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National has students in the crosshairs

National is promising to deliver ‘better’ outcomes for tertiary students and the taxpayers who support them in one of its latest policies – but it could have unforeseen consequences for distance students, Massey University Extramural Students' Society president Ralph Springett warns.

National is to link funding for tertiary institutions to performance – at face value, an admirable notion – as well as publish employment data for graduates of each qualification. It will also simplify the number of qualifications on offer.

From next year, five percent of tuition funding given to tertiary institutions will be at risk based on performance. National hopes this will incentivise institutions to “perform better”, driving value for money.

However, as performance is judged on the number of degree completions, and with National intending to use a specific timeframe for this calculation, extramural students will be disadvantaged, given they typically work on a longer schedule than a student studying internally.

Springett says Massey University, which is home to a good chunk of extramural students, stands to lose millions each year as a result.

“Institutions that want to keep all their funding will shed distance students as fast as they can,” Springett says.

“These policies are not even-handed and will soon restrict study options for part-time students, especially those doing Bachelors degrees.”

The good news for students? National remains “totally committed” to the interest-free student loan scheme, according to tertiary education spokesman Steve Joyce. But even then, changes are on the cards.

“To ensure student loans are sustainable for generations to come National will make further changes to ensure students don’t finish their study with masses of debt that they have little chance of repaying,” Joyce said.

“Some students are borrowing for very large course loads in a single academic year. In many cases this is because they change their mind about what they want to study more than once in a year.”

National is to limit the number of credits students can enroll in in any given year, to “prevent taxpayer money being wasted” and stop huge loans that “bring no benefit in terms of qualifications gained.”

Knowledge for the sake of knowledge clearly has no place in National’s policies.