Fee-free & fewer students

November 21, 2018

The money spent on fee-free tertiary education hasn’t resulted in more students:

The Labour-led Government’s election bribe of fees-free tertiary education has been a complete failure, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paula Bennett says.

“Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ own numbers show there are 2,400 fewer students in tertiary education and training than a year ago.

We don’t know if numbers would have dropped even more had the fee-free policy not been introduced.

But we do know that gifting a fee-free first year to all students, regardless of whether or not they need it, is poor use of public money.

“This expensive policy was designed to attract more students into tertiary education and it has completely failed.

“This policy is costing taxpayers $2.8 billion dollars and we’re going backwards. They should never have over promised and should be spending this money in education areas where it is really needed. . . 

Helping children who start school without the language and other skills needed to learn to read, write and do maths; helping those further through school and failing; helping those with special needs . . .

If the government has spare money to spend on tertiary education it should go on ensuring the quality of teaching; helping people who would otherwise not be able to study.

Then, rather than fee-free education for all, it should expand the policy of the previous government of writing off student loans for people like health professionals and vets who work in areas where it is difficult to recruit staff.

Throwing away money on fee-free study is even worse when teachers have a good case for improved pay and conditions but the government is telling them it doesn’t have enough to meet their demands.

The $2.8 million would be far better spent paying more to people who have successfully completed their studies and are working to educate the next generation than throwing it every first year student regardless of what they’re studying and whether or not they pass.


What’s more important

July 11, 2018

If you had $2.8 billion to spend you could:

  • Pay nurses, teachers and support staff more.
  • Put more money into helping children who get to school without pre-learning skills necessary to succeed.
  • Put more money into helping children further through the schools system who are failing.
  • Not have to cancel the $6.5 million boost for the cochlear implant programme.
  • Find any number of ways to help those most in need.

Or spend it on fee-free study for tertiary students that hasn’t encouraged more students; has one nothing to encourage more maori, Pacifica or people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and put subsidizing students ahead of improving the quality of teaching.

What’s more important?

Those people who have had surgery and other hospital appointments cancelled because of the nurses’ strike will know.

Those who don’t get the help they need to succeed at school will too.

So will the people who will no longer get a cochlear implant.

 


Almost spent the lot

June 25, 2018

Nurses and health boards are continuing to negotiate improved pay and conditions in an effort to avoid strikes.

Last-ditch talks between the nurses’ union and district health boards (DHBs) will continue on Monday in a bid to avoid planned strike action.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) and DHBs’ negotiating teams attended mediation on Friday after nurses “strongly rejected” the DHBs’ latest offer on Monday.

The NZNO issued strike notice to the DHBs on Wednesday for July 5, with notice of a second 24-hour strike planned for July 12 likely to be issued next week. . . 

A survey sent to NZNO members on Monday to gauge their priorities for any revised deal had received close to 13,000 responses a day before it closed at 1pm on Thursday.

A message sent to union member’s said their feedback had helped negotiators be “very clear on what your priority issues are and what will be required on order to avert strike action and resolve this dispute”.

The three main priorities were remuneration, safe staffing and pay equity.

However, whether the first nationwide nurses’ strike since 1989 can be averted remains to be seen.

Nurses on Monday “strongly rejected” the DHBs’ latest collective offer, a $520 million package described by Health Minister David Clark as the best in a decade. . .

A $520 million package sounds generous but there would be $275 million more this year had they not wasted it on free fees for tertiary students, nearly $40 million of which will be spent on students who fail to complete their first year.

It would be difficult to find anyone who thinks spending millions on students who don’t need help is a greater priority than  improving pay and conditions for nurses.

Teachers are lining up for more pay and better conditions too and it would be equally difficult to find anyone who thinks that wouldn’t be a higher priority than fee-free tertiary study.

The free-fee policy is just one of several expensive policies. Another is the winter power payment for beneficiaries, some of which will go to wealthy retirees. These are extravagances that Labour and its coalition partners have put ahead of funding necessities.

Then-National Finance Minister Steven Joyce was laughed at when he said there was a big hole in Labour’s pre-election spending calculations and that they hadn’t factored in pay increases for public servants.

The trouble the government now has finding enough to satisfy nurses shows he was right.

Remember how Michael Cullen boasted they’d spent the lot after his last Budget in 2008?

The current government has almost spent the lot already if it wants to keep to the budgetary constraints it’s imposed upon itself to counter accusations it’s a poor manager of money.

Cullen left power with the new government facing a decade of deficits.

By contrast the current government came to power with forecasts of continuing strong surpluses.

They could have spent wisely, factoring in the need for fair increases to give nurses and teachers much better pay and conditions.

Instead they’ve wasted money on fripperies like the fee-free tertiary study and power payments for wealthy people and left far too little for basics like improved pay and conditions for nurses and teachers.


Unprepared, ill prepared

June 8, 2018

The ODT opines, there’s been a lack of progress from the government:

The Government seems intent on digging itself into a hole from which there may be no escape.

After nine years in Opposition, there were expectations change would happen quickly once New Zealand First went with Labour to form a coalition government, with support from the Greens.

However, that has not been the case. More than 100 working parties or inquiries have been established, some of them at least reporting back by the end of the year.

The latest one involves ‘‘fair pay agreements’’, seemingly code for collective bargaining agreements, to set industry standards.

Although the Government appears keen to talk to everyone possible about changes it wants to make, it seems Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods did not bother to consult her colleagues when it came to deciding to stop offshore oil and gas permits being allocated in New Zealand.

When the papers were finally released this week, it was discovered the Government was warned its plans for future oil and gas exploration could have a chilling effect on investment.

The papers said if the supply of natural gas was restricted, the likely price rise for consumers posed a significant risk to the security of energy supply and could have a detrimental impact on some regional economies.

Wasting multi-millions on working groups then failing to consult on a policy with such significant ramifications as this is the sign of a government both unprepared and ill-prepared.

The Government is hamstringing itself. There is a chance, and a real one, the Government will achieve nothing before the 2020 election if it does not start making progress on some key policies.

The only policy it has made real progress on is fee-free education for tertiary students, most of whom don’t need it and which hasn’t resulted in an increase in students.

Even KiwiBuild seems out of reach for Housing Minister Phil Twyford. Branding private housing developments as KiwiBuild will not solve the problem of building 10,000 houses a year. Within a few months, the Government will have been in office for 12 months. Recriminations which are bubbling under the surface now will become fully-fledged attacks on the core competency of ministers who should have hit the ground running when it became their time to serve.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern can only hold the coalition together for so long if progress is not being made.

Planting one billion trees has not yet started, social policy is edging its way into the system, and the so-called housing crisis is not being addressed by Labour, which christened it such.

It is unrealistic to expect the Government to implement all its policies in the first 12 months, but some progress should be measurable by now. . .

What is measurable is a lack of business confidence, which is worsened by the prospect of a return to collective bargaining.

Employers say the fair pay agreements are a major cause of concern. BusinessNZ is part of the working group announced on Tuesday but employers say they are not supportive of a national award-type employment regime in New Zealand.

Under the proposal, employers and workers cannot negotiate their own conditions — unless they are above the fair pay rates. Although workers cannot strike for a fair pay agreement, they can strike to get their own rates above the fair pay agreement rate.

This is a return to the days of multi-employment contract agreements (Meca) which broke out separate pay agreements for workers living in high-cost areas, such as Auckland and Wellington.

This is a recipe for job insecurity, an increase in unemployment and business failure.

The craziness of continually forming working parties smacks of a Government ill-prepared to govern. Until Ms Ardern stepped into the position of leader, it did look as though National would win a fourth term. Perhaps Labour MPs had given up on the treasury benches and were going through the motions.

There’s no perhaps about that – they had and they were.

There have been missteps from some ministers, something not good enough from three-term MPs. The at-fault MPs are surely surviving because there is no-one with experience to replace them.

Labour, the major party of the coalition, needs to stop thinking about solutions and start enacting policies. Otherwise, a second term is starting to look out of reach.

Just eight months into government is very early to be talking about it being a one-termer.

But Labour, which spent most of its nine years in opposition wallowing directionless with most of its energy going on undermining its leaders, is unprepared and ill-prepared for government and it shows.

The fee-free policy is Labour’s, the other ones in which there has been any progress are New Zealand First’s money for good looking horses and the regional slush fund which Shane Jones admits is politically biased.

Shane Jones’ admission this morning that his Provincial Growth Fund is a political tool is backed up by new figures released this morning revealing Northland as the main recipient of taxpayers’ money, National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“The Provincial Growth Fund should really be renamed the Political Survival Fund after more than half the funding announced so far has gone to one region – one with less than 10 per cent of regional New Zealand’s population.

“MBIE information shows Northland has sought $54.6 million from the fund so far. Applications from all the other regions combined amounted to $240 million.

“Yet Northland projects have received funding up to $61 million – even more than they’ve asked for. While the rest of the regions have had to make do with $42.4 million combined, plus a $7.5 million grant to the Howard League covering the whole country, including Northland. . .

Northland’s got more than it asked for and the whole of the rest of the country has had to share two-thirds of that amount.

Yet even Northland hasn’t got what it really needs – a better road to and from the rest of the country.

Northlanders will be scratching their heads, wondering why some groups are getting all this attention, while the single most important investment for their region – the double lane highway from Wellsford to Whangarei has been scrapped in favour of Auckland’s light rail.

“Shanes Jones is being allowed to use public money for a thinly veiled political slush fund – but on the really big issues, such as advancing oil and gas production, there is no question that New Zealand First’s ‘provincial champion’ label is nothing more than wishful thinking.”

We need a government that’s prepared to govern for the whole country, not one whose major party is so ill-prepared it is mired in the quicksand of working groups and lets its minor partner get away with pork barrelling.


Luxury before necessity

May 8, 2018

Nadine Higgins writes: Let’s put primary healthcare before free university classes for rich kids:

. . . Three visits to my GP had set me back $180. I dropped another $200 on two courses of antibiotics, probiotics, Codral, cough syrups, cough drops, health shop lung elixirs, and an array of strong pain killers after I coughed so hard I injured my ribs (which is a real treat if you can’t stop coughing). The x-ray, thankfully, was being covered by my health insurance, which I pay fortnightly.

So, as I hacked and coughed and wondered why I’d put off that last doctor visit so long when I was clearly getting worse instead of better, my thoughts turned to the kids heading off to university this year, their fees fully funded.

It’s not an entirely illogical leap given this week the Government admitted its pledge to reduce the cost of going to the doctor by $10 by July 1 going to take longer to implement, basically because they don’t have the money.

I didn’t feel too strongly about the free first-year university fees policy until that moment in the x-ray room, but then I felt outraged.

Why are we helping people who can afford to upskill themselves and who will reap the benefits of upskilling themselves, when we don’t have enough money left over to make sure people can afford to look after themselves? . . 

It’s not just less expensive visits to doctors that has pushed other priorities off the government’s can-do list.

The payment to beneficiaries to help with winter power bills has been reduced.

Here we are at the beginning of May shivering and expecting this Winter Energy Payment to begin. It was promised to run from May to October. Well, layer up. It’s not arriving until July, but the delay is the least of your problems.

Here’s the bad news for the nation’s pensioners. You were all expecting a $700 increase to your pension this year (couples). You’re not getting it. It has been reduced to $413. Singles now only get $265.98. . .

In the announcement on the Beehive website, it was noted that payments would be made over 13 weeks in 2018 (a late start in July), whereas in 2019 it would begin in May for 22 weeks.

Innocently, I figured this was a systems issue. New Government, new payment and Winz needed time to get it up and running. Surely they’d just divide $700 by 13 weeks. It was a gold-plated election promise and Winnie would surely be a guard-dog on this one.

Errr no. In all that innocence I missed the words “When fully implemented, the annual payment will be…”

They’re talking about 2019 being the full implementation date.

The election promise was clearly a 2018 winter warmer. Can you imagine Labour going head-to-head with National’s $680 increase and proudly parading a $413 kilowatt floppy carrot?

A financial haircut of $287 is a substantial amount in kilowatts hours – 1190 kWh to be exact (going by my own anytime-rate). It’s at least a month’s power in winter to most pensioners. . . 

Wealthy retirees are no more in need of extra money for power than students are in need of fee-free education.

But there will be poor retirees and other beneficiaries who were depending on the payment to keep them from the cold.

The government has got its priorities wrong. putting luxury before necessity.

Fee-free tertiary education for all is a very expensive luxury that has left the government unable to properly fund necessities.

 

 


Wrong priorities

May 1, 2018

Labour can’t afford its campaign promise of cheaper GP fees :

. . . Health Minister David Clark said the Government would meet all its promises over the course of the term, but its GP policy would have to be phased in. 

“We are not going to release details of Budget announcements today, but I think the public understands that we do need to prioritise policies. . . 

The government doesn’t need to subsidise GP fees for the wealthy but ensuring primary health care is affordable for lower income people ought to be one of its top priorities.

It not only helps with quality of life it can prevent the development of more serious, and more costly, health conditions.

Having to back-track on this election promise shows it’s got it’s priorities wrong.

What’s more important – fee-free tertiary education for all, $1 billion for projects in the regions which may or may not be worthwhile or more affordable health care for those in most need?


Free water not valued, free education is?

August 31, 2017

A very good question:

Free water is considered inefficiently used, not valued so let’s TAX IT, but free tertiary education for all and that’s different?

Except that water isn’t free to use.

No-one pays for water but we all pay to use it through charges for infrastructure, delivery and, if it’s potable, treatment.

Taxpayers already cover more than 70% of tertiary fees.

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask students to pay a small proportion of their fees.

That would recognise the personal benefit they get from their education and make it more likely they value it.


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