Tertiary education funding policy is failing the young and most disadvantaged unemployed people, contributing to the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, The Salvation Army says.
Salvation Army spokesman Major Campbell Roberts says recent Ministry of Education research clearly shows that, at a time of high unemployment, the policy disadvantages the most at-risk unemployed people.
“It illustrates what we already know; that the current regime discriminates against funding the development of disadvantaged unemployed people with no or low qualifications, in favour of university or polytechnic students who on average are significantly better resourced,” he says.
The recent Ministry of Education report shows that government inflation-adjusted funding in the five years to 2009 for students at universities increased 9 per cent, and rose 6 per cent for students at polytechnics.
At the same time, funding for training long-term unemployed people fell 5 per cent for those over the age of 18 with no or low high school qualifications and assessed as being at high risk of labour market disadvantage. Training funding for unemployed people aged under 18 dropped 7 per cent.
In the period between 2005 and 2009, the report noted that for people aged 15 years and over, with no or scant high school qualifications, their unemployment rate rose from 10.6 per cent to almost 17 per cent. It also notes that six out of ten 15 to 19 year-olds with no or low school qualifications are currently jobless.
“While we are acutely aware of the state of the government’s finances, this funding regime fosters inequality and appears to fly in the face of the government statements that it wants people back in the work force,” Major Roberts says. “It’s too early in their lives to be writing these people off and consigning them to a cycle of poverty.”
One of the main tasks of The Salvation Army’s employment training organisation, Employment Plus, is removing the barriers that block learners from achieving basic qualifications or participating in the workforce or even acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills. Theses issue are usually complex and require more than a quick fix, Major Roberts says.
The government has argued that there will be no additional funding for these students because training providers have failed to provide the desired outcomes.
Major Roberts says the logical approach would be to work with the individual providers concerned to resolve any problems rather than effectively reducing funding to the entire sector.
He questions whether the training sector, with too many providers and too little funding, is sustainable under the current funding regime.
“Obviously, this cannot continue for much longer,” Major Roberts says. “We have to resolve how Employment Plus’ 30 years of involvement in employment training can continue.”
Issued on the Authority of Commissioner Donald Bell (Territorial Commander)
The Salvation Army, New Zealand Fiji & Tonga Territory