Monday March 05, 2001
Government to steer young into maths, science

Education reporter Students will be steered away from subjects such as accounting and law as the Government tries to increase the number of science and maths graduates. Tertiary Education Minister Steve Maharey says that in 1999, almost 30 per cent of tertiary students were enrolled in business, commercial and legal courses, causing an oversupply of graduates.

As part of an overhaul of tertiary education to be announced this week, the Government plans to take a role in determining the number of graduates across a range of courses. Mr Maharey said the country's economic development was at risk because at present it relied on the choices of tertiary students. He wanted more graduates in growth industries. "We think we need to be able to steer the system more ... We can't guarantee our own economic development off our tertiary system at present," he said.

On Wednesday, the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission (Teac) will release a report recommending a cap on the number of courses available to students in areas where graduate numbers vastly exceed local industry demand. Auckland District Law Society executive director Margaret Wong said it would not do any harm to encourage students to look at courses other than law. Law graduates had problems getting jobs because of the oversupply. But the chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Diana Pryde, pointed to a domestic shortage of accountancy graduates. "There might be a quite a lot of graduates, but too many of them are going offshore. The ones who stay can have their pick of jobs."

The Teac report, the second of four to be released by the end of the year, will advise the Government how to ensure the sector meets the needs of a knowledge economy. The report is expected to recommend that funding is withdrawn from some tertiary education providers to cut course duplication.

Over the past decade, competition between tertiary institutions has flourished because of the way the Ministry of Education funds them. State funding is determined by the number of students wanting to enrol in a course. This has led to a proliferation of providers, duplication of courses and satellite campuses. Government spending has been spread more thinly, compromising the quality of education and the financial stability of many institutions, including universities and polytechnics. Mr Maharey said one of the Government's key aims was to eliminate destructive competition between institutions.

To address the problem, the report is also expected to recommend that a new organisation be established, taking on a funding distribution role and acting as an adviser to the Government and institutions. It is understood that education providers will be asked to submit profiles outlining what they want to teach and specialise in. The new organisation will distribute funding based on those profiles.

Mr Maharey said less funding would go to private providers because the Government wanted to build on the $3.6 billion worth of assets in the public tertiary sector. He said it was unlikely that any big institutions would close as a result of the Teac report. However, there would be mergers and amalgamations. Tertiary institutions and lobby groups largely support the Government's effort to remove destructive competition from the sector, but most are nervous about how funding will be distributed. "We're continually optimistic but suitably nervous," said the president of the Association of Polytechnics, Jim Doyle. The executive director of the Association of University Staff, Rob Crozier, said he welcomed any moves to improve education.

Main points expected from the commission:
* More mergers and collaboration between the country's tertiary education providers.
* Smoother cross-crediting of courses between tertiary institutions.
* More guidance and career counselling offered to the country's 250,000 tertiary students.
* Less Government funding dispensed to the country's 845 private tertiary education providers.
* A significant change in the way tertiary institutions are funded by the Government.
* Less geographical duplication of courses.
* Less competition between institutions for students.
* A new organisation set up to administer funding and take on an advisory role between the Government and tertiary institutions.

ęCopyright 2001, NZ Herald


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