Commentary on tertiary education by Roger Smyth

Articles and comments on tertiary education by Roger Smyth


Two years on: The effects of the pandemic on New Zealand’s universities

Back in early 2020, as the pandemic engulfed us, as lockdowns took effect and as the borders closed, there were dire predictions of about the cost to universities – especially the loss of the international students whose fees institutions have come to rely on. So it’s useful to look back and see just how it turned out … as well as to think about what lies in store.

17 July 2022

Making allowances …

A recent article in the NZ Herald got me thinking …. What does the evidence tell us about the design of the student allowances scheme? What should we do about allowances? In this post, I give a critique of the views expressed in the Herald article and suggest new directions for addressing problems of equity of access to tertiary education.

23 March 2022


Lifelong learning – the evidence and the responses

A presentation given to the APEC Future Education Forum, held (virtually) in Seoul.

30 September 2021


The coming election – Part 5: NZ First

NZ First released its policies – across all portfolios – just 48 hours before early voting started. It was a smart looking publication. But just how good were the tertiary education elements? was it worth the wait? And in the (increasingly unlikely) event that NZ First is called on when coalition negotiations start, what would they be likely to put on the table?

2 October 2020

The coming election – Part 4: National’s policy

It’s only a few days till early voting starts. But we are still hearing policy announcements. This article – the last in my series on the parties’ policies for tertiary education – comments on what the National Party is offering to voters with an interest in tertiary education.

30 September 2020

The coming election – Part 3: What would Labour do?

Labour has released its policy for the 2020 election. The decision to abandon phases 2 and 3 of the fees-free policy grabbed the headlines. But the policy also contains a couple of apparently small but very important new measures. This post casts a critical eye over the release.

22 September 2020

The coming election – Part 2: the minor parties

Minor parties have the luxury of making bold principles-led policy platforms, confident that they are unlikely to have deal with the messy business of translating them into practice. They leave the heavy lifting to the lead party in a governing coalition. But they can select high-profile issues to lay on the table during coalition talks – issues that are drawn from their principles and that will appeal to their voter base.

This post assesses the 2020 tertiary education election policies of the Green Party and the ACT Party. What are their visions for the system? And what are their issues du jour?

10 September 2020

The coming election – Part 1

The 2020 New Zealand election is getting ever closer. What are the parties proposing to those of us in tertiary education? This is the first article in a series of three that looks at what is on offer.

2 September 2020

A double-edged sword – international education market in a time of virus

Is growth in the international education market the price of success in the fight against the virus?

15 August 2020

New Zealand could boost its overseas intake – if only its borders were open …

Our success in the fight against COVID-19 has made New Zealand a more attractive destination for international students, with modelling suggesting that the country’s share of the world market could grow significantly. But will the government’s new “high value/low risk” approach enable us to capture that opportunity?

Times Higher Education, 14 August 2020

How counter-cyclical are university enrolments?

The conventional wisdom has been that university enrolments are less responsive to the economic cycle than enrolments in polytechnics. In this analysis, published in the Times Higher Education, I test that by looking at the effect of the GFC on NZ university enrolments.

Times Higher Education, 17 June 2020

The future of work – and what it means for the tertiary education system

The Productivity Commission’s report on the future of work was published at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown. Perhaps that’s why we have heard so little about it and about what it says about New Zealand’s tertiary education system. But it raises important questions about how well our system is placed to cope with labour market disruption. This report may be about the future of work. But its proposals are vitally important for the future of the tertiary education system.

15 June 2020

Can New Zealand’s universities trade their out of the pandemic crisis?

The universities were quick to tell us how they expect the pandemic will hit their finances.  But the minister appeared unimpressed, telling the vice-chancellors to trade their way through the crisis, borrowing if necessary.  In this article in the Times Higher Education, I look at the minister’s reasoning and discuss the prospects and risks for the universities.

Times Higher Education 8 June 2020

Vocational education in a time of plague

The fourth post in my series on how the Covid-19 recession is likely to affect tertiary education in New Zealand. This article looks at vocational education. How does vocational education fare in a recession? How will the new RoVE reforms work in the recession? Do they offer protection for our struggling vocational education system?

13 May 2020

Going against the flow – a postscript

My post Going against the flow illustrated the relationship between tertiary enrolments and the unemployment rate. This postscript takes the analysis a little further – it asks how much do enrolments shift in response to changes in the unemployment rate.

10 May 2020

Going against the flow – how does the economic cycle affect tertiary education

What do we know about how the economic cycle affects demand for tertiary education? What types of tertiary education are affected? How strong is the effect? How soon? This paper looks at the evidence from past recessions as we wait for the effects of the coming recession.

5 May 2020

The coming recession

As we wait with trepidation for the arrival of the Covid-19 downturn, it’s time to assess how well the tertiary education system is placed to support young people about to enter the workforce.

28 April 2020

Storm about to hit young workers

The Global Financial Crisis badly hurt the employment prospects of young people about to enter the workforce. Covid-19 will have a deeper impact, and the Government needs to respond better this time., 6 April 2020


National’s policy Part 2

The second part of the discussion of the tertiary education aspects of the National party’s education discussion document by looking at the party’s ideas on vocational education and transitions to tertiary.

Education Central, 11 December 2019

National’s policy

The National party has started releasing discussion papers, floating ideas that might end up in next year’s election policy.  Or might not, depending on the public’s reaction.  Road testing policy ideas is a smart move. What does the discussion document have to say about tertiary education?

Education Central, 5 December 2019

Cutting fees will not improve access

The Labour Party in the UK, like the Democrats in the US, hopes to be elected on a policy of abolishing student fees. The experience of New Zealand challenges the rationale for such a strategy.

Times Higher Education, 28 November 2019

New Zealand’s vice-chancellors are also walking a tightrope over China

Recent clashes over Hong Kong and Tiananmen Square have strained universities’ diplomatic sinews.

Times Higher Education, 10 September 2019

Navigating the complex new vocational education system

Part 3 of the discussion of the Review of Vocational Education (ROVE) looks at the complexities of operating the new system with its many different groups and entities.

Education Central, 18 August 2019

How do we find out about university quality?

Is there any value in ranking universities?

Education Central, 13 August 2019

The creation of the NZIST: the benefits, risks and challenges

Part 2 of the critique of the Review of Vocational Education (ROVE) looking at the Government’s decision to merge New Zealand’s 16 polytechnics into a single national institute.

Education Central, 8 August 2019

External research income

Looking at new data on the PBRF, what do we learn about the commercialisation of university research? And what does it mean for our universities going forward?

Education Central, 3 July 2019

What to make of the ROVE announcements

Yes, change to the vocational education sector is needed, but must it be at the expense of the Industry Training Organisations? This the first of three discussions of the implications of the changes announced last week.

Education Central, 5 August 2019

Hit or miss? The challenge of targeting

The second of the two-part series on the fees-free policy looks at addressing the issue of access to tertiary education.

Education Central, 24 June 2019

Hit or miss? A quick look at the fees-free policy

In the first of a two-part series on the fees-free policy, we crunch the numbers to look at whether the Government got it right or wrong with its fees-free policy.

Education Central, 17 June 2019

What can we learn from the 2018 PBRF results?

An analysis of the data from the 2018 Performance-based Research Fund (PBRF) quality evaluation, yields some interesting observations about the PBRF and its future.

Education Central, 22 May 2019

Research assessment in New Zealand could be marked down

A review following the latest iteration of the PBRF could lead to radical changes that undermine the gains made.

Times Higher Education,14 May 2019

Another university ranking – really?

Not all university ranking systems are created equal.

Education Review,9 April 2019

Getting funding right is key to an effective vocational education system

It took a crisis for New Zealand’s vocational education system to work effectively, with ITPs and ITOs working collaboratively during the rebuild after the Canterbury earthquakes. In order to ensure the two parts of the system work well together going forward, it is essential to have a new funding system that recognises all the elements of vocational education.

Education Central, 20 February 2019

Fijian higher education: a small system in a big hurry

The Pacific nation’s ambitions to harness its universities to drive economic growth face many challenges.

Times Higher Education,24 January 2019


New Zealand study highlights what matters for HE access and success

A landmark analysis of several government data sets will help policymakers make more effective interventions.

Times Higher Education,11 October 2018

We need to talk about … life-long learning

Micro-credentials help resolve the emerging need for training but questions remain about how the government is going to effectively fund life-long learning

Education Review,6 August 2018

New Zealand’s to-undo list is good politics but questionable policy

Appealing to students and their families made electoral sense for the Labour Party, but its promises have saddled it with a lot of low-value spending

Times Higher Education, 28 June 2018

Is the grass really so much greener across the Tasman?

How does New Zealand’s tertiary education system stacks up compared to Australia’s?  Do our students really get a raw deal compared to their Aussie counterparts?

Education Review, 13 April 2018

What can university rankings tell us about our universities — or: How stratified is our university system?

If we can’t (and shouldn’t) ignore international university rankings, what can we learn from them.

Education Central, 28 February 2018

Does it really matter where you study?

Does it matter what you study or where you study? We look at the data for answers.

Education Central, 12 February 2018

Straight from degree to domicile? There is no stampede from study to permanent residence

Times Higher Education,1 February 2018

Too soon to declare qualifications dead

A discussion of recent suggestions that qualifications are getting close to their use-by date.

Education Central, 4 December 2017

How the new government will transform tertiary education

Interesting changes for New Zealand’s tertiary education system under a Labour-NZ First government.

Education Central, 25 October 2017

New Zealand’s new Labour-led government likely to abolish fees

Times Higher Education,19 October 2017

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