Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Neoliberalism's War on New Zealand's Universities

Getting close to finishing my article 'Neoliberalism's War on New Zealand's Universities.' This week I have been researching the Fifth (Key) National Government's tertiary education policies and its cuts to tertiary education funding.

Fifth (Key, English) National Government Funding Cuts
After pushing through VSM in 2011 - thereby greatly weakening student unions, from 2011 to 2016 government spending on student allowances was cut by 27.8%; tuition fees rose by 25.5%; funding per EFTSU declined from 71% to 68% for university students; Government spending on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP declined from 2.0 in 2011-12 to 1.7 in 2016-17 (Ministry of Education, Profiles and Trends: Tertiary Education Sector and Student Support 2016, pp.18-23).

Little wonder that participation in tertiary education also declined during this period. 

By 2018, the Tertiary Education Union estimated that ‘cumulative under-funding to the [tertiary education] sector reached $3.7 billion this year [2018] from 2009 levels.’ This is an accurate estimate.

University VC Pay
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.
VCs were paid as follows: Auckland ($710-719k), AUT ($500-509k), Canterbury ($650-659k), Otago ($590-599), Massey ($600-610k), Lincoln ($450-460K in 2015-16), Victoria ($540-549), and Waikato ($470-480k) (Senior Payment Report, 2017, p.10-11, Table 3).

If average VC pay was cut by $200k per VC per year (leaving an average annual salary of a mere $373k plus benefits), that would save $8 million over five years. To this could be included the salaries of Deputy VCs or their equivalents, in which case the saving would be much larger. As a rough equivalent, this one saving would fund the salaries of 35.5 general staff paid at the rate of $45K per year during the same five year period.


Income Threshold for Loan Repayment
Among many shocking facts that I've encountered researching neoliberalism's war on tertiary education in NZ, here is one. How on earth can anyone other than a neoliberal ideologue think it is fair and reasonable to set the threshold at which people have to start paying 12 percent of their income towards their student loan debt at 60.16% of the annualised minimum wage ($31,720 in 2016)? In 2018 the minimum wage is $16.50 before tax. If you are on such a low income, how could you afford to lose 12 percent of it? Surely even the mildest reformist should support raising the threshold to be no lower than the minimum wage?


Fifth National Government Tertiary Education Minister, - Steven Joyce
Here is a remarkable statement by then Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, made a few months after Budget 2012 started the long freeze on government funding per humanities student from 2011 to 2017. The University of Auckland was refusing to savagely cut staff in the 'the arts, creative arts, the business school and the law school' to fund more places in engineering.
Joyce responded: "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 enroll for each department."
Apart from being an obvious display of bullying, it also reveals his utter contempt for the institutional autonomy of universities - essential for academic freedom and for the university to act 'as the critic and conscience of society'. 


Resistance is not futile!

Bullet points in this section:

• Student protests and independent student unions do make a difference. Illustrate with historical NZ examples.

• Unions do make a difference. Illustrate with NZ examples and comparative reference to the U.S.

• However, the reality we currently face in neoliberal land is bleak. VSM has greatly weakened student unions, effectively turning them into company unions largely controlled by university administrations. Union membership has declined. The right to strike has been virtually extinguished. Union leaderships are failing to pressure this government to give workers the right to freely associate in the form of strike action. 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.

• In the short-term, we need to be clear about the importance of re-establishing independent student unions. VSM must go. We need to keep working to build the membership of our unions. 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.