Where are you in this report about your future?

Scrapping UE, giving you a $45,000 tertiary education credit when you turn 16 and slapping interest back onto student loans.


These are the headline news items in a new report from the Productivity Commission into the country’s tertiary system. The report has lots of detail about what is not working, how student loans cost the country, how the secondary system needs changing and plenty more.

But the one thing the Productivity Commission’s draft report is missing is any sign of the thoughts of the very people who are planning to study in, and ultimately pay for, a changed tertiary system – you.

The Productivity Commission is a government think tank charged with improving the wellbeing of New Zealanders through increasing productivity. They found plenty that is unproductive in the world of study and training you face when you leave school. The report pictured tertiary institutions as being self-focussed, heavily dependent on government funding (and so on student numbers), out of touch with the world of employment and unable or unwilling to innovate.

The system, the report said, needs to focus on outcomes for students, not the education providers. That’s a great start, but it also said tertiary institutions should be allowed to set their own standards, call themselves whatever they want, establish their own entrance requirements and set their own fees. That’s what a focus on outcomes for students looks like does it?

The New Zealand Union of Student Associations disagreed with the report’s recommendations that students get a lump sum to spend and that interest should be put back on student loans. So too did Universities New Zealand, but this is not surprising as the group they represent are largely the biggest winners from the present system.

The Industry Training Federation (ITF) called parts of the report ‘brave’ but believed the report itself is ‘heavily oriented towards the delivery of institutionalised education to young people’. The ITF would like to see better links between the worlds of work and study, with employers helping define and deliver some of the skills training they view as vital.

In fact, the only student voices in the discussion came when a Stuff reporter spoke to some prospective students asking what they thought about interest costs on student loans. It is refreshing to see student voices in a discussion dominated by vested interests each way you look.

So, what are the chances of the headline points from the report actually happening?

  • Scrapping University Entrance qualifications: could happen. UE once determined a student was ready for university, but today either the university is lifting the bar to suit itself or another institution will sign you up regardless of your result.
  • Giving you $45k when you turn 16: nada, zip, no chance at all. Could lead to all sorts of bad decisions happening and your education future ending on the rocks before you’re 20. Sounds good but a really bad idea.
  • Interest on your student loans: unlikely. Student loans do not really cost the country a fortune and the vast majority actually get paid back. Also, a real vote loser for the political party that brings it up. In fact, Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First have all signaled they want a change in the way tertiary education is funded to make it easier for students. The National Government are “happy with things the way they are”.