University ‘Reform’ in New Zealand 1984-1990: Policies and outcomes

Glenys Patterson
Vol 10, Number 2, p.56
The events which culminated in 'reform' of the New Zealand university system were just one part of the major restructuring of the whole economy undertaken by the Fourth Labour Government between July 1984 and October 1990. This economic revolution was driven by the strong ideological commitment to market-based economics of Finance Minister Roger Douglas and a group of highly influential officials at the New Zealand Treasury. The 'more-market' doctrines were vigorously endorsed and promulgated by business leaders in the politically influential New Zealand Business Roundtable. It was the views on education of these economic theorists and ideologues of the libertarian right which were to set the policy agenda for change in the tertiary sector. The universities in particular were seen as conservative, short on accountability, and as insufficiently responsive to the needs and demands of a rapidly changing modern economy. Treasury advocated the introduction of a competitive market culture to the provision and funding of tertiary education, accompanied by managerial and organisational changes, and the removal of state intervention and external constraints (such as nationally determined wage scales). Alternatives to the application of market principles were not considered. The left-liberal educational lobby was not able collectively to offer a philosophically powerful enough educational and political alternative to counter the Treasury /Rogernomics policy prescriptions. However as the pace of education review and reform escalated during the Labour Government's second term in office, there was a growing resistance to Treasury's more extreme moves, both within the government itself, and in groups involved with the education reform process. The result was that the policy decisions on reform of the education sector were somewhat ideologically mixed, but did avoid applying the more 'radical' free-market principles.