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From the Chair: The higher education funding review

17 July 2023 | news

By Professor Cheryl de la Rey 
Tumu Whakarae | Vice-Chancellor
University of Canterbury 
Chair of the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee


Tēnā koutou katoa,

I began the role of Chair of Universities New Zealand - Te Pōkai Tara at the start of 2023 and I would like to acknowledge my predecessor Jan Thomas, Vice Chancellor of Massey University - Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa for her work in this role over the past two years as we navigated the pandemic.

After the end of the pandemic restrictions, we had hoped that this would be a smoother year but there is no question that this is a time of immense and multiple challenges for Aotearoa New Zealand universities. While we know we are not alone in dealing with the current financial headwinds, we also know that maintaining the capability and effectiveness of New Zealand’s eight universities is essential to our country’s success socially, culturally, and economically.

There is ample evidence that investment in universities delivers myriad positive returns to individuals, communities, and the country in the form of highly skilled graduates, future leaders, and research that has direct positive impacts in our daily lives from healthcare to economic development. Then there is the impact that each university has locally, for example, the university I lead, the University of Canterbury, is the second largest employer in our part of the country. As employers, through procurement of goods and services, hosting events and in many other important ways, universities play a vital role in the development of local economies and the well-being of communities.

The recent announcement by the Government of another $128m of support for universities and other degree providers was welcomed by the sector. The additional funding will help us navigate the next couple of years.

What got less publicity was the announcement that the higher education funding system would be reviewed. The higher education funding review will hopefully be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to position us to better serve this country in the long term.

The short-term issues facing the university sector are well known such as the impact of border closures and an overall drop in domestic student numbers.

The structural issues, however, are less well known and there has been a long-term decline in real funding per student but an increase in funder and student expectations as to what will be delivered from the funding.

We look forward to working with Government to explore how our universities could deliver much greater value with different funding settings and investment levels. 

Our universities want to do more. We know that we are the key to navigating many of the challenges Aotearoa New Zealand will face in the coming decades. We just need the support to unlock that value.