Joyce mix­ing stu­dent mes­sages

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Steven Joyce has a rep­u­ta­tion as the Cab­i­net’s heavy hit­ter, and he holds a trio of port­fo­lios that are cen­tral to eco­nomic plan­ning.

Joyce is the Min­is­ter of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy. This should al­low him to co-or­di­nate the Gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts in those three vi­tal ar­eas.

All the more rea­son then to be sur­prised that in last week’s an­nounce­ments about stu­dent loans, Joyce’s left hand did not ap­pear to know what his right hand was do­ing.

Joyce’s changes to the stu­dent loan scheme will re­quire stu­dents to lift their an­nual re­pay­ments on stu­dent loans from 10 to 12 cents in the dol­lar. This obli­ga­tion will cut in on stu­dents earn­ing as lit­tle as $19,000 an­nu­ally.

In ad­di­tion, stu­dent al­lowances will be scrapped for those do­ing post-grad­u­ate work, at the point where four years of study have been com­pleted.

Sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics have been ear­marked to re­ceive the ‘‘up to’’ $70 mil­lion es­ti­mated to re­sult from these mea­sures.

Yet, as was quickly pointed out, the scrap­ping of post-grad­u­ate stu­dent al­lowances will have an im­pact on those study­ing medicine, den­tistry and ve­teri­nary medicine, be­sides the arts and com­merce stu­dents sin­gled out by Joyce.

Given the coun­try’s GP short­age, that seemed an in­ex­pli­ca­ble move. Ac­cord­ing to Green Party MP Holly Walker, the change will be send­ing an over­all sig­nal that only the wealthy can ex­pect to af­ford to pur­sue any form of post­grad­u­ate stud­ies in fu­ture.

The Gov­ern­ment has said it will be us­ing the up­com­ing Bud­get to shift fund­ing to favour de­grees in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and maths, and the Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion has also called on ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions to in­crease the num­ber of grad­u­ates in those fields.

Un­for­tu­nately, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence of a need for more grad­u­ates in those fields – let alone of jobs be­ing avail­able, once grad­u­ates have com­pleted their stud­ies.

Last year, 560 sci­en­tists sent an open let­ter to the Gov­ern­ment, de­cry­ing the dearth of ca­reer open­ings in New Zealand (and the min­i­mal state sup­port) for post­grad­u­ates in sci­ence.

Anec­do­tally, there is ev­i­dence of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy jobs for peo­ple emerg­ing from poly­tech­nics, par­tic­u­larly for those with trade cer­tifi­cates.

How­ever, few jobs ex­ist for those with post-grad­u­ate de­grees in sci­ence. The prob­lem is that most sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy jobs are based in ei­ther Crown Re­search In­sti­tutes or in uni­ver­si­ties, both of which are fac­ing fund­ing pres­sure from gov­ern­ment and there­fore, are not hir­ing.

On the face of it, Joyce is talk­ing about shift­ing the fo­cus of univer­sity course fund­ing and fos­ter­ing ca­reers in ar­eas where – with his other hand – he is lim­it­ing the fund­ing re­quired to sus­tain such ca­reers.

In fact, one of the first acts of the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment in 2008 was to scrap the tax in­cen­tives that were meant to lift our lev­els of pri­vate sec­tor re­search and de­vel­op­ment closer to the in­ter­na­tional norm.

In sum, it is hard to see how Joyce’s plans will do any­thing other than has­ten the brain drain. Po­lit­i­cally speak­ing, they also pro­vide young vot­ers with a rea­son to feel last­ingly ag­grieved. It hardly seems worth the re­turn.

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