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Government looking at extra fees at tertiary institutions

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Steven Joyce
Steven Joyce

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, July 14 NZPA - The Government has signalled a crackdown on tertiary educators who are ramping up non-academic levies.

In a speech to tertiary education providers at Victoria University today, Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said students had written to him complaining about steep levies for use of things like libraries.

Mr Joyce said he would be writing to universities and polytechnics asking why the increases were necessary.

"Over the past year or two a number of institutions have made very significant increases to compulsory levies for students," he said.

"But the amounts being charged are in some cases growing quite dramatically."

Health and career services were examples and Mr Joyce said he was concerned that some institutions' students were being charged for building maintenance and library services.

He urged the providers to "tread with caution" increases to compulsory add-ons.

"You wouldn't want to see big increase come after big increase, because if you keep seeing that you might be tempted to believe that people are avoiding fee regulation by charging another way."

Tertiary providers are regulated under the fee maxima policy where they have to get approval to raise fees because of the high component of government funding.

Asked by reporters if the providers were actually avoiding the maximum by charging the levies, Mr Joyce said it was up to them to prove to him they were valid.

"I am going to start with have a good conversation with them about what they are for... a cynic might say that," he said.

Some universities included in their levies student association type levies and removing compulsory membership, which is being considered, could have an effect.

Figures available on providers' websites showed levies for different institutions. Canterbury University's levies were high at $600 (up from $85 in 2009); followed by Victoria $510 ($276); and Auckland University $542 ($422).

Mr Joyce did not name providers but mentioned high increases.

"These are very big increases over a short period of time... There are a number of universities and a couple of polytechs around the country that are talking of either doing this thing or talking of doing more of it."

In other countries like Australia there were maximums on such levies.

"That is always a possibility here. I prefer to go down the path of actually getting a clear understanding of what's going on and how the institutions are planning on acting before you suddenly leap to regulate or control those things.

"Technically they may not (be breaking rules) but at the same time they may have big student rolls that are 75 percent funded by taxpayers, and of course when people borrow to pay these fees that is also subsidised by taxpayers. So I think taxpayers have a legitimate interest in the levels of these fees."

It was too early to say whether regulation would be considered.

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