review whether performance based funds really help us get the best out of tertiary education sector?

Only the commission and the government can decide where we head next, but to us it seems clear – the report into PBRF gaming shows it is time to sit down and talk about how we protect the reputation of our tertiary education sector and ensure that we are getting a well-rounded set of outcomes from universities. 

Dr Sandra Grey
TEU National President

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce also said:

But he has now revealed further reforms are planned for universities, including a review of the councils and a separate review of a the controversial Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF). …

Joyce, meanwhile, said funding for engineering and the physical sciences would get a boost in the Budget.

Research would also get a boost, though a modest increase in funding to the controversial Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF).

The PBRF, set up under the previous Labour administration, has been the subject of allegations of rorting by universities hiding away their least productive researchers to maximise their share of the funding. There has also been growing concern about the amount of time wasted by academics tinkering with their PBRF portfolios.

While the PBRF had been ”broadly successful,” Joyce said there were problems which would be addressed in a review this year.

“Frustrating gamesmanship” needed to be addressed and the Government was also keen to look at introducing incentives for the commercial success of research.

”You make it [PBRF] all about [publishing] papers, so if somebody steps out of the system for a year to go and work on a commercial project somewhere, does that damage their PBRF score so that they can’t contribute to what the university is being asked to contribute to?” Joyce said.

There may be a way to introduce incentives to the PBRF process for commercialising research, he said.

”You’ve got to be careful because obviously, it’s fine in engineering and economics and science and things but it’s a little bit harder in humanities.”

So further change looks likely, but whether there will be agreement on what it should be is another matter.

More on PBRF

March 26th, 2012 at 7:22 pm by David Farrar

An update to my earlier post.

  1. The total mount of PBRF funding is $250m a year, not $500m. I did take my figure from the Treasury Appropriations, but obviously misinterpreted it.
  2. PBRF funding is itself based on actual research done, not the level of research per average staff member, so the tactics used by VUW will not in itself lead to any increase in funding.
  3. It does however allow them to be placed higher up the comparative table with other universities. This is designed to increase their reputation, attract more staff, and possibly win contests with other universities for new schools, if any eventuate. Ironically I think their reputation gets lowered, not increased, by their attempt to artificially boost their average.
  4.  Considering that they don’t actually gain any extra government funding from it (which I wasn’t clear about in the earlier post), I think it is ridiculous they spend so much time and energy trying to skew their averages, so people are fooled into thinking they are better ranked than they are.
  5. I understand that the tertiary education union has been concerned about this for sometime. Sadly their solution seems to be common to education unions – wanting the research data kept confidential! But they do support an investigation, which is good.

There’s been a number of releases in response to my blog post. They are:

  • VUW, saying their independent investigation found no grounds for the allegations
  • The TEU, backing the call for an independent investigation over the sector
  • Labour saying there should be a review of the system
  • Greens saying the system is at fault, not Vic Uni

It is worth noting that the PBRF was introduced by the former Labour Government, as far as I can tell.

Editorials 1 June 2010

June 1st, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald looks at the BP oil spill:

As oil has become a scarcer resource, the search for it has, out of necessity, moved to more difficult locations. Oil companies have had to take a greater interest in inhospitable regions such as New Zealand’s Great South Basin and the waters off Alaska. They are also drilling in water so deep that any problems are beyond the reach of divers. This increases the potential for severe environmental damage if companies do not have adequate safety back-ups. Clearly, that was the case with BP and its Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Indeed, it is now apparent that the company has no real idea how to contain, let alone control, the giant oil spill prompted by an explosion at the rig almost six weeks ago. …

The upshot of this ongoing failure is what the White House now says is the worst environmental catastrophe the United States has faced. The Gulf spill has easily surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska in 1989, with estimates of the amount of oil leaking each day ranging from 1.9 to 3 million litres.

And The Press talks tertiary education:

At first glance it does seem to be unfair on New Zealanders who aspire to a tertiary education.

With the Government freeze on funding for extra enrolments, universities are proposing higher standards for students, including courses that had previously been open entry. Yet at the same time the Government is encouraging more overseas students to study here, provided they pay full course fees.

The more overseas students you have, the more domestic students that can be funded. It is not an either/or.

As far as the domestic students are concerned, higher eligibility standards would be a positive development, despite the move being fiscally-driven. For too long there has been an expectation of an automatic right of entry to tertiary study. This unhealthy sense of entitlement among school-leavers should be eroded as universities call for higher NCEA pass rates.

And there should also be a national entry assessment for students over the age of 20 years; they currently have open entry despite the fact that mature students have a higher failure rate than school-leavers.

Finally, all those at universities should be told that they must now perform academically if they are to be entitled to re-enrol or, as the recent Budget signalled, to receive a student loan.

Slackers like myself will need to improve performance earlier, or get a job.

The Dom Post wades into the Andy Haden row:

It is to be hoped that Murray McCully does not apply the same standards to his role as foreign affairs and trade minister as he does to his role as Rugby World Cup minister. Otherwise New Zealand will become an international laughing stock.

It is no more acceptable for Rugby World Cup ambassador Andy Haden to refer to Polynesians as “darkies” than it would be for New Zealand’s high commissioners to Samoa or Tonga to refer to the locals as “coconuts” – another racial epithet Haden considers appropriate in “the right context”.

I don’t think anyone thinks it is acceptable. It is more a matter of whether he gets sacked for it.

Haden represents an old, and not particularly attractive, face of New Zealand. The image New Zealand wants to show the world at next year’s Rugby World Cup is of a young, confident nation that revels in the racial diversity of its makeup. His time has passed. He should go.

Ageism instead of racism!

The ODT also weighs in:

New Zealand’s premier rugby teams of today look very different to those of yesteryear.

They are now much bigger and much browner. Reflecting recent generations of mass Polynesian immigration to New Zealand, as well as Pacific interest and ability in rugby, Samoans, Tongans and Fijians are commonplace.

The All Blacks of the past 25 years would be a shadow of what they have been without Michael Jones, Jonah Lomu, Olo Brown and a long line of others. The Pacific has provided strength, pace, skill and leadership, capped with the appointment of All Black captain Tana Umaga in 2004. …

Selecting sports teams is, in essence, simple.

Pick those most likely to help the team win, whatever their colour, background or connections.

The jobs of coaches are precarious enough without them cutting their own throats by letting other considerations influence their judgements.

At another level, of course, selecting becomes more complex.

Choosing those most likely to help the team win is not the same as picking the most talented individual players. What will the impact of the person be on team culture, so essential for success? How will the player fit in with the style of the team? What is the playing balance of the team? Will the player thrive or shrivel?It is against this background that the extraordinary comments of former All Black lock and New Zealand Rugby World Cup ambassador Andy Haden should be viewed. …

The Crusaders’ primary interest has been to maintain winning ways, and they have, by the length of a rugby field, been the most successful in New Zealand at that.

It is reasonable to maintain that genetic and cultural characteristics influence how many Polynesians play rugby.

And it is fair enough for a team, like the Crusaders, to have a distinct style and therefore to be cautious about the number of its players, brown or white, who play a particular way.

But the Crusaders are too clever to be sucked into the racism that applies generalisations to particular individuals.

Exactly. Generalisations have their place in discussions, but you don’t apply them to known individuals.

A question

May 13th, 2010 at 7:03 pm by David Farrar

When TVNZ ran their story tonight on Victoria University closing off enrolments, did they not know the student they interviewed (Caleb Tutty) talking about his anger was the International Secretary of Young Labour, and Judith Tizard’s former electorate agent?

Or did they just decide it wasn’t relevant?

Editorials 12 March 2010

March 12th, 2010 at 2:12 pm by David Farrar

The Herald talks government funding cuts:

Predictably enough, Labour has tried to make a mountain out of the Government’s announcement of funding cuts in the Education Ministry. According to its education spokesman, Trevor Mallard, these will harm education quality because there will be less research and less teacher and curriculum development.

In reality, he is talking about a molehill. The ministry has been asked to make just $25 million in savings by 2012-13. That is a surprisingly small amount, which is being sought in the right area, rather than at what used to be called the chalkface.

All government-funded organisations are being told to cut costs because of the tough economic climate. Cue cries of anguish and alarm.

The key to achieving the savings without fulfilling the grim forecasts of these critics lies in targeting areas that will not disrupt a sector’s core responsibilities. Commendably, this is what the Government is seeking to achieve in both education and health, two of the leading recipients of its spending.

Labour has never met a spending cut they didn’t oppose.

The Dominion Post swipes at NZUSA:

The University Students Association is to be applauded for its egalitarian instincts. They accord with the New Zealand ethos.

However, the association, long a training ground for Labour Party apparatchiks, would enhance its credibility if it spent less time bleating about the cost of university studies and more focusing on the quality of the education on offer.

It makes a habit of engaging its mouth before its brain. The most recent instance occurred on Tuesday when co-presidents David Do and Pene Delaney issued a statement condemning new Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce, the Government’s tyre-kicker-in-chief, for saying that from 2012 a percentage of the state funding provided to tertiary institutions will be linked to their academic performance and for adding that he’d also like to restrict student loans to students who pass their courses.

David Do is a former Chair of Princes St Labour.

Here is a newsflash for the association: the quality of the education available to its members, and students at other tertiary institutions, has gradually been eroded over the past couple of decades by underfunding and a bums-on seats-policy that rewards institutions according to the number of students enrolled rather than their performance.

The Government does not have a magic pool of money into which it can dip to make up the shortfall. It is effectively borrowing $200 million a week to maintain existing levels of public services, debt that will eventually have to be made good by the the association’s members and generations yet unborn.

If improvements are to be made to the system, the money has to come from within the existing tertiary education budget. Mr Joyce is doing exactly what the association should be imploring him to do – looking for poor-quality institutions and courses so that money can be redirected from them to institutions and courses that provide value for money.

He is proposing to do the same with students. Good on him. Every student who is not turning up to class, repeatedly failing or using a student allowance or loan to subsidise a lifestyle that has nothing to do with study is wasting money that could otherwise be used to provide a better education for students motivated to make the most of their opportunities.

The association should forget about trying to score political points and focus on advancing its members’ real interests. Students should ask themselves whether they would rather buy a clapped-out jalopy with a wound-back odometer for $25,000 or a modern, reliable warranted vehicle for $35,000.

Mr Joyce knows the answer to that question. It is to buy a quality vehicle that will stand the test of time. The same holds true for education. Forget cheap; think quality.

A wonderful editorial.

The Press talks immigration:

Graven on a tablet within the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York is the poem with the famous words “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”. The latest immigration policy development in New Zealand is somewhat different to this. The new temporary retirement immigration category is more a case of New Zealand being given and welcoming elderly migrants, provided they have enough money to invest here.

Under this scheme foreigners aged at least 66 years can move to New Zealand on an initial two-year permit if they have good health and character, agree to invest $750,000 here, have an income of $60,000 and $500,000 worth of assets.

By international standards the financial criteria for coming here are not huge, which might encourage a reasonable uptake. But even if this did occur the amount which must be invested is also comparatively modest, which suggests that the scheme might not make the contribution to economic growth which the Government hopes would occur.

Rather than encouraging the wealthy elderly to come to our shores, the focus should be on promoting New Zealand as a migration destination for younger people with skills. This would help address this nation’s serious skills shortage and contribute more meaningfully to economic growth.

I don’t think it is an either-or. One can encourage both.

And the ODT focuses on regional rates:

A rare piece of good news emerged for beleaguered ratepayers this week: the Otago Regional Council draft annual plan shows no increase in the general rate. The ORC chairman points out it is a draft budget only, but nevertheless, how refreshing. Why can’t other councils do the same?

Indeed. Most businesses have had to contain costs, as have most households. Even the central Government is doing so. Local Government should follow.

Dom Post on Universities

January 12th, 2010 at 7:15 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post says:

Union of Students Association co-president David Do says student groups are already seeing an increase in exclusions for poor academic performance. He proposes more funding as the solution. It is not. Mr Do says toughening up the admission standards goes against New Zealanders’ sense of fairness and their sentiment that people should be given a “fair go”.

New Zealanders do believe in giving people a “fair go”. They do not not believe in giving them a free ride regardless of performance – especially when taxpayers are paying out nearly $4 billion a year for tertiary education.

Of course NZUSA calls for more funding – just as Labour did. By coincidence Mr Do was the Chairman of the Princes Street Branch of Labour not long ago.

NZUSA often go on about the high level of student debt. Well I’m worried about the high level of taxpayer debt – we are borrowing $240 million every week to fund stuff like universities. To think that taxpayers should borrow even more is naive.

Failing Boys

November 5th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Two-thirds of bachelor degrees last year went to women, the highest figure on record in New Zealand.

I find it amusing that so much time and energy is spent talking about pay gaps between men and women, and so little time about the educational chasm between males and females.

Twice as many women as men are graduating with a bachelors degree. That is huge. In one sense it is great that just a few decades on from an era where women were discouraged from tertiary study, they are doing so well. But the under-achievement of males is now endemic.

Director of the Institute of Policy Studies Dr Paul Callister said he was surprised by the latest figure. Tertiary organisations believed the gender gap had peaked.

“Universities have often argued that men were just falling behind relatively [to women]. But they are now falling behind in sheer numbers too.

“It wouldn’t be a concern if males were pouring their way into other training options. But … females are a higher proportion of all training options from Level 1 to 3 to doctorates.”

Even doctorates – that is a change.

So who put the cap on?

August 29th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Waikato Times reported:

At a time when unemployment is rising, Waikato University will next year be turning away people because of restrictions on student numbers, according to Labour Party leader Phil Goff.

Sounds awful doesn’t it. Then later on you read:

In 2007, the Tertiary Education Commission capped equivalent fulltime students at tertiary institutions until 2010.

Oh 2007. Wait, wait, who was the Government in 2007? No, no don’t tell me – let me guess.

Polytech Governance

July 26th, 2009 at 1:39 pm by David Farrar

The SST report:

The Government plans to drastically overhaul the way polytechnics operate by slashing the size of their governing councils.

The move has the potential to dump about 250 of the 400 existing councillors, including chairmen.

Education Minister Anne Tolley has met Dave Guerin, executive director of the national association for institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPNZ), and outlined her plans, which would cut all councils to just eight members. They generally have between 14 and 20.

I think this is a step in the right direction, for two reasons:

  1. Almost all the known research has concluded that governance boards of greater than around nine tend to be relatively ineffective.
  2. A number of polytechnics have had significant financial issues, and I doubt the Government is convinced the status quo works well for the $600 million a year invested.

The proposed new structure would comprise four ministerial appointees, the CEO, an academic board representative, a student representative and one member co-opted by the council.

Guerin also reveals Tolley would appoint the chairman, probably from one of the ministerial appointees.

This would not be suitable for universities, as their role with academic freedom means the Minister appointing the Chancellor and most Council members would be a problem.

But for polytechnics, this seems fairly reasonable – it means the Minister actually has control over how the institution is governed.

But the changes are set to erode the traditional composition of polytech councils, removing employer, Maori, union and other community group representatives.

A good polytechnic will have strong relationships with these key stakeholders. But that does not mean they need to be on the governing board. In fact it can often lead to conflicts of interest IMO.

It will be interesting to see what the Government finally proposes.

Espiner on Maori and Tertiary Education

June 22nd, 2009 at 9:30 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner blogs:

None of which stops Sharples from trying, however, and nor should it. I know that he should as an Associate Education Minister toe the Government line, but personally I expect Sharples to be a passionate advocate for his people. As long as Key doesn’t actually agree to this hare-brained idea, I’m happy for Sharples to push it.

For one thing, it’s good to have a debate about the place of education in our society, and remind ourselves that it’s pretty much the only thing that is going to get us out of the economic backwater in which New Zealand now resides.

Education is part of it, yes.

And it’s true that Maori participation statistics in tertiary education are appalling, and something needs to be done about it.

They are not appalling. They are in fact far superior to any other ethnic group in NZ. I blogged a few days ago on this, and the Maori participation rate is 50% higher than the Pakeha rate. Possibly Colin meant to refer to university participation rates only, but the terms are not interchangeable.

And even the university participation rate is not “appalling” – it is 80% of the Pakeha rate. I think Colin is too used to just assuming Maori health and education statistics are “appalling”, without checking them out.

I just think Sharples has the wrong end of the stick. There’s little point letting more Maori into university if they are simply going to fail.

Here I agree.

A better question might be why so few Maori make the grade to get into university in the first place. And I suspect that can be traced all the way back through the school system to early childhood and the child’s parents. I’m sure Sharples would argue that is all the system’s fault, and perhaps part of it is. Though I think Maori could probably shoulder some of the blame as well.

And here I absolutely agree.

As I say, though, the debate is a needed one. Just recently Canterbury University vice-chancellor Rod Carr had a good serve at the Prime Minister for cutting funding in real terms to universities and polytechnics, and I think this issue is going to become a hot topic in the months to come.

Personally I would rather the Government put the additional $750 million it shovels into the health black hole every year into tertiary education instead. I reckon it would pay huge dividends.

But here I disagree. If I had $750 million to spend I would put the vast bulk of it into early childhood education, literacy and numeracy at primary school etc.

Maori and Tertiary Education

June 17th, 2009 at 7:24 pm by David Farrar

NZPA reports:

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples wants universities to consider open entry for Maori students.

He said in a speech last night Maori students had the lowest rate of progression from school to tertiary education of any ethnic group.

His actual speech is here. He also notes, correctly, that:

Maori participation in tertiary education is higher than for any other ethnic group – and that is something to celebrate.


This graph (from here) shows very clearly that since 1999 the tertiary participation rate has been higehr for Maori than non-Maori. In fact the rate if 50% higher for Maori than European.

Now Dr Sharples also said:

But – and it’s a big qualifier – much of this participation is at levels one to three on the National Qualifications Framework. All of us know the benefits of a bachelor level qualification – the second challenge, therefore, must be how to boost participation for Maori to higher levels of study.


Now Dr Sharples is right that Maori participation is very high at Levels 1 – 3. But as we can see Maori have a higher participation rate than non Maori at Levels 4 to 7 Certificates and Diplomas also. And even at Bachelors level the Maori rate is around 75% to 80% of the European rate.

Personally I think too many people are going to university rather than other forms of tertiary education. I would not hold up a Bachelors degree as the holy grail for tertary education.

Dr Sharples also said:

Thirdly, I want to suggest a quantum leap could be achieved, if Victoria were to consider the following:

– Open entry for Maori students. We have seen how the dice are loaded against Maori, right through the school system. That is not any reflection on the academic potential of our young people. Reserved places for Maori have proven the ability of Maori students to rise to the challenge if they are given the opportunity.

This makes me wonder what the completion rate is. And yes that has a graph also.


And as we can see here the completion rate for Maori is above average for Certificate and Diplomas but a lot lower for Bachelors. This to me suggests that open entry for Maori students would not by itself improve outcomes – it would probably just lower the completion rate even more. The key to improving the university participation rate for Maori, would in my opinion improve educational outcomes at secondary school.