Neoliberalism’s War on New Zealand’s Universities – Supplementary NotesThese are supplementary notes for an article published in the peer-reviewed journal - New Zealand Sociology (Volume 33, Issue 2, pp.9-39). This article can be downloaded for free through a University library catalogue, otherwise a charge applies. The link is: https://search.informit.org/browsePublication;py=2018;vol=33;res=IELNZC;issn=0112-921X;iss=2
I have made the following notes available in order to keep the length of the journal article within the required limit while also adding further depth to the analysis presented in the article. These notes do not constitute a separate paper nor an earlier draft of the published article - they are designed to be read in conjunction with a reading of the journal article which is the primary source. I have, however, included a longer version of the introduction to the article here because it helps to frame all of the notes that follow.
Supplementary Note 1: Full Introduction
A review of educational history hardly supports the optimistic pronouncements of liberal educational theory. The politics of education are better understood in terms of the need for social control in an unequal and rapidly changing economic order (Bowles and Gintis, 1976: 27).
Universities are being defunded, tuition fees are skyrocketing, and faculty are being reduced to a subaltern class of migrant labourers. Corporate management schemes are being put in place, ‘underpinned by market-like principles, based on metrics, control, and display of performance’. The latter is reinforcing an audit culture that mimics the organisational structures of a market economy. In addition, class sizes are ballooning, curriculum is stripped of liberal values, research is largely assessed for its ability to produce profits, administrative staffs are being cut back, governance has been handed over to paragons of corporate culture, and valuable services are being either outsourced or curtailed (Giroux, 2014: 30).
During the post-war long boom from 1945 to 1973, when New Zealand’s universities were transformed from small elite institutions to mass institutions providing skilled labour for a rapidly growing economy, a social democratic Keynesian model for funding tertiary education prevailed. Government funding was sufficient to keep tuitions fees very low, provide most students with living allowances, and ensure that students could complete their tertiary education without having to borrow large sums of money to do so. As is well known, from 1984 to 1999 successive governments rapidly and comprehensively implemented a neoliberal policy regime, including a shift towards tightly targeted student allowances and funding tertiary education with historically high student tuition fees and student loans. The Fifth (Clark) Labour Government retained this neoliberal funding model while establishing the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and introducing performance-based research funding from 2003 onwards. The Fifth (Key, English) National Government introduced so-called Voluntary Student Membership (VSM) of student associations, pushed through what amounted to large cuts to student support and government funding per student for tertiary education providers (TEPs), and removed student and union representation on university councils.
As this suggests, the article provides a descriptive, explanatory and critical analysis of the shift in tertiary education policy from social democratic Keynesianism to neoliberalism by reference to the role that tertiary education plays in reproducing and legitimating capitalist relations of production. It underlines the extent to which this shift has been shaped by the changing balance of socio-political forces, including the contingent outcomes of major struggles between students and university workers, on one side, and university administrations, business lobby groups, and successive governments on the other. There has been an important ideological dimension to these struggles, with neoliberalism supplanting Keynesianism as the dominant intellectual paradigm for economic management and policy-making, and neoliberal thinkers waging war on traditional social democratic Keynesian conceptions of tertiary education as constituting a ‘public good’ with ‘substantial positive externalities’ (Boston, 1999a: 3-13; 1999b: 204). The formulation and implementation of neoliberal tertiary educational policies has been aptly described by Giroux (2014) as ‘neoliberalism’s war on higher education’. More specifically, it is a war waged against the social democratic principles, policies and features of tertiary education that were promoted and shaped to a substantial degree by the ‘social democratic struggle emerging out of the labour movement’ in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and by the progressive social movements of the 1960s and 1970s (Freeman-Moir, 1997: 211; Heller, 2016: 92-134; Roper, 2011a). The central focus of this article is the manner in which this war against New Zealand’s universities has been conducted by the socio-political forces and successive governments that have promoted and implemented neoliberalism.
The article focuses in most depth on the Fifth National Government’s tertiary education policy framework, including an account of the broader historical context and relevant shifts in the global and domestic political economy. This requires a consideration of the 2008 economic crisis and its aftermath, neoliberal fiscal austerity, the active promotion of the continuing commodification and corporatisation of university education and research by business lobby groups, neoliberal think tanks, Treasury, and National Government ministers. More specifically, convincing critical analysis of the negative impacts of this Government’s tertiary education policy changes requires a close empirical examination of a series of carefully orchestrated and mutually reinforcing policy changes at a micro policy level. Although the incoming Sixth Labour Government has made some positive changes, increasing student living allowances by $50 per week, making the first year of tertiary education fee-free, and restoring student and staff representation on university councils, it appears committed to retaining the fundamentals of the neoliberal policy regime. The main aim of the article is to play a small role in enlightening the struggles of students and university workers against the continuing drive of the socio-political forces of the right to further neoliberalise New Zealand’s universities.
Supplementary Note 2: Neoclassicism
Neoclassicism is the perspective within economics that emerged out of the marginalist revolution in economic thought during the 1870s and that has dominated microeconomics ever since (see, for example, Clarke, 1982: ch.6; Whitwell, 1986: 25-38). It contends that, at the microeconomic level of particular markets, the value of a commodity is determined by its marginal utility in conditions of scarcity. Prices are determined by the operation of the law of supply and demand. When applied to the economy as a whole, it centrally assumes that the economy is always tending towards a general equilibrium with full-employment of resources. In this respect, market economies are viewed as largely self-adjusting.
Supplementary Note 3: The Role of Tertiary Education in Maintaining the Cultural and Ideological Hegemony of the Ruling Capitalist Class
The universities of the advanced capitalist societies are pervaded by dominant intellectual and ideological justifications of the neoliberal capitalist status quo grounded in the shared foundational view that transformational social change is not feasible, that however flawed capitalism and neoliberalism maybe, there is no realistic alternative to either (Heller, 2016: 135-170). Gramsci argues that the educational system plays a key role in maintaining the cultural and ideological hegemony of the ruling capitalist class in this and other respects (Apple, 1979: 4-6; Gramsci, 1971: 26-43; Thomas, 2009: 416-418). From a Gramscian perspective, the majority of academics can be viewed in this respect as being ‘traditional intellectuals’ who are actually ‘the organic intellectuals of a previously dominant and now consolidated and dominant social class, unwilling, at best, or, at worst, unable to recognise their continuing political function’ (Thomas, 2009: 417). Business associations such as Business NZ, and the organic intellectuals of the class that these associations represent, maintain a major focus and intense interest in educational policy because they recognise that ‘the consciousness of workers – beliefs, values, self-concepts, types of solidarity and fragmentation, as well as its modes of personal behaviour and development – are integral to the perpetuation, validation, and smooth operation of economic institutions. The reproduction of the social relations of production depends on the reproduction of consciousness’ (Bowles and Gintis, 1976: 127). Hence the promotion of a shift in funding and student enrolment away from the social sciences and humanities toward STEM subjects and commerce faculties is not just, or evenly mainly, about ensuring an adequate supply of skilled labour; it is about ensuring that the education system produces compliant workers who will not collectively resist their exploitation.
Supplementary Note 4 – New Zealand Business Groups’ Lobbying for Neoliberal Tertiary Education Policies
As Giroux (2014: 16) convincingly argues, the ‘current assault threatening higher education and the humanities in particular cannot be understood outside of the crisis of economics, politics, and power. Evidence of this new historical conjuncture is clearly seen in the growing number of groups considered disposable, the collapse of public values, the war on youth, and the assault by the ultra-rich and megacorporations on democracy itself.’ For example, in New Zealand throughout the neoliberal era, business lobby groups have vigorously advocated policies that undermine the capacity of universities to act as the critic and conscience of society and, thereby, constitute bastions of criticism of neoliberalism. For example, 25 business lobby groups and only 2 unions made submissions on the National Government’s Draft Tertiary Education Strategy, 2014-2019. In general, these business groups wanted: (1) university curriculums and teaching to be oriented as much as possible to meeting the demands of employers for skilled labour; and (2) university research to be tailored as much as possible to the needs of business for research, development, and innovation (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MoBIE), 2014: 20-21, 45-46). Because ‘critical thought and the imaginings of a better world present a direct threat to a neoliberal paradigm in which the future replicates the present in an endless circle’, advocates and defenders of neoliberalism want university research tailored as closely as possible to the research and development needs of business, teaching to be oriented towards STEM subjects and commerce, and the internal management regime of universities to be modelled as closely as possible on the authoritarian line management systems that prevail within large corporations (Giroux, 2014: 31).
Supplementary Note 5 – Resistance to Neoliberalism by Students and University Staff.
The neoliberalisation of the world’s universities has, however, been contested by students, academics, and other university workers (Giroux, 2014: 155-180; Hill, 2012; Kumar, 2012; Welch, 2015). The waves of resistance to neoliberalism since global justice protests shut down the millennium round of the WTO in Seattle in 1999, have both fuelled, and been strengthened by, a revival of radical traditions of thought including anarchism, feminism, ecosocialism, and Marxism. The successful mass protests and strike by students in Quebec in 2012 is an important and informative example of the kind of student struggle that is necessary to push back neoliberalism. It became ‘the longest and largest student strike in the history of North America’ (Giroux, 2014: 162) Among other things, ‘The Quebec [student] resistance movement developed a series of strategies and tactics that awakened society to an ideal of both what a radical democracy might look like and how crucial free, accessible higher education is to such a struggle’ (Giroux, 2014: 176). This is one of the major reasons that universities are viewed with suspicion and distrust by the powers at be.
Supplementary Note 6 – Gramsci’s Analysis of Coercion and Consent
Gramsci’s analysis of the relationship between coercion and consent can help us make sense of the increasingly authoritarian nature of universities under the neoliberal regime. For Gramsci maintaining the hegemony of the ruling class requires a balance of coercion and consent in which coercion is ever present and used, either to directly suppress dissent, or as a potential threat to discourage it (Filippini, 2017: 18, 74; Thomas, 2009: 162-167). ‘The “normal” exercise of hegemony on the now classical terrain of the parliamentary regime is characterised by the combination of force and consent, which balance each other reciprocally, without force predominating excessively over consent’ (Gramsci, 1971: 80fn). Thus for Gramsci, ‘The element of consent is always present in the application of force, and the element of force is always present in the achievement of consent’ (Molyneux, 1986: 150).
Supplementary Note 7: Tertiary Education in the Context of the Post-War Long Boom, 1945-1974
Prior to WWII universities were small elite institutions catering for the sons, and a small but growing minority of the daughters, of capitalists (financiers, industrialists, merchants), members of the high professions, and (especially in New Zealand) affluent farmers. The post-war expansion of tertiary education occurred in all of the advanced capitalist countries, including the two countries that have exerted the greatest influence over New Zealand’s university system- Britain and the United States. In Britain tertiary student numbers increased from 69,000 in 1939 to 294,000 in 1964 and close to 600,000 by 1972 (Harman,1988: 40). Total university degrees awarded increased from 10,452 in 1930, to 19,747 in 1950, to 64,090 in 1970, 87,075 in 1980, 108,487 in 1990, 329,781 in 2000 and 545,070 in 2011 (Bolton, 2012: 20). ‘Overall participation in higher education increased from 3.4% [of the comparable age group in the general population] in 1950, to 8.4% in 1970, 19.3% in 1990 and 33% in 2000’ (Bolton, 2012: 14). Whereas in 1910, ‘just 2.7 percent of the US population, most of them white men, had completed four years of college’ and ‘by 1940, just 4.6 percent – less than one in twenty adults – had four years of higher education’, in 1980, ‘at the start of the neoliberal era, 17 percent of the population had four years of college: a 370 percent jump in four decades’ (Lapon, 2015: 83).
The trend was similar in New Zealand. Prior to WWII university student numbers in the four original colleges (Otago established 1869; Canterbury established 1873; Auckland established 1883; Victoria established 1899 in Wellington) totalled 805 undergraduates in 1900, 3,850 in 1925, and 5,101 in 1935 (Statistics NZ, 1990: 281). Post-WWII university student numbers increased as follows: 9,331 in 1945; 11,515 in 1950; 16,524 in 1960; 22,145 in 1965; 34,446 in 1970; and 39,949 when the post-war long boom ended in 1974. The original colleges became autonomous universities in the early 1960s. Massey University and the University of Waikato were established in 1964. In the context of rising unemployment and the implementation of neoliberalism from 1984 onwards, university student numbers continued to increase in these six universities from 58,242 in 1984, to 72,313 in 1988, and 78,919 in 1990. Lincoln agricultural college became Lincoln University in 1990 and the Auckland Institute of Technology became the Auckland University of Technology in 2000. Twenty years later, in 2010, there were 156,069 university students enrolled in these eight universities and by 2016 there 174,000 university students including 27,700 international students (Ministry of Education (MoE) 2018: 19).
The expansion of the universities was driven by the scientific and technological revolution that was central to the post-WWII boom, the strong growth of manufacturing, the expansion of the public service and public provision of education, health, housing and welfare; which combined to ensure a sustained increase in the demand for skilled labour by public and private sector employers.
The transformation of tertiary education was qualitative as well as quantitative. Prior to WWII when universities were small elite institutions, students tended to be aligned with the ruling class and the political right, among other things enrolling as special police constables to help suppress the 1926 General Strike in Britain, the 1913 General Strike and 1932 depression riots in New Zealand, and joining the NAZIs in large numbers in Germany during 1930s. This changed fundamentally post-WWII as universities became mass institutions and the social composition of the student body changed with respect to class, gender and ethnicity. A large majority of university students continued to come from relatively affluent class backgrounds, for example, 72 percent of students enrolled at Canterbury in 1984 had fathers whose occupations were categorised as professional, business, managerial or farming, and the respective figure for students at Auckland in 1982 was 75 percent (Lauder, 1990: 14-15). But by the late-1960s a growing minority came from a range of working class and so-called lower middle class backgrounds. For example, the study just referred to found that 27 percent of Canterbury students in 1984 had fathers whose occupations were categorised as skilled, trades, semi-skilled and unskilled; the respective figure for Auckland students in 1982 was 25 percent.
Participation by women and Maori also increased substantially. In 1971 32.9% of university students were women and by 2001 this had increased to 55.7% (Statistics NZ, 2005: 49), reaching 58.3 percent in 2016. By 1996, Maori made up 9.1% of all university students (Statistics NZ, 1998: 49). More recently, ‘the participation rate of Maori aged 18 to 24 years in bachelors and higher qualifications was 13 percent in 2015 and 2016. … The participation rate of Pasifika people aged 18 to 24 years in bachelors and higher qualifications increased from 17 percent in 2015 and to 18 percent in 2016’ (MoE, 2017a: 4).
Related to the changing social composition of the university student population, and the wider expansion of tertiary education (with 416,000 people enrolled in some kind of tertiary study in 2016 (MoE, 2018: 5)), the political orientation and intellectual perspectives of students shifted. Although a substantial proportion (probably the majority for long periods) of students have remained politically conservative for most of the period from 1968 to the present, a substantial minority of the student population became increasingly politically radicalised from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, both from exposure to radical ideas that were increasingly being taught by left-wing academics, but also and more importantly from participation in the struggles and campaigns of progressive social movements including the women’s movement, gay and lesbian liberation movement, Maori struggles for mana whenua and tino rangatiratanga, the anti-Apartheid movement, the anti-war and anti-nuclear movement, the environmental conservation movement, and so forth (Roper, 2011a: 21-28). As students became more critically inclined intellectually and moved leftwards politically, they also became more supportive of, and at times involved in, struggles of the working class, such as the struggles against the Employment Contracts Acts and benefit cuts in 1991 or the nurses and teachers strikes of 2018.
As mass institutions, universities became degree factories, producing output (skilled labour power) to be absorbed as labour input by public and private sector employers. Interestingly, the major change in the distribution of students across the degrees awarded by New Zealand universities in 1930, 1960, and 1988 was the expansion of commerce. As a percentage of all degrees awarded, commerce degrees were awarded to 3.0 percent of graduating students in 1930 and 4.9 percent in 1960 (Statistics NZ, 1990: 282). By 1988, however, 21.6 percent of degrees were being award to commerce students. This expansion was almost exclusively based on a shift of a growing proportion of students from humanities and social science degrees into commerce. As a percentage of all degrees awarded, humanities degrees were awarded to 52.3 percent of graduating students in 1930, and 40.0 percent in 1960, and 34.9 percent in 1988 (Statistics NZ, 1990: 282). Degrees awarded in science and technology increased from 16.3 percent in 1930 to 23.6 percent in 1960 before declining to 17.8 percent in 1988 (but this figure is 28.6 percent if agricultural science and engineering degrees are included). Completions of law degrees declined from 11 to 7.8 to 6.1 percent of all graduates in these years.
The nature of student life changed as well, with a general trend during the second half of the twentieth century towards increasing assessment workloads and a move away from the Oxbridge model of terms towards the American model of semesters – increasing the pace of teaching and learning, with academics rushing from preparing one lecture to the next and bearing heavy marking loads, and students struggling through a rapid succession of assessment tasks, making regular lecture attendance difficult and leaving little time for reading, contemplation, political activism, and having fun. The university environment became increasingly competitive, atomising and alienating. As Harman (1988: 41) observes, while at university, ‘students have certain things in common. They are concentrated together in large numbers and subject to the same gruelling system of examinations and assessments. Most face similar economic pressures, so that cuts in government funding affect them all. Yet at the same time, some students will rise to very privileged positions in society and some will end up no better off than manual workers. Indeed, one of the greatest pressures on students, the examination system, is one of the mechanisms for determining who will rise and who will not.’ Nonetheless, students do not constitute a class as such because they are located at a transitional point in their biographies between their class origins (determined by the class location of their parents) and their class destinations in the workforce that are determined to some extent by their choice of subject and academic performance. During the neoliberal era, students have increasingly participated in paid employment to partially fund their studies, thus experiencing the nature of working class employment, exploitation and alienation within the workplace.
During the post-war boom, when social democracy was wedded to Keynesianism, the prevailing view of tertiary education was that it generated a series of important positive externalities of public benefit. Tertiary education was viewed as a citizenship right and merit good. It was considered to be central to the maintenance of equality of opportunity, culture, civilisation, and liberal democracy (Boston, 1990: 170; Grace, 1990a: 168-170; Freeman-Moir, 1997: 208-214). The growth of white collar employment, and employment in the so-called ‘lower professions’ such as teaching and nursing, appeared to corroborate the social democratic Keynesian view that education could play a positive role in reducing socio-economic inequality as many students experienced what they considered to be upward mobility, rising from family backgrounds in the blue collar working class to a growing white collar middle class. Tertiary education was funded by progressive taxation, which was considered to be efficient (because it was a simple and effective means of collecting revenue) and fair (because those who benefited from their education most paid most though progressive income taxation). For example, in 1966 a married man with two children earning $50,000 and above (then less than 0.2% of all wage and salary earners) paid 61.8 percent of income in tax, while those earning from $0 to $4,000 (encompassing 96.2 percent of wage and salary earners) paid from 5.9 percent of $1000 to 18.3 percent of $4,000 (Taxation Review Committee, 1967: 93-94). Progressive taxation made it possible to fund virtually fee free education (90 percent of which was funded by the government) and ‘relatively universal student allowances’ (Dakin, 1973: 109; Boston, 1999b: 197; Stephens, 1997: 194).
Supplementary Note 8- Global Political Climate from 2008 to 2018
Once the catastrophic collapse of the world economy had been averted, ‘the focus of ruling classes shifted toward a war against public services. Concerned to rein in government debts, they announced an age of austerity- of huge cuts to pensions, education budgets, social welfare programmes, public sector wages, and jobs. In so doing, they effectively declared that working class people and the poor will pay the cost of the global bank bailout. These payments may well last a generation - producing higher rates of poverty, more disease and ill health, even more under-resourced schools, and greater hardship in old age’ (McNally, 2011: 4). For example, in 2013, then British Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, summed up the view of the world’s policy-making elites regarding the necessity for a programme of prolonged fiscal austerity. He considered that the large expenditure cuts imposed by the Conservative Coalition in the Budget of that year did not go nearly far enough. He said that there was a “very long way to go” and added: “This is not a two-year project or a five-year project. This is a 10-year project, a 20-year generational battle to beef up the economy in ways that we have not seen for many, many decades” (reported in The Daily Telegraph, July 3 2013: 1).
Initially this programme of fiscal austerity provoked resistance to neoliberalism and opposition to unpopular governments throughout the world. In 2011 a series of revolutionary upheavals swept through the Middle East, the Occupy movement challenged neoliberal hegemony in more than 900 cities across the world, and protests and strikes against austerity occurred in Britain, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. I wrote in 2012 that ‘2011 was the worst year for global capitalism since 1968 – a year of crisis, revolutions, revolts, and global anti-capitalist protests’ (Roper, 2013: x). This assessment is accurate but the period following 2011 has been dramatically different to the decade that followed 1968. A wave of counter-revolution re-established authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, protest and strike activity subsided in Europe and North America, capitalism was rescued by the reformist SYRIZA government in Greece, the far right grew to an extent not seen since the 1930s, and Donald Trump was elected President in 2016.
The overall global political climate has continued to be unstable and volatile throughout the decade since the Global Financial Crisis started in 2008. The radical left has remained substantial and, in some countries such as Greece, Ireland and the United States, experienced growth. Outbreaks of protest such as the international climate justice protests that coincided with the Paris COP 21 in 2015, large protests in the US against Trump, racism, and sexual violence (including the Women’s marches, Black Lives Matter protests, Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Me Too Movement). Protests and strikes have continued to erupt in Europe such as those opposing Macron’s economic reforms in France, pushing for greater Catalan independence, the mass feminist strike in Spain on March 8, 2018, large protests against a proposed water tax in Ireland). With respect to electoral politics, the dominance of neoconservative and/or neoliberal parties has been resisted and challenged as exemplified by the strong support for Bernie Sanders in the Democrats’ presidential primaries in 2016, socialist candidates in the first round of the French presidential election in 2017, and the performance of the Corbyn-led Labour Party in the 2017 British election.
Supplementary Note 9: A Detailed Account of the Fifth National Government’s Neoliberal Attacks on Higher Education, 2008-2017
New Zealand governments since 1984, whether led by Labour or National, have continued to apply a broadly neoliberal approach to tertiary educational policy-making. As such, despite the small but significant differences between the tertiary education policies of particular governments, the overall direction of tertiary educational policy change has been consistent with, and influenced by, historical and international patterns and trends, especially as evident in the United Kingdom and the United States. As Brownlee (2015), Giroux (2014), Heller (2016), Welch (2015), Hill and Kumar (2009), Pucci (2015), Welch (2015), and others have observed, the neoliberalisation of universities in North America and the United Kingdom has centrally involved: rising tuition fees and an enormous expansion of student debt, declining government funding per student, the comprehensive corporatisation of universities with respect to governance and administration, the introduction of executive salaries, superannuation entitlements, and other perks for top-level management, attacks on university staff with respect to conditions of employment, workloads, salaries, and employment security. For example, in the United States, “While 75% of college and university faculty at the start of the 1970s had the security of long-term tenure-track employment, today (2015) more than 75% of instructional faculty are classified as ‘contingent’, teaching on short-term contracts as short as a single semester, typically without healthcare, disability and retirement benefits.’ (Welch, 2015: 59).
University research has been increasingly tailored towards and/or funded by the interests and needs of corporate and military elites. Tertiary education policy has been increasingly aimed at comprehensively re-moulding curriculum towards the requirements of private and public-sector employers. Humanities and social science disciplines have encountered increasing hostility from governments, business lobby groups, and university administrations (Spencer, 2014: 398-399). Associated with this has been a shift in government funding with increases for STEM subjects and cuts in real terms for the humanities. Academics who play the role of public intellectuals (unless they are right-wing) have faced hostility, flak and sanctions on multiple fronts- from university administrations, right-wing think tanks, politicians, and the corporate media. In short, as Giroux (2014: 30) observes,
The neoliberal paradigm driving these attacks on public and higher education abhors democracy and views public and higher education as a toxic civic sphere that poses a threat to corporate values, power, and ideology. As democratic public spheres, colleges and universities are allegedly dedicated to teaching students to think critically, take imaginative risks, learn how to be moral witness, and procure the skills that enable one to connect to others in ways that strengthen the democratic polity, and this is precisely why they are under attack by the concentrated forces of neoliberalism. Similarly, critical thought, knowledge, dialogue, and dissent are increasingly perceived with suspicion by the new corporate university that now defines faculty as entrepreneurs, students as customers, and education as a mode of training.
Finally, university administrations are making extensive use of online teaching, learning, and information technologies to cut services, staff and costs, regardless of the pedagogical and administrative disadvantages of these technologies, which are typically blithely ignored.
So why is this happening? What is driving this process of the neoliberal transformation of universities into increasingly authoritarian, non-critical, and corporate entities oriented towards understanding and serving the needs of business and obediently implementing the dictates of government? Nancy Welch argues that above all else, the reform of tertiary educational policy has been driven by neoliberalism’s strategy of lean production and reproduction.
Neoliberalism is characterized by the strategy of lean production: high-intensity, minimum-security, and low-wage employment. Neoliberalism is also characterized by the strategy of lean reproduction: diminished and eliminated provisions for education, childcare, transportation, and more, that like direct wages, would cut into profit. Decimating the working class is not only the imposition of lean production but also the reordering of the terms of social reproduction—specifically, contractions in the means of socially reproducing labour power. That contraction, the imposition of lean social reproduction of labour power, is what devastates the contemporary university both as a place of employment and as a prime social reproductive institution—one on which capital has long relied (Welch, 2015: 64-65).
It is, however, important to recognise that the imposition of ‘lean reproduction’ on universities does not necessarily involve reducing student participation in tertiary education. As the demand for skilled labour continues to increase in advanced capitalist societies governments and employers want high student participation rates but at the least possible cost to capital and the state. Thus in some countries, such as the United States, student participation has increased substantially during the neoliberal era (Heller, 2016: 172). The Fifth National Government’s tertiary education strategy exemplifies the neoliberal strategy of lean reproduction in nearly every respect but, as we shall see, the scale of the funding cuts for student support generated a substantial decline of domestic student participation in tertiary education from 2007 to 2017 (Ministry of Education, 2017b: 4-7).
The Fifth National Government maintained neoliberal policy frameworks across all levels of the NZ education system. The Government wanted to accommodate a high rate of student participation in tertiary education while as far as possible minimising total government funding of the sector. To achieve this, it cut funding per student and allowed tertiary providers to increase fees to cover the resulting short-falls. The Government articulated its approach to tertiary education policy in two tertiary education strategy documents covering 2010-2015 and 2014-2019. Accepting the overall policy framework introduced by the Fifth Labour Government, this Government placed a similar emphasis on the role of tertiary institutions in serving the needs of business and contributing positively to economic growth. Its ‘overarching vision’ emphasises the importance of a ‘world-leading education system’ for a ‘productive and growing economy’ (MoE, TES, 2010-2015: 6). The number one priority of its tertiary education strategy is ‘delivering skills for industry’ involving ‘more explicit co-operation between industry and TEOs about the types of skills that are most needed, and how best to develop them. TEOs need to create opportunities for industry involvement in planning and delivering education’ (MoE, TES, 2014-2019: 17).
Research is given less priority being ranked number five after (2) ‘getting at-risk young people into a career’, (3) ‘boosting achievement of Maori and Pasifika’, and (4) ‘improving adult literacy and numeracy’. Compared to earlier TES documents, the 2014-2019 TES is most remarkable with respect to its statements on research being tailored according to business needs.
Tertiary institutions need to work more closely with business to ensure that research meets the needs of the economy.
We will ensure that the PBRF recognises research of direct relevance to the needs of firms and its dissemination to them.
The Government expects TEOs to work more closely with industry to improve the relevance of research and achieve greater transfer of knowledge, ideas and expertise to industry (MoE, TES, 2014-2019: 7, 16, 17 respectively).
As this suggests, scant regard is displayed for the statutory requirement that universities act as ‘the critic and conscience of society’, that protection of academic freedom is essential if academics are to play the role of public intellectuals, that universities and other TEOs generate substantial positive externalities such as equipping citizens with the knowledge, skills, and critical thinking to actively participate in a democratic polity. Instead, TES 2014-2019 reiterates the neoliberal mantra that what is best for business is best for us all.
Although this Government did not make any major changes to the overall configuration of legislation, institutions and policy in tertiary education, it successfully imposed fiscal austerity and a substantial series of incremental changes in a strategically and tactically cunning manner. There were no headline changes with an axe being wielded in full public view. Rather, the Government achieved its goals with a succession of carefully planned surgical strikes and multiple surgical incisions. Consequently, the full scale of this Government’s neoliberal policy agenda and attacks on the interests of staff and students only becomes clear when its policy changes are considered as a whole and with a focus on depth and detail.
In 2011 the Government passed a bill proposed by ACT MP Heather Roy introducing so-called voluntary student membership (VSM) of student unions ‘by removing any requirement for students to join students associations’ (Education (Freedom of Association) Act 2011: 2). Although ostensibly justified in terms of freedom of association, a claim undermined by the fact that under the existing legislation students could opt out of membership by conscientiously objecting or on grounds of financial hardship, the real aim was clearly to weaken student unions that had a long history of campaigning for student interests and rights, that provided a springboard for the careers of centre-left politicians, and that were accurately perceived as being politically hostile by the National Government and its supporters.
The VSM legislation did not, however, succeed in completely destroying student unions for several reasons. Firstly, the Employment Contracts Act of 1991 and the Employment Relations Act of 2000 (including its amended versions), undermined union membership and bargaining power by entrenching free-riding and tightly restricting the right to strike. Because student unions differ from most trade unions by providing vital student services on campus, the legislation was unsuccessful in entrenching free-riding because most university administrations responded to the legislation by collecting a Student Service Levy from all students to cover the provision of services to them by student associations. They also provided some additional funding on a discretionary basis to allow these associations to engage in some advocacy activity on behalf of students. Secondly, most of the student associations had built up substantial assets and commercial operations that provide an independent revenue stream. Nonetheless the VSM legislation achieved its main aim of weakening student associations by making them financially dependent on the collection of membership fees, in the form of a service levy, by university administrations. In effect, this transformed student associations from independent student unions into company unions unable to seriously challenge university administrations without risking a catastrophic loss of funding. It also led to student associations withdrawing from or, where they remained members, reducing their financial support of the national advocacy body for tertiary students- the New Zealand Union of Student Associations (NZUSA), which has represented student interests since it was established in 1929. This has substantially reduced the capacity of NZUSA to run and/or support campaigns and to lobby government.
Greatly weakening student associations and NZUSA then made it easier for the Government to rein in the cost of tertiary education through a series of substantial cuts to student support. These cuts include the following. In 2010, recipients of superannuation and veteran’s pension were no longer eligible for allowances, a student loan establishment fee was introduced, an annual IRD administration fee was imposed, a two-year stand-down period was introduced for Australians and permanent residents, loan eligibility was removed for students failing to pass half their papers in the previous year and a seven-year EFTS life-time limit was introduced for borrowing entitlement. In 2011, students aged over 55 were no longer eligible for loans for living costs or course-related costs and part-time full-year students’ eligibility for course-related costs was removed. In 2012, postgraduate student entitlement to allowances was removed, ‘all exceptions (such as national significance or a recognised long course) to 200-week limit on allowances were removed’, the parental income limit for student allowance eligibility was frozen in nominal terms ‘from April 2012 to March 2019’ which resulted in fewer students being eligible as parental nominal income rose from 2012 to 2017, and the repayment rate for student loans is increased from 10 to 12 percent (Ministry of Education, 2017c: 5). During the same period the income threshold for making payments was frozen in nominal terms and not subsequently inflation adjusted from 2012 to 2017. In 2013, the stand-down period was increased to three-years for non-citizens and this was extended to refugees, students aged over 40 were restricted to 120 weeks of allowances, including any they used before they were 40, and for students aged over 65 all remaining eligibility for government support was removed. In 2014, the repayment rate was increased for overseas borrowers, being in arrears with student loan repayments was made a criminal offense, various restrictions and potential sanctions were introduced for student borrowers travelling out of New Zealand (Shaw, 2017: 20).
In 2015 student parents who were beneficiaries were able to keep their accommodation supplement while studying rather than having to go on the much lower student accommodation supplement and in 2016 there was some relaxation of the life-time seven-year borrowing limit for those doing long courses of study such as medicine. But, overall, the central thrust of government policy was to steadily cut government support for students in tertiary education.
The highly parsimonious nature of these policies is remarkable for a government that had the fiscal room to implement substantial tax cuts for high income earners in the 2010 tax reforms and to promise another round of tax cuts in Budget 2017. The amount that students could borrow to cover course costs was frozen at $1,000 per year by successive Labour and National governments from 1993 to 2017. From 2011 to 2016 government spending on student allowances was cut by -27.8 percent (MoE, 2017b: 18). There was no increase in the student accommodation supplement for student allowances which was set at the maximum rate of $40 per week from 2001 to 2017 despite a large increase in rents during this period. The maximum student allowance and living costs component of student loans ($175.10 and $176.86 respectively in 2017) was so low that by 2015 it failed to cover average rents in Auckland and Wellington, paid 90 percent of average rent in Christchurch and 66 percent of average rents in Dunedin (Shaw, 2017: 10-11). Little wonder that a large majority of students who receive an allowance also have to borrow in order to make ends meet. For example, in 2016 94.8 percent of students receiving some kind of government support borrowed from the student loan scheme, 62.0 percent relied exclusively on a student loan, 32.8 percent survived on a combination of the allowance and student loan, and that only 5.2 of eligible students received the student allowance without borrowing from the loan scheme (MoE, 2017b: 38).
The failure to inflation adjust the parental income limit for student allowances from 2012 to 2017 resulted in a ’27 percent reduction in the number of students receiving allowances’ (Shaw, 2017: 25). This limit is set so low that two-thirds of students are ineligible for allowances. In 2017, the limit was set at ‘just 44 percent of the average income for a two-parent household aged in their late-40s (that is, the average age of an 18 year-year old school leaver’s parents). It is fully abated … at 77 percent of the average two-parent household’ (Shaw, 2017: 18). The extraordinarily miserly targeting of eligibility for student allowances means that a large minority of students are in a situation where their parental income is too high for them to be eligible for an allowance but too low for their parents to be able to provide them with regular and adequate financial support. In the 2017 NZUSA Income and Expenditure Survey only 22 percent of respondents received regular financial support from their parents (Shaw, 2017: 18).
During the same period that the Government was cutting student support, public funding of ‘the cost of provider-based provision’ per Effective Fulltime Student Unit (EFSTU) declined from 71 percent in 2011 to 68 percent in 2016. Although this was offset to a degree by a 38.4 percent increase in revenue from international student fee revenue during the same period, universities were left with little option but to raise tuition fees to cover the growing short-fall resulting from declining government funding. Average tuition fees rose by 25.5 percent from 2011 to 2016 (MoE, 2017b: 22). In 2017, ‘The average fees for fulltime students were $7,385, up from $6,246 in 2010. In addition, the average student pays an extra $773 in non-tuition compulsory fees to their institution, known as the Compulsory Student Services Fee (CSSF). At universities, on average, non-tuition compulsory levies increased by 29% per year between 2006 and 2015’ (Shaw, 2017: 13). The affordability of university education, as measured by the number of weeks of average earnings it would take to pay for the average tuition fee, declined as it required 6.2 weeks of earnings to cover the average tuition fee in 2016 compared to 5.6 weeks in 2011 (MoE, 2017b: 22).
Overall, government spending on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP declined from 2.0 in 2011-12 to 1.7 in 2016-17 (MoE, 2017b: 18). By 2018, the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) estimated that ‘cumulative underfunding to the [tertiary education] sector reached $3.7 billion this year  from 2009 levels.’ This is a realistic and accurate assessment because the costs of providing tertiary education increased at a greater rate than government funding.
Little wonder that participation in tertiary education also declined during this period, disguised to some extent by a substantial rise in international student numbers: ‘International students made up 18 percent of the New Zealand student population at bachelors and postgraduate level in 2016, compared to 13 percent in 2008’ (MoE, 2017a: 27). In total, there were 62,600 international students studying in New Zealand higher education in 2016. With respect to domestic participation, ‘In 2016, 12 percent of the population aged 16 to 64 years participated in tertiary education, compared to 16 percent in 2006’ (MoE, 2017a: 4). In a related data series, the total participation rate of domestic students declined from 12.5 percent of the total population in 2008, the year that the Fifth National Government was elected, to 9.4 percent in 2016. The total number of domestic tertiary students enrolled in public institutions declined by 94,031 students from 452,631 in 2005, to 418,319 in 2008 to 358,600 in 2015 (Shaw, 2017: 19).
The student to academic staff ratio increased from 17.8 percent in 2006 to 18.4 percent in 2015 (MoE, 2017b: 13). The TEU summed up the concerns of its members in a submission to the Productivity Commission. These include: increasingly authoritarian top-down management, a decline of democracy and collegiality based on mutual trust, ‘never-ending restructuring of positions, constant reviews, deregulation and re-regulation, pressure to find cheaper modes of course and programme delivery, relentless planning and the attendant requirements of micro-management and reporting demands’ (Grey, Sedgwick and Scott, 2013: 21).
This situation was made even worse when the Government changed the legislation governing the size and composition of the councils and similar bodies that govern education providers in 2015. As the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) observed in its submission on the Education Amendment Bill (No.2),
This Bill is a serious attack on the democratic representation and participation processes for educational governance bodies. The Bill provides for the ability to exert political control over these councils and reduce their representative, democratic and professional power through smaller, less representative councils with a higher proportion of ministerial appointments. … The CTU, like our affiliates, sees this Bill as an attack on democratic representation and participation of the sector’s workers in educational governance and the regulatory council for teachers. The current Act provides assured places on the Teachers Council for the teacher unions and staff, student and union positions on university and wānanga councils (NZCTU, 2014: 3,5).
As well as removing the representation of students and staff on university councils, the Act increased government control over university councils and thereby reduced their independence from government. It did this by reducing the size of councils from a minimum and maximum range of 12 to 20 members to a range of 8 to 12 members while maintaining the number of Ministerial appointed members at 4, thus increasing the proportion of government appointees within councils. A large majority of submissions opposed these changes, focusing on the lack of teacher, staff, and student representation, reduced institutional autonomy and academic freedom, the Ministerial stacking of university councils with white wealthy National Party supporting business men. As the NZUSA submission points out, in 2014 of the 30 Ministerial appointees then on University Councils, only 16% of Tertiary Education Minister- Steven Joyce’s appointees are women, only one is Maori, and none are Pasifika. ‘Further, two-thirds of his appointments have been CEOs, company directors or accountants, a further 20% are lawyers, all commercial, just four come from some other professional background. This despite the fact that more than 90% of graduates from our universities will head into professions or vocations other than those he has drawn almost exclusively from (NZUSA, 2014: 4-5). Despite the breadth of the opposition, the submissions had virtually no effect on the Education Amendment Act (no.2) passed by the Government with little change from the original proposal.
University staff are also concerned about ‘the ascendency of entrepreneurial university managers who emphasise a emphasise a market-based rationality in which education becomes a consumer good, and who have a correspondingly anxious eye on consumer satisfaction and public relations as well as governments concerned with fiscal constraints, corporate ties and short term priorities’ (TEU, 2014: 23). Vice Chancellor salaries increased dramatically under the neoliberal public sector management model. According to the State Services Commission, in 2017 the combined salaries of New Zealand's eight Vice Chancellors was $4,585,000 with an average salary of $573,125. In the same year, the Prime Minister's salary was $471,049. In 2017, VCs were paid as follows: Auckland ($710-719k), AUT ($500-509k), Canterbury ($650-659k), Massey ($600-610k), Lincoln ($450-460K in 2015-16), Victoria ($540-549), Otago ($590-599k), and Waikato ($470-480k) (State Services Commission (SSC), 2017: 10-11, Table 3). ‘In 2017, the average base salary of Public Service CEs was 5.5 times the average pay of their employees’ (SSC, 2017: 5).
Other university staff concerns include, heavy workloads, with most academics working substantially more than 40 hours per week during teaching semesters, time poverty, the growth of precarious employment of academic and general staff with an increasing proportion being hired on short-term contracts, pressure to neglect teaching in order to progress research and administration, irrational management decisions that cannot be effectively challenged, the imposition of new online systems to cut staff, teaching support, student services, and costs regardless of the pedagogical and other disadvantages of these systems, the short-term, excessively quantitative and narrowly financial focus of the Government investment strategy approach as applied by the TEC, an auditing culture where staff have to repeatedly participate in time-consuming assessments and reviews of their performance in teaching, research and/or administration. With respect to gender inequality in the university sector, women continue to be over-represented amongst teaching staff working on short-term contracts and less well paid workers on campus such as departmental administrators. Women are under-represented in the professoriate and within upper level management (see Stringer et al in this issue). Maori, Pasifika, and those from working class backgrounds, are also under-represented in the higher level and better paid positions within universities.
As mentioned in the previous section, the proportion of students undertaking subjects in humanities and social sciences has declined since 1945, due largely to the corresponding rise in the proportion of students doing commerce degrees. The Government did what it could to discourage students from enrolling in humanities and social science disciples by providing so-called ‘accurate information’ on the likely earnings and employment rates of students graduating with different degrees and different majors within these degrees. For example, the Careers NZ website has a ‘Compare Study Options’ tool that provides projections of median earnings and employment rates one, two, and five years beyond graduation. It shows that a commerce graduate will earn a small amount more but have much higher employment rates than most humanities graduates. This encourages students to think of themselves as rational, calculative individuals investing in education, by purchasing educational services, in order to secure two key economic outcomes- employment and incomes. In view of low response rates to exit surveys by graduates, it is far from clear that these estimates are statistically reliable. But, perhaps even more seriously, this tool completely fails to encourage students to think about the qualitative benefits of studying in areas such as the humanities, social sciences, creative and performing arts, and so forth. Students tend to perform better academically in subjects that they find interesting, and grades are a major factor determining employment prospects.
In the 2012 Budget, the government ‘put an extra $42 million into engineering and $17 million into science at universities and polytechnics - while freezing funding for all other subjects - in a bid to ease skill shortages in fields such as engineering and computing’. Steven Joyce justified this in terms that display his utter contempt for the institutional autonomy of universities, including New Zealand’s top-ranked and largest university, when he criticised the University of Auckland for failing to expand its intake of engineering students. ‘Mr Joyce said that if necessary, he would step in to force change at Auckland University. “If they want us to be more directive, I'm more than willing,” he said. “I'm watching them really closely to make sure they do respond to what the market wants, and if they don't, I can go and tell them how many they should enrol for each department”.’ The Government then imposed a freeze on government funding per humanities student from 2011 to 2017 leading to the emergence of politically engineered deficits in humanities departments, schools, and divisions, which university administrations managed by reducing academic, teaching support, and administrative staffing through a combination of closing programmes and departments, encouraging early retirement, imposing sinking lids, providing incentives for voluntary redundancy, and imposing compulsory redundancy.
The neoliberal policy regime for funding tertiary education has tended to increase rather than ameliorate gender and ethnic inequality in some key areas. Recall that when there was fee-free tertiary education with universal living allowances for students, students paid for their education after graduation according to their level of income: the higher their income, the more they paid; the less their income, the less they paid. This is because a system of genuinely progressive income taxation in effect varies the amount that one contributes to the costs of a public funded education system according to an income scale. This is no longer the case under a funding regime based on high tuition fees, low levels of student allowance support, and student loans. Indeed, in general the opposite is the case. The less that students benefit from their education in terms of income after graduation, the more they pay for their education relative to their income for reasons to be outlined shortly.
In New Zealand’s neoliberal funding model, tuition fees constitute the bulk of the money borrowed (67 percent in 2016, MoE, 2017c: 4). Fees are not adjusted according to parental income nor income after graduation (and since a large majority of borrowers use the SLS to pay their fees - 93 per cent in 2016 (2017c: 24) - in reality the bulk of tuition fees are paid off after graduation). The repayment rate is currently set at 12 percent (the rate increased from 10 per cent which applied from 1992 to 2011) and is not levied on a progressive basis according to income, with the rate increasing with income. The threshold for repayment has been set at a remarkable low level and it has not been fully adjusted for inflation, rising from $12,670 in 1993 to $19,084 in 2010 and then being frozen at that amount until 2017 (in 2016 the threshold was set at 60.2 percent of the annualised minimum wage) (MoE, 2017c: 14).
When interest was payable on student loans from 1992 to 2005 at rates that ranged from a minimum of 7.0 to a maximum of 9.0 percent during this period, this had clearly regressive effects in that those students who came from wealthy backgrounds were less likely to borrow, and if they borrowed, then they typically borrowed a smaller amount than those from less affluent backgrounds and were able to pay off their loans at a faster rate (MoE, 2005: 64). For example, in 2016 30 percent of those studying who were eligible for a student loan were sufficiently well off financially to be able to avoid taking out a loan (2005: 4). Because women, Maori, and Pasifika are statistically over-represented amongst borrowers relative to the proportion of these groups in the general population, the levying of interest adversely affected these groups to a greater extent than affluent white men. With respect to ethnicity the weight of evidence clearly shows that Maori and Pasifika, relative to Pakeha, were seriously disadvantaged by the levying of interest on student loans, taking substantially longer to pay off loans because of earning lower median incomes than their Pakeha counterparts. For the entire duration of the SLS Maori and Pasifika have been more likely to be in arrears and/or have periods when their income was below the repayment threshold. With respect to gender, the situation is more complex. Although more borrowers are women than men, constituting 60 percent of the 176,938 active borrowers in 2016, women on average borrow less than men, yet take longer to repay their loans (although the gender gap for median repayment times has narrowed since the interest-free policy was introduced in 2006). (MoE, 2017c: 4). Median earnings have been lower for women graduates than men for the entire period of the SLS (MoE, 2017d: 18). Women who withdrew from paid employment to care for their children often found that their loan grew larger as interest increased the amount to be repaid while they were caring for their children.
Finally, with respect to interest group influence over the broad direction of tertiary education policy it is clear which groups have been winners and which groups have been losers. For example, in the submissions on draft TES documents business groups were supportive of the Fifth National Government’s proposed 2010-15 and 2014-2019 TESs, while student associations, NZUSA, the NZCTU and education unions (particularly the PPTA and TEU), and some university administrations have been critical of, and opposed to, the bulk of the policy changes made (MoBIE & MoE, 2014).
Supplementary Note 10: Why Resistance is Not Futile- Elaboration
During the Muldoon years from 1975 to 1984 and during the neoliberal era from 1984 to the present, students have resisted government funding cuts for university education and the shift from a social democratic Keynesian to a neoliberal funding model. These struggles have not been constant but have come in waves followed by periods of quiescence. There is an important, interesting and generally overlooked history of collective struggles by students in higher education that cannot be discussed in depth here. Of particular note are the large protests (involving around 11,000 students) in 1979-80 against the Muldoon Government’s 3 percent cut to education funding proposed in the 1979 Budget, protests of around 20,000 students against the introduction of substantial tuition fees and a proposal to introduce student loans by the Fourth Labour Government in 1989, the mass protests and occupations of the 1990s, and the much smaller but significant protests against policies of the Fifth National Government such as the VSM legislation, the removal of student and staff representatives from University Councils, and the 2012 austerity measures applied to student allowances and the student loan scheme.
Of course, the socio-political forces, political parties, governments, and media commentators who have supported the implementation and maintenance of the neoliberal policy regime claim that protests are ineffective, pointless and counter-productive. But is this really the case? The historical evidence suggests otherwise. Although it is true that these protests did not prevent the implementation of a neoliberal policy framework for tertiary education, they slowed, limited and, to some degree shaped, the formulation and implementation of this framework. For example, the Muldoon Government was forced to drop the three percent education spending cut in 1980 (Brookes and Coyler, 1999: 26). As Grace (1990b: 185) observes, ‘The [Fourth Labour] Government’s proposals for user-pays tertiary education met sustained and effective political opposition from the New Zealand University Students Association (NZUSA) and their allies. Such opposition was powerful enough to force a revision of the Government’s specific proposals for loans, although it did not affect the Minister’s commitment to the principle of private funding.’ Sparked by a mass protest and occupation of the University of Otago Registry Building in August 1993 that succeeded in stopping a University Council meeting that was going to substantially raise tuition fees for the next academic year, protests and mass occupations took place at the universities of Auckland, Canterbury, Massey, Victoria and Waikato from 1993 to 1997. Amongst the largest and most militant of these protests was the occupation of the University of Otago Council Chamber for a week from the 13th to the 19th of August 1996, which was addressed by then Alliance leader Jim Anderton and received extensive media coverage. These protests forced university administrations to implement smaller fee increases than originally planned. But much more importantly the scale and militancy of these protests prevented the introduction of VSM legislation in 1994, and privatisation of the universities and the introduction of a voucher system, with the universities charging students the fees equivalent to the full cost of providing their courses (Roper, 2005a: 202).
Teachers at all levels of the education system have had to struggle to defend pay and conditions of employment throughout the neoliberal era. Indeed, the combination of salaries declining in real terms, deteriorating conditions of employment, and increasing employment insecurity, has fuelled a greater preparedness to take strike action. A review of the industrial relations chronical in The New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations highlights the increasing prominence of primary, secondary and tertiary education unions in an historical period when private sector union membership declined dramatically and private sector strikes became relatively infrequent.
A brief consideration of some of these struggles highlights the extent to which the presence of unions in the university and wider education sector has made a positive difference for university staff. For example, in 1997 at the University of Otago the AUS combined with student activists to mobilise several thousand students and staff in protests that were largely successful in preventing the closure of the European languages, Classics and Russian departments. As TEAC observed in 2001, ‘Academic salaries have fallen dramatically behind both earlier and current benchmarks and have not kept pace with domestic inflation. Since 1990, a backbench MP’s salary has increased by 37%, a secondary teacher’s by 28%, and a university lecturer’s by 15%. The consumer price index for that period totaled 25%. Staff salary increases in the university sector last year ranged between 1.5 and 1.7% while [inflation] increased by over 3%’ (TEAC, 2001: 17). For the first time in New Zealand’s history, in 2002 strikes by university staff took place on a national basis with staff taking action at Auckland, Canterbury, Massey, Victoria, Waikato, and the Wellington College of Education. An historic first full strike of university staff took place at Otago in 2002 as staff who had been forced to accept pay increases lower than the rate of inflation struck for a better deal, leading to a 4 percent pay rise achieved ‘after a long period of troubled negotiations, starting with a 1.5% offer from the employer and increasing to 4 percent, only after strike action, industrial mediation and a trip … to the Employment Court’ (Association of University Staff (AUS), 2002: 1). This formed part of a wider struggle for a long overdue pay rise for university staff and for a multi-employer collective employment agreement (MECA). Final settlements of the dispute ranged from 2.8 percent (Canterbury) to 4 percent (Otago), substantially higher than the initial offers from university management. Strike action was taken again by more than 5,000 staff at the universities of Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury, Lincoln, Victoria and Massey Universities taken on 20 July and 4 August 2005 for multiemployer agreement and pay rise, with settlements ranging from 3.7 to 5.0 percent. Another round of industrial action in 2008 resulted in similar settlements. Lower settlements were achieved in the early-2010s in the aftermath of the GFC and, as the Fifth National Government’s fiscal austerity and under-funding started to impact negatively on tertiary education providers, and settlements subsequently remained low for the remainder of the decade. Nonetheless, as this small sample of actions taken by the PSA and TEU show, unions do make a positive difference for the workers they represent.
Although the weight of historical, statistical and comparative evidence supports the contention that collective organisation and action makes a positive difference in defending and/or advancing the interests of students and university workers, it is important to acknowledge the harsh reality that we currently face in neoliberal New Zealand. The introduction of so-called voluntary student membership, has greatly weakened student unions, effectively turning them into company unions largely controlled by university administrations. Union membership has declined substantially since 1991 with only 36.7 percent of paid employees in the education sector being union members in 2016 (CLEW, 2017: 5). The right to strike has been virtually extinguished, only being legally permitted in an extraordinarily restricted manner and subject to onerous conditions. Union leaderships are thus far failing to pressure the Sixth (Ardern) Labour Government to give workers the right to freely associate in the form of unrestricted strike action. Universities remain under considerable financial pressures due to the cumulative effects of years of government under-funding and declining domestic student participation. As discussed above, neoliberalism has created a managerialist culture of fear and intimidation sustained by increasingly authoritarian top-down line management systems. University workers and students are demoralised about the prospect of pushing for things to be better than they are now.
This does not mean, however, that resistance is futile. But we do need to be clear about where to take the next steps in building collective resistance. In the short-term, we need to be clear about the importance of re-establishing independent student unions. VSM must go and be replaced with universal student union membership. So-called ‘compulsory’ student union membership never existed since student could apply for non-membership on the grounds of conscientious objection, but subject to a requirement that they pay an amount equivalent to the student association fees to a charity in order to avoid free-riding. Actually, it would be preferable to make all students liable for the service component that would be paid to the student association, not the university administration. The representation fee component of student association membership could be avoided on the grounds of conscientious objection so long as the conscientious objector paid the fee to an approved charity.
As increasingly proletarianized university workers, we need to keep working to build the membership of our unions. In this regard, a much greater priority needs to be made of eliminating free-riding. As everyone who works at a New Zealand university knows, as soon as our union wins a pay increase, management immediately passes this on to non-union staff. In order to counter this practice, our unions should be pushing for a bonus payment for unionised staff equivalent to the average annualised union dues of a full-time university staff member, with a pro-rata payment for part-time staff. There is a precedent for this. In November 2002, a
22-month collective employment agreement between the Public Service Association (PSA) and the Inland Revenue Department awarded an extra $800 bonus payment to union members while non-union employees were paid the same pay rises but they did not get the additional bonus payment. National MP Don Brash requested the Auditor General to investigate whether such payment was legal. However, Minister of State Services, Trevor Mallard, said that he had received assurances that the payments were legal (NZJIR, 2002, 27(3): 363-373).
So, although a bonus payment for union members would not prevent management from passing on a union negotiated pay rise, it would eliminate the smaller financial incentive (union dues) that currently exists for staff to free-ride. Finally, the number one strategic priority of every union should be advocating legislative change to provide workers with the right to freely associate in the form of strike action. The Green Party (2017: 5), to its credit, is currently the only parliamentary party that supports ‘the right of workers and their unions to campaign for political, environmental, social and work-related industrial issues, including the right to strike in support of these’. The education unions have an important role to play in this regard since, along with the health sector unions, they are currently amongst the largest and best organised unions in New Zealand.
Building the membership of the unions that represent university staff and re-establishing genuinely independent student unions is important, but there is no point doing this unless we are crystal clear that student protests and staff strikes are essential if we are going to roll back neoliberalism, let alone get rid of it. In the longer-term, neoliberalism must go. It needs to be thoroughly destroyed - root and branch - at the very least with a return to what we had for several decades of NZ's history- barrier free tertiary education funded by progressive taxation. But, ultimately only the collective creation of a socialist society will make possible the qualitative transformation of the nature of education and the role it plays within society.
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 All figures are from various New Zealand Yearbooks available at: https://www3.stats.govt.nz/New_Zealand_Official_Yearbooks/.
 The fact that 9,978,128 voted for socialist candidates (Jean-Luc Melenchon, Benoit Hamon, Philippe Poutou, Nathalie Arthaud) in the first round of the 2017 French Presidential election, more than for either Le Pen or Macron, was largely overlooked in media commentary on the election.
 Similar legislation had been introduced by the Fourth National Government in 1998 but it was forced to make the concession of providing for a referendum on the question of universal student membership.
 These points are derived from a press release (18-9-2013) by then AUSA President, Daniel Haines. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1309/S00190/vsm-has-weakened-our-national-student-voice.htm. Accessed 20-6-2018.
 TEU at: http://teu.ac.nz/2018/05/6billion-funding-hole. Posted 4-5-2018. Accessed 12-6-2018.
 For a related estimate of full-time equivalent student enrolments that shows a similar trend see: https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/tertiary-education/participation. Accessed 21-6-2018.
 Available at: https://www.careers.govt.nz/tools/compare-study-options/
 New Zealand Herald 21-11-2018. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10848413. Accessed 21-6-2018.
 As above.