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  • rmacculloch

A top Kiwi economist blames "bureaucratic bloat" for NZ Universities "decline down the OECD ladder"

Although it seldom features in the mainstream media, one of the many strategic mistakes Labour has committed these past few years has been the running down of our universities. Restricting immigration was not of itself the wrong thing to do, providing the skill shortfall had been compensated by a strengthening of our education system. That never happened. Quite the contrary, academics have been laid-off throughout the country.

It's one thing to starve the public system of funding, but due to the present Labour Party's contempt for the private sector, no-one has been allowed to start a private university (which mostly take the shape of non-for-profits in other nations). I remember Sir Owen Glenn, who has made substantial gifts to Kiwi Universities, asking a group of us at a dinner in London hosted by Sir Douglas Myers awhile back, "Why doesn't the University sell-off its Business School?" Privatizing a part of the University - as he suggested - got me thinking. Why not?

Given there are high legal barriers to starting a private university in NZ, as well as privatizing parts of the existing system, all we've got is a public system starved of funds. Where are even those scant public funds going? Mostly to bureaucrats, according to my colleague, Prof. Ananish Chaudhiri, writing in the National Business Review:

"Even with meagre government support, the question remains: where is the bulk of tax-payer money & tuition revenue going? The answer is .. toward bureaucratic bloat. Over the past decade there's been an explosion in layers of management. Universities are now rife with deputy, associate, & assistant deans, provosts, & vice-chancellors".

So what are the numbers? The 2021 University of Auckland Annual Report says there are 3,540 "professional staff" (mainly general admin) compared to 2,446 academics. The 2002 Annual Report says there were 1,841 general admin staff and 1,692 academics.

So the number of non-academic managers has risen 92% - or nearly doubled from 2002-21. (One thousand seven hundred more have been added, equal to the full staff count of Wellington City Council). Academic numbers have risen just over 40%. Back in 2002 there were similar numbers of managers & academics - now there are nearly 50% more managers (and many staff labelled "academic" in the Annual Report are also devoting substantial time to admin duties, so these are underestimates).



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