Economics 101: if we say we will help Maori and Pacific students, we can try to gouge the lot

Alf is trying to get to grips with the reasoning given by Victoria University bosses for wanting to hoist student fees.

According to a report at Stuff (here), the university has applied to raise undergraduate education, social sciences and humanities fees by 8 per cent.

That’s double the maximum allowed under government restrictions.

So does this make them a bunch of rip-off merchants?

At first blush, it sure does.

But wait.

They have a reason.

They say the extra revenue would allow Maori and Pacific Island students to achieve at higher levels.

In other words, all students should be gouged so that a select few can achieve better.

Has Alf got it right?

Let’s see.

Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh said higher fees for the courses, which had the highest proportion of Maori and Pasifika students, would allow the university to better support them.

“The Government is focusing on increasing Pasifika and Maori achievement, and we have been challenged to achieve outcome parity by 2018.”

Yes, got it.

So where do the much higher fees come into play?

Let’s hear more of Pat’s patter.

He said universities were under financial pressure after the last Budget, when there was no increase in general funding for students.


And that will be true, no doubt, for all universities.

Ah, but the Tertiary Education Commission can grant such an increase if an organisation can show it would help Maori and Pasifika students.

Interesting, eh?

It’s the race card.

Of course, it would be wrong to give the impression only some students would benefit.

And so –

Walsh said if the application were approved, the additional revenue would be put towards a “programme of learning support”, to benefit all students in the faculties.

Fair to say, some university leaders recognise that the system should buckle to help poor people, not help people of a certain race.

And so –

The decision to apply for an exemption divided the university’s governing body, with student magazine Salient reporting pro-chancellor Helen Sutch opposed the increases to humanities and social sciences, because of a high concentration of students from poor backgrounds.

Oh, and then we learn of a bit of howz-yer-father down at the Tertiary Education Commission that makes Alf highly suspicious.

The non-voting student representative on the commission had been expected to lobby against fee increases.

But in a letter to the Union of Students Associations this month, commission chairman John Spencer said the position has been scrapped.

Good one, eh?

The reasoning is compelling.

While the role has been useful in the past, the commission’s work has changed and the “opportunity for meaningful input” has “significantly diminished”.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce – bless his cotton-pickin’ socks – said he wasn’t worried.

“It will have no impact on funding decisions because the student rep was an observer rather than a voting member.”

But Alf is not convinced about this democratic stuff.

The real Steven Joyce is the one who announced that the way universities are governed may need to be changed.

He reckons they are ‘large and unwieldy’.

He wants them to be ‘more innovative’.

An outfit called the Tertiary Education Union reckons Steven is looking to reform university councils along the lines of the changes enacted on polytechnic councils.

It recalls (here) that in 2009, the government reduced polytechnic councils down to eight members, four of whom are directly appointed by the minister.

The ministerial appointments then get to choose the remaining four.

The minister also appoints the chair and gives her or him the casting vote.

Staff, student, union, and Māori representatives all lost their legislated seats on polytechnic councils in the 2009 changes.

Dunno what’s wrong with this sort of arrangement.

Much better than that co-governance thing that has been spawned up and down the country.

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