EPIC: non-Māori, non-Pasifika

TEC’s EPIC template for 2019 is quite different from previous years. It omits an age focused goal (under 25 and 25+) but puts a lot more emphasis on ethnicity by introducing the concept of non-Māori, non-Pasifika.

Government and TEC’s policy is now focused on improving participation and achievement by Māori and Pasifika and therefore a means of accurately determining ethic rates is needed. With Statistics New Zealand’s move from “prioritised” to “total response” counting it is no longer possible to reliably express ethnic rates that sum to 100%.

Consider the tables below. There are 10 students.

The old “prioritised” method always resulted in being able to calculate a percentage for each ethnic group, and those percentages added to 100%.

The new “total response” method will always result in a percentage total of over 100% if any student identified with more than one ethnic group.

However when the count is binary. i.e. a student is either Maori or Pasifika if any one of their ethnicities is Maori or Pasifika, or they are non-Māori, non-Pasifika is none of their declared ethnicities is Maori or Pasifika, we once again have a total of 100%. Hence the table below for the same 10 students.


Fees Free – and so it continues

I don’t suppose that the Minster of Education reads my blog. He’s a busy person. One might say “a man with a mission”.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is better to hasten slowly, and this is particularly true of Fees Free. I suspect that the Minster is unaware of the problems affecting Fees Free and the rather messy train crash which awaits him. Regrettably you as a provider may get caught up in the crash.

TEC, which was given the task of implementing a highly complex and ill-planned scheme, was put in a wretched position, but we are nearly in June now and TEC is not helping itself or the Minister by pretending it is all under control.

How about this for example? A smallish provider reported the April SDR on 19 April. It contained enrolment data for 194 SAC3+ funded students, all of whom are consuming more than 0.5 EFTS. On 25 May a file containing 67,409 records was downloaded from Workspace2. This file purports to “contain a list of all NSNs that have been assessed as eligible for Fees Free tertiary study”. It doesn’t, because for those 67,409 records 9,519 show a status of “U – Unknown”. This type of misleading wording happens a lot with Fees Fee. It doesn’t help.

But here’s the real problem, 48 records for the 194 reported by the provider in the April SDR can be matched to records in the Workspace2 file: 47 of which show as a status of “Y- eligible” and one of which shows a status of “U – Unknown”.  Evidently then TEC is not successfully matching SDR data when determining Fees Free status. Five of the 48 students have withdrawn. They could happily wander off and enrol elsewhere thinking that they are Fees Free entitled.

48 out of 194 is certainly a high proportion but the same type of problem exists for other providers albeit to a lesser degree depending on the percentage of Fees Free students enrolling.

Another problem identified with TEC’s determination of Fees Free status is that what is shown in the Workspace2 file does not match what is on the FeesFree.govt.nz web site. Again a hapless student can be misled.

These problems and others have been drawn to TEC’s attention – some as far back as December 2017 – but have still not been addressed.

So, what does it mean?

  • A lot of extra compliance work for the providers.
  • A lot of frustration for individual students.
  • An inability by TEC to reimburse providers the correct value of fees covered by the Fees Free scheme.
  • Trouble for someone when the auditors get to work.
  • An unhappy Minister.

Now, TEC has never paid much heed to the compliance load on providers and students, as people, probably don’t figure much in TEC’s consideration. The misallocation of tax payers’ funds, on the other hand could lead to reviews and tears before bedtime.

Compliance costs, what compliance costs?

You may remember my post of 15 December.

Well it seems now that the universities are getting peeved about compliance costs, and if the universities are upset they sometimes get their way. You may recall the SDR postcode debacle. TEC said you must report two postcodes for each student. It was to be mandatory. The universities said don’t be silly, we use email. TEC buckled. It is not mandatory.

However this time the Minister has become involved; not perhaps the smartest move in these early months of his tenure. One wonders who is advising the Minister.

What is undeniable is that there is a very significant compliance cost and not only for TEC. Certainly TEC is bearing the brunt right now and even the most hard-hearted amongst feel sorry for the staff that have been given a massive tasks at very short notice. One doesn’t feel quite so much sympathy for those who are responsible for communicating TEC’s processes for handling fees free. The bold statement on 5 December that “TEC’s guidance and support systems for the sector are underway as we assist TEO’s navigate the ins and outs of fees-free” has not be born out, unless you count the sneaky emails with unreasonable demands on Friday afternoons.

The underlying problem is that TEC’s analysts and policy makers have little understanding of the reality of processing enrolments and fees. Their focus is – to some extent understandably – on meeting their own needs, even if that means shunting the compliance costs further down the line. That’s to you on an ongoing basis.

One interesting side-effect of TEC’s haste seems to be the possibility of legal challenges, so at least the lawyers will be happy.

It could be getting a bit difficult

There do seem to be some problems with implementing Fees Free.

One thing that will certainly be going up is your compliance cost.

Free Post School Education

The Labour Party Manifesto included the following item: “Labour will progressively introduce 3 years of free post-school education, allowing access to university, polytechnic or on-job training for young New Zealanders and those who have not studied before.

Now that Labour is forming a government one assumes that tucked away in a dark room on The Terrace TEC already has a team preparing material to implement the policy. This notwithstanding Labour’s view that “the Tertiary Education Commission is not operating as it was envisaged by Labour when it was established in 2003.” After all who else is going to get the policy implemented for 2018, and I assume that providers are already being asked by prospective students “Do I have to pay fees next year?

The first thing that TEC team will need to do is get guidance from the new Minister on the details of the policy. The various pre-election documents published by Labour have little detail and actually raise some pretty interesting questions. Here are just four.

  • Are PTEs covered? The Manifesto says “allowing access to university, polytechnic or on-job training for young New Zealanders and those who have not studied before” but another document published by Labour states “Accelerating the three years’ free policy, starting with one year fees free full-time equivalent for everyone starting tertiary education or training for the first time from 1 January 2018”.
  • What exactly does “fees free” mean? For example are compulsory course costs covered, or just tuition fees?
  • What is the precise definition of “formal post-school education” in the sentence “Labour will ensure that 3 years of free post-school education is available to adult learners who have not participated in formal post-school education in the past”?
  • What are 3 years? Are we talking about three years (as a period of time) or three EFTS of study being free to cover part-time study?

Anyhow, being a helpful soul, I would suggest that the TEC team consider what George Bernard Shaw said: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” History is this case being National’s 1991 Study Right policy implemented in extreme haste and at great cost. Why, there was even a field in the SDR Course Enrolment file called “STUDYRT”. Maybe this field could be resuscitated?

How About No Goal Posts?

As an organisation TEC has plenty of fine words. Anybody remember the “High trust, low compliance cost” boast?

Or this bold statement? “Change in the tertiary education system cannot be delivered without improving the way that we operate. As an organisation, we also need to be more responsive, relevant and flexible to ensure that we are an enabler of system change.”

But when it comes down to doing the business TEC seems determined to fail, especially when it comes to letting the hapless TEOs know how their performance is actually monitored.

Previous practice has been for TEC to move the goal posts. Now we have gone one step further down the rabbit hole, there are no goal posts. Witness this recent question to TEC and TEC’s reply.

QPlease provide details of the performance-based funding methodology and minimum threshold being applied against the 2017 SAC and YG education performance indicators?

AThe Ministry of Education is currently consulting with the sector on performance-based funding methodology to be used with 2016 and 2017 education performance indicators. We will be able to provide further details once this consultation process is finished. If you want information about the consultation process please contact the Ministry of Education.

So, folks, you don’t know how your 2016 or 2017 performance is measured and TEC won’t tell you. Go and ask the Ministry. Maybe that’s being “more responsive, relevant and flexible”.

Official Information

There is an interesting article by Sir Geoffrey Palmer on the Spinoff Blog. It relates to the increasingly outdated Official Information Act. You can find the article here.

I don’t know whether you have ever used the Official Information Act. It can be extremely frustrating and, as Sir Geoffrey observes “With some ministers, the Act tends to lack support and acceptance. Some simply evade its requirements. Some public servants do not like the act either.”

If nothing else public servants are very good at evading the 20 working day initial deadline for responding, and for exaggerating the cost of their research.

In any case, if you are tempted to make your own Official Information Act request you may find this web site useful: https://fyi.org.nz/  You can make your request via the web site and also view requests/responses already made via the site.

Happy hunting!