Government to throw lifeline to struggling universities, fears 'NZ will be a poorer place' if courses, staff aren't saved

"New Zealand will be a poorer place."

That's the fear the Tertiary Education Union has as universities across the motu face cuts to courses and staff, as they continue to hemorrhage money.

However, the Government is hours away from throwing a desperate lifeline. 

Labour will announce a major bailout package for institutions after it came under pressure to step in, following news that hundreds of jobs are on the line and programmes are being slashed at Victoria and Otago Universities after what the bosses called years of chronic underfunding. 

The bailout is expected to be reallocated from other spending and will spread over two years to tide them over while they recover. 

Victoria University of Wellington Student Association president Jessica Ye told AM's Ryan Bridge programme languages like Italian are expected to be cut entirely without funding.

"It's not sure what's in store for them, they've been guaranteed they'll [be able to] finish their programmes, but what that actually looks like, I doubt the quality of the education will be just as good."

Tertiary Education Union’s Victoria University branch president Dougal McNeil said "the world will be a poorer place, New Zealand will be a poorer place" if the cuts go ahead. 

"There's a whole range of subjects from geophysics to Italian, to secondary teaching that looks set to go. Earthquakes don't stop happening just because the research has been diminished."

McNeil said Aotearoa has already seen "major cuts" to languages over the past 30 years and, from a global perspective, we've got "actually pretty paltry offerings".

"Do we want to make them even less for our students? Do we want to be even less equipped?"

Among the cuts, McNeil said the research aspect for tertiary lecturers would be cut too.

"Being involved in publications and studies and developing that kind of work. If these cuts go ahead there'll be only teaching provided in Chinese, that's the whole other area. 

"When you think about so much of the complexity at the moment to get rid of that now? Really?

"I'm really looking forward to the prospect of the Government taking seriously tertiary education."

Ye believes the current funding model for universities requires them to be "incredibly competitive with each other".

"Right now, I would like to see just more collaboration across the universities because, you know, if we have cuts in one place and universities are trying to cut the same place or trying to move into the same places, then we're not going to be able to have the diversity of courses, offerings that we need for our country and for our students and future students."

She said the funding shortfall also comes down to per-student funding tuition subsidies not keeping up with inflation. 

Acting Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni said Education Minister Jan Tinetti will make an announcement on Tuesday afternoon. Sepuloni wouldn't be drawn on the detail when interviewed on AM.

"What we do recognise is that the tertiary sector is facing some challenges at the moment,  funding because of the inflationary increases that everyone is facing," Sepuloni said.

She said with employment high "lots of people make the decision not to go and study and instead to take up employment", which Sepuloni said is "further exacerbated" by the increase in the cost of living.

"There are a number of challenges that the tertiary sector, including our universities, are facing," including the decline in international student numbers, she said. "There is a range of things that have been happening in the tertiary sector that have led to this situation that we are in now."

 Sepuloni said the challenges were recognised in Budget 2023, where the Government injected $521 million into the sector, with more cash on the way.

"There is an announcement coming this afternoon which will make clear our support for the tertiary sector."

Watch the video above for more.