In just over three week’s time, during the mid-semester break, the Massey University Council will discuss setting domestic tuition fees for 2009. Given trends in recent years, it is likely that Massey will seek to increase fees by the maximum amount allowed (5% or around an average of $25-$30 per paper).
Now an increase of 5% may not sound like a lot, but there are some things that you need to be aware of regarding fees. In the last three years Massey has raised fees by more then 20%, disguised as a 5%, 10%, and 5% rise in 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively. Has the value of your education risen by the same amount, or the amount you will earn when you graduate? I doubt it.
So what are the reasons for the continuing increases? Well the issue is complex, but there are two main components, the first is government funding and the second is competition and comparison with other universities.
Government Funding, or lack of, is a huge issue in New Zealand’s tertiary education sector. Since the late 1980s Tertiary Education has gone from being free and fully-funded to a system now where the University gets some cash for teaching and a bit more for research but not nearly enough to cover the true costs. As a result Universities have had to charge fees for students to be able to attend.
So much for your human right of ‘free education’ and the idea of ‘no barriers to education’, now every student is lumped with a huge financial barrier to being able to succeed academically in life. Currently through under-funding, the Government is forcing more then 170,000 university students and 216,000 polytechnic students to borrow to live. As a direct result of under-funding some 700,000 past and present students owe a total of $10 Billion in Student Debt.
Competition between universities is the other key reason that fees are so high. Unlike what is common in the business world, competition between universities have seen course prices skyrocket rather then being competitively low. When setting fees universities often try and justify increases by claiming that they are cheaper then other universities. Unfortunately, with the exception of Southern Institution of Technology, no one has seen the huge marketing potential in being The Warehouse of tertiary education.
International Students are even worse off then Domestic Students. The Government provides no funding to Universities for International Students, which means they are charged the full cost of their education. There is also no guarantee that universities will not exploit International Students. Last month, entirely behind closed doors, Massey University moved to increase international fees by an average of 7% and remove fee-grand-parenting, a safety scheme to financially protect International Students. For your average International Student, that means close to a $2,000 p.a. increase on the cost of their course.
So what can be done to stop these ridiculous increases? In the past, petitions and protests have often gotten nowhere. This year there is one thing you can do and that is vote in the General Election. Who you vote for will help determine the next government. There are some political parties out there who recognise the plight of students; they are namely the Greens, United Future, Maori Party and New Zealand First. Sure all four of these parties may be small, but anyone of them could be critical in forming the next Government and a vote for them would help to ensure that students are given a fair go.