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TEC Says It Does Not Know Student Numbers For 2010

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Feb 18 NZPA - The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) says it does not yet know how the current academic year is looking in terms of tertiary enrolments -- or how close universities and polytechnics are to their "caps" on the numbers of students the Government will fund.

"It's too early," TEC chief executive Roy Sharp told Parliament's education select committee yesterday. "Enrolments are still coming in."

This time last year the picture had been similarly fuzzy, he said. At the start of last year some polytechnics stopped enrolments because they were concerned the recession would trigger a flood of people signing up, but that picture had changed later in the year.

TEC director of policy advice, Susan Shipley, told the MPs it allocated money to institutions in three-year plans.

"Last (financial) year, the labour market turned around in the last part of 2008, and there was big increase in demand in the polytechnic sector," she said.

Though there was a perceived jump in demand early in 2009, the tertiary funding had been set earlier in 2008 and there was no scope to lift funding of the places in polytechnics.

Forecasting was difficult, and was not done by the TEC, which relied on tertiary institutions -- but they could be caught out when a surge in enrolments simply turned out to be students enrolling earlier than usual.

Institutions were asked not to enrol more than 3 percent above the number of students for which they were funded, but the TEC had not taken any punitive action on institutions which breached this.

The TEC said lay-offs of staff by polytechnics would have been due to the institutions trying to cut their costs.

Labour MP Trevor Mallard suggested the Government could have been more flexible and funded more places at polytechnics, but Dr Sharp said the system was set up to give fiscal certainty.

Ms Shipley said changes could really only be made at budget time, though nothing was done in the 2009 budget to increase the number of places.

Mr Mallard said the process smacked of something from the 1970s.

Dr Sharp said that TEC administration had a $2.87 million surplus in its operational budget for 2009 and $46m surplus in the funds it allocated.

"We moving towards a situation where our funding for this financial year would be less than last year, and we were trying to smooth our spending to be able to face 2009-2010 without a step-change," he said.

It was not practical to have a big cut in funding for education halfway through the academic year, when the financial year ended.

The TEC said the Government had started buying up places for students in polytechnics and private training institutes to provide the 2000 student places it had promised for a "youth guarantee" in 2010.

It had approved 28 providers to help 16- and 17-year-olds -- seen as being at risk of disengaging from education or training -- gain practical skills.

Ms Shipley said that additional purchasing of places for 2010 had started, but there was more discussion needed on how the initiative could be broadened out.

"There should be quite an array of opportunity for young people for whom school is not the best option when they get to that senior level," she said.

The places in this scheme were allocated to regions of high need, based on the number of unemployed young people in the population and providers who had successful records in delivering education to such groups.

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