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Lukewarm response to tertiary report

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 28/09/2016

Universities are tepid in their reaction to a wide-ranging report into tertiary education which recommends the institutions pay rates and set their own entry requirements.

It also recommends reinstating interest on student loans to cover the cost of running the scheme, but neither the government nor opposition parties are interested in doing that.

The Productivity Commission's report, New Models of Tertiary Education, is part of the independent Crown entity's year-long inquiry into the sector.

The commission has been charged with looking at how developments such as technology, tuition costs and skill demand might drive changes.

In its draft report, released on Thursday, the commission says the tertiary education system is not well-placed to respond to uncertain future trends and the demands of more diverse learners.

It says the system does a good job of supporting and protecting providers that are considered important , but it is not student-centred.

The draft report contains more than 30 recommendations, which it says can go only so far in addressing major structural deficiencies.

One recommendation is doing away with University Entrance, which was deemed to perform no useful function, and letting universities set their own criteria.

"This in itself will have little effect on actual requirements for entry to university, given that universities already set the bar higher or lower for particular courses as they see fit," the draft report said.

It also said tertiary institutions should contribute directly to their local communities by paying rates.

Another proposal is reforming the student loan scheme so it is income contingent.

It also suggests interest on student loans could be charged at a rate to cover the cost of running the loan scheme.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says he's happy with the way things are.

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins says loading more cost on students would increase inequality, and the Greens's Gareth Hughes says his party is "absolutely opposed" to it.

University Vice-Chancellors said the 400-page report had picked up some of the sector's concerns and made some sensible suggestions but at the same time criticised its lack of detail.

"We also have some concerns about the lack of in-depth analysis and evidence provided in the report to support many of the conclusions and recommendations," said Chris Whelan, executive director of Universities New Zealand .

He said the draft report did not yet provide a vision for a coherent and connected tertiary education system.

"Any decisions the government might consider will impact our workforce, our economy and the lives of young New Zealanders who go onto apprenticeships, polytechnics or universities or those needing to retrain in the future. So it's vital that as a nation, we get it right," he said.

Some of the recommendations:

* Any provider should be able to apply to NZQA to use the terms "university", "polytechnic", "institute of technology" and "college of education";

* All students should get an invoice for government-subsidised education showing the full price of education and the government's contribution;

* The government should discontinue performance-linked funding.

The commission is seeking submissions on the draft report by November 21.

It is due to present its final report to the government by the end of February.

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