“The decision today marks a decade of fee hikes and poor decision making on behalf of the University of Auckland,” said Cate Bell, President of the Auckland University Students’ Association (AUSA). Her sentiment was echoed by the hundreds of Auckland students who protested throughout the day, calling on the government and the University's Vice-Chancellor to pay attention to concerns about pricing students out of tertiary study.
“We have seen a declining roll in five out of the eight universities in New Zealand last year as increasing cost keeps students away from study. What has been exposed is that demand for education isn't exhaustive and fantastical levels of debt are a deterrent for students participating in higher education,” says Bell.
“The Annual Maximum Fee Movement (AMFM) legislation prevents the university from increasing domestic fees by more than four percent each year. Yet what was always intended as a ceiling is now being treated as a starting line, with all university councils setting their fees at the cap. The result is a decade of fee increases above inflation.”
As tuition increases outstrip the government subsidy for tertiary education – which for most courses has not increased at all – students are paying for a larger and larger proportion of the costs. “This reflects an unfounded belief that education is a private good to be borne individually, rather than a public good with widespread and universal benefits to society,” said Bell.
“We can have an education system which celebrates talent rather than those with the deepest pockets, it’s just a question of priorities. TVNZ's Vote Compass tool in the recent election showed that 55% of the 350,000 respondents supported free tertiary education, so it is clear that making accessible education a priority reflects New Zealand society’s views too.”
“The Council needs to commit to putting more pressure on the government to invest in education, and stop seeing students and increasing their indebtedness as a solution to restricted government funding”.
Students were particularly angry about the University's decision to hold the council meeting in a secret location, with no access granted to members of the public. “Council members have often said that they are mindful of student debt while raising fees, but for the third year in a row students at the University of Auckland have been excluded from participating in the fee setting process. Holding the meeting in secret undermines the institution's obligation, as a public body, to engage with students. If a majority of Council want to vote to increase fees they should stand by their conviction and face the students whose lives they are affecting”.
“Tuition fees have increased 26.53% in the last six years. In the same period of time the University of Auckland has dropped from 65th place in the QS world rankings to 92nd. Students are paying more and getting less, as is seen most clearly in dramatically worsening staff student ratios,” says Bell.