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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 8. 1964.

Tennent Inept Over Fees Increase

Tennent Inept Over Fees Increase

The recent University Council action in excluding 109 unsatisfactory students has, in a dramatic fashion, highlighted the Hon. Mr. Tennent's ineptitude in drafting and presenting educational legislation.

In November, 1961, while the University was in recess and students were dispersed around the country and thus could not present a united voice, the then Minister of Education, the Hon W B Tennent. introduced legislation which forced all NZ Universities to treble the scale of their fees.

The Departmental reasons for this action were stated to be: (1) To make academic failure, no matter what the cause, more expensive so that students would not tail. (2) To speed up the degree-getting process; and (3) The Minister argued that the fees had not been increased since 1928 and it was about time they were: this latter suggestion was supported by many incumbents of the Treasury Bench, Including Dear Dan Riddiford.

Perhaps the time has come to render a preliminary assessment of the worth of this legislative manoeuvre. In my opinion. It has so far failed in all three aspects noted above.

By increasing the financial penalty accruing to academic failure, and thus attempting to discourage such failure, the legislation has achieved little or nothing. The University Council's action has clearly demonstrated that the fees increase did not in fact, cut out the "academic deadwood." It could not, since a few of our well-heeled social attenders could, with parental assistance, afford to stay on. Secondly, the fee Increase took no account of the reasons for academic failure; in my view cases exist of justifiable failure—ie. those students who in spite of conscientious work throughout the year, "flunk" in Finals—these arc the "bad exam, sitters."' Undoubtedly other reasons for failure also exist.

Clearly the Job of excluding unsatisfactory students is one for the University authorities, and the Governmental attempt to abrogate that responsibility has proved, as predicted, a miserable failure.

A second reason advanced by the Hon. Minister Tennent was that the fees increase would speed up the degree-taking process. I suggest that, in fairness, a period of time, say, four to five years, is required in order to assess whether this process has in fact been speeded up. However, preliminary examination over the past two years of the "pass fail" results at Victoria University seems to indicate that there has been no change (to two decimal places) in the number of units passed by either full-time or part-time students. Preliminary, it can be said that this "reason" for increasing University fees is not proving the success it was hoped it would be.

Finally, the Hon. Tennent argued that since fees had not been increased since 1928, the time was now ripe (1961) for such an increase. What a lot of piffle this is! I admit freely and gladly that a University education is cheaper in New Zealand than in many other parts of the world: that is all to the good.

A survey at present being carried out Into the social origins of students seems to indicate that a disproportionate number come from the upper socioeconomic groups. From this, at present, tentative information, one could argue that the Increased University fees, allied to (be ever-increasing costs of accommodation and other necessary student expenses, Is discouraging some potentially successful students whose parents cannot afford to send them "up the hill." This runs counter to the accepted principle In NZ of equality of educational opportunity . . . which seems to me to be somewhat mythical, anyway.

The three propositions outlined above were those advanced by Tennent to Justify the increase in University fees, in my view they have, as was predicted, failed miserably This indicates two matters of importance: that before increasing the University fees, the then Government should have requested University and student opinion instead of bringing down the legislation when students were dispersed throughout the country. It also Indicates that University fees should be reduced to their former level, or a Justifiable set of reasons advanced for leaving them as they are.