Education leaders fine-tuning to Govt baton

13 Sep

International student Ibhalash Sarkar has travelled more than 11,000km from the highly populated Indian city of Bangalore to the “quieter and peaceful” streets of Hamilton.

The 22-year-old Wintec student could have chosen any English-speaking country in the world to study business management, but after some research he picked New Zealand.

“The studies are not completely based on books,” he said. “They give some hands-on experience and that’s going to help me with my job later.”

Mr Sarkar arrived in Waikato in late July and describes “the scenic beauty” as “amazing”.

Australia wasn’t an option, he said. The courses were more research-based, and while Britain wouldn’t allow him to stay and take a job, New Zealand does.

Mr Sarkar plans to take up the opportunity when he graduates in 2014.

He is one of thousands of international students arriving here each year.

With the November 26 election fast approaching, initiatives for that number to grow is near the top of the tertiary education sector’s wish list.

Wintec chief executive Mark Flowers said he was “comfortable” with the overall policy direction, and both the National and Labour parties were “committed to a good, solid education”.

But he suggested three areas in need of some special attention. He wants more encouragement for youth to enter tertiary education, more incentives for employers to retrain staff, and a boost in international student numbers.

Having more students from overseas enrolling in New Zealand programmes would benefit a lot of businesses, including Wintec, in the long run, Mr Flowers said. They contribute $2.3 billion a year in foreign exchange to the economy, and last year brought in $708.5 million in tuition fees.

After six years of decline, the number of international students has been increasing over the past two years, reaching more than 99,880 last year.

About 19,670 were enrolled in universities and 11,740 in polytechnics.

Mr Flowers wants those numbers to keep growing.

“The tertiary education is pretty strong on this and we’d like to see as much encouragement [as possible].”

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce and Labour’s spokesman on the issue, David Shearer, couldn’t agree more. Mr Joyce said more international students would help universities, by boosting revenue, to compete in “top-class academics”.

“Often the universities say, well, the Government should pay more but actually we are paying significantly more but it’s not limitless and we do need them to grow those revenues.”

He said New Zealand was competing with other countries who were doing a good job of attracting foreign students.

International students currently make up 20 per cent of the student roll in Australian universities, compared with 13 per cent here.

Foreign students would also enrich Kiwi students’ experience, and form strong international links between universities, particularly in research.

That is why the National-led Government launched Education New Zealand, a new agency responsible for international education promotion and representation worldwide, Mr Joyce said.

Fostering Kiwi students’ potential was also on Mr Flowers’ wishlist.

He welcomes initiatives that would steer young people back in to school.

National’s trades academies and the Youth Guarantee scheme, which provides youth with an opportunity to enrol in vocational courses free of charge, were “working well”, he said.

Earlier this month, 48 high school students from 12 Waikato schools completed a six-week course introducing mechanical, electrical and automotive engineering at Wintec.

Their graduation came as Education Minister Anne Tolley announced the Government would double the number of academies nationally with an extra 2000 places next year.

In total, 12,500 places will be available for 16- and 17-year-olds by 2014.

The academies provide practical skills training for secondary school students while allowing them to study for NCEA credits and tertiary qualifications.

“It’s important to make sure that younger people continue to have an option to get started on tertiary education rather than not being able to enter in to education and training,” Mr Flowers said.

The Labour Party plans to support the trades academies as part of its policy.

Mr Shearer said backing young people to get better trained and educated was “beyond party politics to some extent”.

“We don’t want to see one government changing and everything changing again. We need to be looking at supporting programmes that encourage young people from school to vocational training.”

Mr Flowers said there was also a need to get the older generation back in to school by giving employers incentives to retrain staff, particularly in science and technology.

“We need to invest in the economy for the future, not the present. We need to start thinking about getting more people with skills. Good employers realise there is a need for it. It’s just a good investment. We should be encouraging retraining all the time.”

Last year, National’s Government relocated $55m from industry training funding to universities, causing a storm among some industry leaders.

Mr Joyce said the Government reviewed the industry training budget and found the money was not being used effectively.

“It’s been a very poorly run system. In 2008, we had nearly 100,000 people listed as in training and being subsidised by taxpayers who didn’t achieve a single credit.”

With about a 70 per cent subsidy and an “increase in accountability”, he said, credits achieved had gone up 14 per cent in the two years to 2010, and programme completions were up 32 per cent.

Labour has been vocal about the industry training cuts, with MP Jacinda Ardern saying it cost the industry an estimated 55,000 jobs.

The party was also concerned about adult and community education, which was withering away with 160,000 fewer people enrolled, Mr Shearer said.

Two years ago, there were 212 night schools, while today there were 23 because funding cuts, he said.

It was “sad” the Government had also limited borrowing to tuition fees for those aged over 55.

“Those people at least have 10 years’ working life left and often have paid taxes already. They deserve to have a second chance to go back and retrain,” Mr Shearer said.

The tertiary education sector could also face further cuts from next year, when 5 per cent of funding will be linked to performance. The new model is aimed at providing incentives for institutions to lift student achievement.

But Mr Flowers is not too fussed over any potential cuts.

“I don’t think we can afford to spend on everything we want. Let’s be realistic. We’re pretty comfortable with the agreement we’ve got. I suppose we are trimming some programmes, particularly the very low-level qualifications, but this is all about fine-tuning.”

Waikato University appears to be more concerned about funding, although it didn’t jump at the opportunity to voice it. Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford was not available to be interviewed but in a statement said: “We hope that the Government will pay attention to the funding needs of universities in the coming election.”

Universities New Zealand chairman Derek McCormack was also unavailable but it is understood it is to release a pre-election memorandum, yet to be finalised, after the Rugby World Cup.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: