Is open entry to New Zealand universities a human right or a utopian ideal past its use-by-date?


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New Zealand has a long tradition of accessible, affordable public higher education. The 1989 Education Act entitles students to enrol at university by right of prior educational achievement at high school or age. Combined with generous financial aid, this “open entry” has contributed to New Zealand having one of the highest participation rates in the developed world. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and a change of government to a National-led coalition, the fiscal cost of open entry has come under the spotlight. In a series of policy changes, the government has moved to cap overall enrolments, limit students’ access to financial aid and encourage universities to exclude failing students by introducing financial penalties for low course and qualification pass rates. In principle, these changes could reduce the overall number of students at university without eroding the principle of open entry. Instead, most New Zealand universities have introduced selective admissions policies, ending the era of open entry. This paper explores the arguments for and against open entry, reviews the history of open entry in New Zealand and discusses the likely impact of recent policy developments on the higher education landscape.

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Is open entry to New Zealand universities a human right or a utopian ideal past its use-by-date?

  1. 1. Is open entry to New Zealand universities a human right or autopian ideal past its use-by date? Professor Nigel Healey Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Canterbury
  2. 2. Recent newspaper headlines  Open University Entry for Over-20s Ending  An End to Open Entry at Universities?  Massey Shuts Door! SIT Shuts Gate!  We Need an Open Debate about Open Entry  Another Nail in the Coffin for Open Entry  “More than half of New Zealand’s university campuses have effectively closed off second semester entry and are moving towards limited entry next year. By turning away from open entry, a system that gave all suitably qualified New Zealanders a fair go, this year marks a sad turning point away from this cornerstone of our tertiary education system” (NZUSA Co-President David Do)
  3. 3. Overview  Why publicly subsidise higher education?  Why allow open entry to university?  A brief history of university entry in New Zealand  The performance of New Zealand universities  The financial challenges post-GFC  The future of open entry
  4. 4. While publicly subsidise highereducation?  Investment in (higher) education increases productivity and promotes economic growth – especially in a knowledge economy  Higher education transforms the life chances of those educated – promotes social harmony  The gains to society of an educated population exceed those to the educated individuals (through higher productivity and earnings) – there are positive „spillover effects‟
  5. 5. …and the orthodox policyprescriptions which follow  Countries should aim to increase overall participation rates in higher education  Policy should focus on raising the participation rates of socially disadvantaged or under-represented groups – „social inclusion‟, „widening access‟  Governments should provide (at below cost) or subsidise higher education to ensure optimal take-up  Such support may be targeted at subjects where the positive spillovers are highest (eg, teacher training)…  …or at lower income groups who are less able/willing to fund an investment in higher education
  6. 6. Why allow open-entry to university?(1) “Open entry” means the automatic right to enter by virtue of qualifications (UE) or age Competitive selection “rigs” entry in favour of higher socio- economic groups  “Rite of passage” for middle-class children; entrenches social inequalities  Regressive redistribution of income from poor to rich  “Open access is a cornerstone of our tertiary education system. Any moves away from this will threaten participation by most of the population into tertiary education” (David Do, NZUSA Co- President)
  7. 7. Why allow open-entry to university?(2)  High school performance is a poor predictor of university performance  Take level 3 NCEA scores and award  4 for Excellent  3 for Merit  2 for Achieved  Use only best 80 credits (max score 320)  Compare with Grade Point Average (GPA) at end of first year  A+ = 9, C- = 1, D = 0, E = -1
  8. 8. NCEA scores vs first year GPA (2009)(source: Sampson & Broght, 2010) Type II error Type I error
  9. 9. Age is a better predictor of futureacademic performance UC First Year Students in 2009 Full time Number Pass rate GPA 18-19 (with UE) 1,922 82% 4.2 20-24 344 52% 2.0 25-29 133 70% 3.3 30+ 175 79% 4.1
  10. 10. A history of university entry in NewZealand (1) UC accepted “unmatriculated” students since it began in 1873 University of New Zealand: “the Entrance or Matriculation Examination has been a standard examination given by the University to make certain that its entrants are ready, in its opinion, to pass into the University“ (NZCER, 1935) Government required NZ universities to admit returning servicemen after WWI without entrance examination
  11. 11. A history of university entry in NewZealand (2) Progressive education movement 1930s-1950s C E Beeby  “the architect of our modern education system”  Director of NZ Council for Education Research 1935-39  Director of Education , 1940-60 Peter Fraser  Minister of Education 1935-40  Prime Minister 1940-49  “every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted and to the fullest extent of his powers” (speech in 1939)
  12. 12. A history of university entry in NewZealand (3) Unmatriculated students could be admitted at the University‟s discretion (“provisional admission” ) first at 30+, then 21+, finally 20+ 1989 Education Act  Paved the way for introduction of domestic tuition fees ($1,250 in 1991), previously nominal $300  Domestic tuition fees set at 25% of total cost of tuition  Increased by average 13% pa throughout 1990s  Made entry at 20+ a right (no univ. discretion)  New “driver‟s test” principle: “come and have a go, if you think you‟re smart enough”
  13. 13. 1989 Education Act Para. 224  2. a) a person is eligible to be enrolled as a student at any institution…if the person is a domestic student [and]  2. b) the person holds the minimum entry qualifications for the course determined by the council (as defined by the NZ Qualifications Authority (under para. 257)  3. Sub-para. 2. b) does not apply to a person…[who] has attained the age of 20 years  5. Where the council of an institution is satisfied that it is necessary to do so [it…] may determine the maximum number of students who may be enrolled in a particular course  9. No foreign student…shall be enrolled at an institution if the students enrolment at the institution would have the effect that a domestic student…would not be able to be enrolled
  14. 14. The story so far  The case for publicly subsidised higher education turns on the positive spillovers for society of having educated, productive and engaged citizens  The case for open entry is that it gives everyone, regardless of social background, a chance to succeed?  So:  How is New Zealand‟s university system performing?  And what is the problem with maintaining open entry?
  15. 15. Proportion of 25-64 year olds whohave studied at tertiary level 45 40 35 30 25 New Zealand 20 OECD 15 10 5 - 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2010
  16. 16. New Zealand university participationrates by age group andethnicity, 200945.0%40.0%35.0%30.0%25.0%20.0%15.0%10.0% 5.0% 0.0% Pakeha 18-19 Pakeha 20-24 Maori 18-19 Maori 20-24 Pasifika 18-19 Pasifika 20-24 Asian 18-19 Asian 20-24 Source: Ministry of Education
  17. 17. New Zealand university participationrates by ethnicity (% population 15years+ enrolled) 9.0% 8.0% 7.0% 6.0% 5.0% Pakeha Maori 4.0% Pasifika Asian 3.0% 2.0% 1.0% 0.0% 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Source: Ministry of Education
  18. 18. So how is the university sectorperforming and what is the problem?  New Zealand has 4th highest tertiary participation rate in OECD (after Canada, Japan and US)  Although there are differences in participation rates between ethnic groups, rates are trending up  But growing participation and social inclusion increases the cost to the taxpayer of higher education  Giving everyone a “fair go” wastes resources  Post-GFC, the government‟s ability to fund higher education is significantly constrained
  19. 19. The cost of the NZ tertiary system($m) 4,500 4,000 3,500 3,000 2,500 Student loans 2,000 Tuition subsidies 1,500 Student allowances 1,000 500 0 Source: Ministry of Education
  20. 20. Direct government funding touniversities $1,400,000 $1,200,000 $1,000,000 $800,000 Total Government Funding $600,000 EFTS Vote $400,000 $200,000 $0 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 Source: Ministry of Education
  21. 21. Increased funding has price andquantity dimensions Funded EFTS Government114,000 Funding/EFTS112,000 $12,000110,000 $10,000108,000 $8,000106,000 $6,000104,000 $4,000102,000 $2,000100,000 $0 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 Source: Ministry of Education
  22. 22. Giving everyone a “fair go”necessarily wastes resources  Although it is hard to predict in advance how an individual student will perform, with open entry a significant proportion will fail  Open entry is a “fair go” to succeed or fail  Resources are genuinely wasted if:  Failing students do not learn anything  They could otherwise have been working or learning a vocational trade  Their self-esteem and confidence is damaged by failing  “Ghost students” – unintended product of open entry, liberal progression standards and student loans
  23. 23. Illustrative academic progressionpolicies The University of Auckland  Satisfactory progress: a student is required to attain a Grade Point Average of at least 0.8 in the last two semesters in which they were enrolled.  Victoria University of Wellington  Satisfactory progress: passing at least half the number of points attempted in the last two consecutive trimesters of study, or passing at least 36 points in the most recent trimester. !
  24. 24. Eight year qualification completionrates for domestic students 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 2000-2007 2001-2008 30% 2002-2009 20% 10% 0% Bachelors Graduate Honours/PG Masters Doctorates Total cert./ dip. cert./dip. Source: Ministry of Education
  25. 25. Eight year qualification completionrates for all students (bachelors andabove) 70% 60% 50% 40% Male Domestic Female Domestic 30% Total Domestic International 20% 10% 0% 2000-2007 2001-2008 2002-2009 Source: Ministry of Education
  26. 26. Comparative bachelor’s degreecompletion rates (five years) 100 90 80 70 60 50 Completion Rates (at least 5A/5B 40 Programme) 30 Left Without Tertiary Qualification 20 10 0 Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2009
  27. 27. Proportion of students who leave without atleast a first tertiary degree % 60 50 40 OECD average 30 20 10 0 Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2009
  28. 28. Constrained capacity to fund highereducation: government debtprojections post-GFC Source: The Treasurys Long-term Fiscal Statement
  29. 29. How can the Government spend lesson higher education?  Plan A: Investment Plans 2008  Set EFTS funding cap per institution  Drawbacks:  With open entry, universities can‟t prevent becoming over- enrolled  Public expenditure on student allowances and loans demand-driven and goes over-budget  Worst of all worlds – public spending still uncontrolled and universities underfunded
  30. 30. How else can the Government spendless on higher education? Plan B: have you cake and eat it (2010) Retain open entry to give everyone a fair go, but drive underperforming students out of the system more quickly by:  Penalising institutions for exceeding their enrolment caps  Penalising institutions for low course / qualification / progression rates  Denying underperforming students loans Keep open entry, have fewer all-years EFTS in universities and (in principle) graduate the same number of students
  31. 31. The UC response (1)  Retain open access  Tighter progression standards to:  Weed out weak students  Encourage underperforming students to work harder, seek support  New rules (approved November 2009):  Can take a course only twice (three times with Dean‟s approval)  Risk of exclusion after two successive semesters of a GPA below 1.5
  32. 32. The UC response (2)  Retain open access but…  Remember relatively poor performance of 20-24 year olds (52% vs 82% for school leavers and 70% for 25-29 year olds)?  Case for reintroducing some form of entrance examination to ensure that 20-24 year olds are ready for university study
  33. 33. Challenges for universities  If open entry is to be retained, universities need to fundamentally reshape infrastructure and organisational culture to ensure:  Students understand the consequences of failing  Weak students are identified and monitored  Pro-active support is in place for those willing and able to succeed  Such changes are a challenge to the business model  Large, unsupported entry-level classes cross-subsidise small advanced classes and research  Staff may resist reallocation of resources towards level 100 and retention services
  34. 34. A final complication…  Although it appears to violate the 1989 Education Act, a simpler response by universities is to limit open entry by selecting on basis of NCEA results  Action by several universities to adopt selective entry creates strong prisoner‟s dilemma issues…  entry universities may find standard of entrants falling, forcing them into a vicious circle (lower entrants, higher retention costs) or (more likely) to adopt selection
  35. 35. Conclusions  Open entry has been a feature of New Zealand universities since the 1920s  It has contributed to amongst the highest participation rates in the world…  …coupled with relatively low completion rates  Faced with funding pressures, the Government is seeking to reduce “waste” in higher education, by excluding poor performing students while maintaining open entry  While UC remains committed to open entry, there is a risk that the Governments strategy may be derailed by growing use of selectivity at entry level