The Institute’s response to the Productivity Commission’s New Models of Tertiary Education Draft Report is now available online. In this submission we discuss our response to their draft report, possible strategic policy levers designed to improve New Zealand’s tertiary education system as well as suggestions on the creation of a new specialist university. We would like to thank the Productivity Commission for this opportunity to share our observations. See other submissions on their website.

Below are some of our key recommendations:

Strategic policy levers
Our submission put forward seven strategic policy levers. For more information on each, please read the submission here.

  1. Bring back the University of New Zealand
  2. Require the government to fully fund undergraduate degrees
  3. Require the fees of undergraduate degrees to reflect the actual costs rather than subsidise post graduates
  4. Put in place more checks and balances
  5. Require more feedback loops
  6. Empower students by creating a student education account (SEA)
  7. Encourage a stronger student voice through mechanisms other than funding

A new specialist university (small, focussed and elite)

As stated above in the first strategic policy lever and in our Think Piece 25: The changing purpose of tertiary education (attached to the Institute’s original submission), we suggest ways to radically challenge and improve upon the status quo, including reverting to a one university model – what we have referred to as the University of New Zealand with colleges throughout New Zealand.

An alternative and arguably a complimentary strategy is to create not one, but two universities. In addition to the University of New Zealand we also suggest the creation of a top specialist university with highly selective criteria, designed for those with proven academic skills (often referred to as a highly-filtered model). With international supply and demand of higher education changing, such as the UK placing more restrictions on international student enrolment (due to Brexit), it seems timely for New Zealand to develop a strategy that attracts international students. The young people coming from overseas could also bring their skills, insights and expertise and ideally stay a while to contribute to our economic growth. A top ranked international university would be one way of helping propel New Zealand forward.

This would require working out a strategy to rank this university in the top 25 in the world. It will take time (maybe 10 years) but if New Zealand invests cleverly, provides resources and removes bureaucratic obstacles, it could be achieved.

To do this, we could look for winning models that have already achieved this, such as CalTech in California. With only 2,209 students and 941 academic staff (including 324 international academic staff), it is ranked fifth in the world according to QS World University Rankings. The University of Auckland, in comparison, has 29,930 students, 2,025 academic staff (including 638 international staff members) and is ranked 81st in the world. We suggest keeping this new university small (around 2,000 students). This could involve recombining certain parts of existing universities. For example, combining schools/departments in The University of Auckland and University of Otago to create this new university. In addition, the new university could increase its international staff members (one of the criteria below) by targeting academics working overseas that are also New Zealanders or partnered to New Zealanders. This could include lecturing online or over their university breaks.

This specialist university could also attract New Zealanders who are professors or lecturers in the best universities in other parts of the world an incentive to return and be a part of New Zealand’s future. We would need to ensure that the university aligns with our national goals and strengths. Internationally, this institution would need to be marketed to prospective students who would add value to the institution over the long term.

There are two main world ranking systems that New Zealand universities are evaluated on, Times Higher Education World University Rankings and QS World University Rankings. New Zealand universities tend to do better in the QS World University Rankings. Outlined below are the methodologies of these rankings. These are included briefly below to illustrate how you could play the system to create a university to gain a high ranking.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings Methodology

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings uses 13 performance indicators, grouped into five categories. Institutions are excluded if they do not teach at undergraduate level, or if their research output is below a certain threshold.

  • Teaching (worth 30% of the overall score)
    Based on a reputation survey (15%), staff-to-student ratio (4.5%), doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratio (2.25%), doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio (6%) and institutional income (2.25%).
  • Research (30%)
    Based on a reputation survey (18%), research income (6%) and research papers published per faculty member (6%).
  • Research citations (30%)
    Based on the number of citations a university’s research obtains, normalised by subject area.
  • International outlook (7.5%)
    Based on international-to-domestic-student ratio (2.5%), international-to-domestic-staff ratio (2.5%) and international research collaborations (2.5%).
  • Industry income (2.5%)
    Based on income earned from industry, relative to the number of academic staff employed, and adjusted for PPP.

The QS World University Rankings Methodology

The QS World University Rankings assesses universities on six performance indicators, relating to research, teaching, employability and internationalisation. To be eligible for inclusion, institutions must teach at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and conduct work in at least two of five broad faculty areas (arts and humanities; engineering and technology; social sciences and management; natural sciences; life sciences and medicine).

  • Academic reputation (worth 40% of the overall score)
    Based on a global survey of academics, who are asked to identify the leading institutions in their field.
  • Employer reputation (10%)
    Based on a global survey of graduate employers, who are asked to identify the institutions producing the best graduates in their sector.
  • Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)
    An indication of commitment to high-quality teaching and support.
  • Research citations per faculty member (20%)
    This is normalised by subject area, and reflects the impact of an institution’s research.
  • Proportion of international faculty (5%)
    A measure of an institution’s success in attracting faculty from overseas.
  • Proportion of international students (5%)
    A measure of an institution’s success in attracting students from overseas.

Next steps
As part of our submission, we will be publishing Working Paper 2017/01 – TacklingPovertyNZ 2016 National Tour: Methodology, results and observations. This working paper forms part of our TacklingPovertyNZ outputs along with the discussion papers for the one-day workshops.