No, Simon Bridges isn’t floundering – he’s buoyed by pitching for mainstream support

It’s  tough   going  for  National’s  Simon  Bridges,  judging  by  anything   you  might  read in  what   was  once the  mainstream   media.

From one  commentator   we  had   this  on July  23:   

National is bereft: bereft of ideas. Personality. Communicatiion skills. Anything really.”

A week later from the  same commentator:

The big ticket item was the announcement that National would be reducing class sizes. Great! More teachers is a fantastic idea. While there were no more details at least the idea is positive.It seems that National as a party is starting to think about things differently, the pro-choice protest, the medicinal marijuana bill, more teachers.”

 Then   there  is  the wily   veteran   Winston Peters  capturing  a  headline   with his    warning on The Nation that “the jackals” are coming for  National’s  Simon Bridges and    Paula Bennett and will take out the weakest first.

Peters said National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett would be first to go, because

” … that’s what jackals do. They don’t go for the big animal. They go for the smallest and weakest one. And then it will be Simon.”

National  Party  members   are  largely  immune  from this  sort of  stuff,  placing  greater  importance  on  continuity  and  stability  in their leadership.

Critics  said  the appearance  of   John  Key  and  John  Howard  at the party’s annual  conference  reflected  a  yearning for  eras  now past.  Yet  this also  emphasised   the  tradition  of continuity  in leadership  style – inclusive   and solid – but,  more significantly, in values.

Bridges  has  to  affirm   he  sits    in  the party’s  mainstream,  as he  did    with  his  call  for  smaller classes  and   more  teachers,  as  well as by taking a  tough  line  to ensure  childcare   centres  maintain  high  standards.   The   family  unit  is one of the core values  of the  National  Party  and  parents   more than  ever  believe   education  has  to be among the top  priorities  of  any  National-led  coalition.

In   putting  the issue    so   high in his considerations,   Bridges  was  offering   a  contrast   with the  Ardern  coalition   which  seems   to be all  over the  place   in education.  Her government is spraying  the  bulk of   fresh  money in different  directions,  for  example   in  providing  $2bn   to cover fees  for the  first  year of tertiary   study,  a  benefit   mainly  for the  middle class,  at  the  same time  as it in  effect shuts down charter schools  whose work  in improving the outcomes  in particular  for  Maori students has been  outstanding.

His personal  ratings  have been far from stellar but under under Bridges National   has  retained  the high  polling it  enjoyed  under previous  leaders, except for a  brief period when  Ardern  was  capturing global  headlines as only the  second PM  in  history  to  give birth.

So the strategy has been to  chip  away  at    voters   who may  previously be identified  as  Green or  NZ  First  supporters.

The  Greens  have   had to  swallow  several dead  rats   in order, they  say,  to  achieve   other policy  goals – but in so  doing  they  may have  shucked  off the   high  principles    some  of their  supporters  cherished.   In  any  case  National   believes  that by  declaring  its  own Green  principles,  particularly   on reducing  carbon  emissions, and   other  more peripheral  issues  like  medicinal   cannabis,  it   can  squeeze  the  Green   Party’s support base.

And  it  sees  in education  a  fruitful  field    for   political  gain.   Labour  will  almost certainly    have to  satisfy    teacher union demands  for  substantial pay increases   which  will  leave   few  resources  for   repairing  the  finances  of   failing  tertiary institutions.

Already a  commissioner   has had to be  appointed to  Unitec  to  haul it back from the brink of  solvency.  Other polytechnics   are teetering on the brink.  The  future of  Lincoln University  is  in  doubt  because of  its financial  problems.  Other universities  have had to make hard decisions  about the courses  they offer.

The Manukau Institute of Technology has warned that proposals to tighten post-study work visas for overseas students could threaten the institute’s financial viability.

Chief executive Gus Gilmore has told the government the proposed changes would halve the institute’s full-time-equivalent foreign students from 1000 to 500, cost 64 tutoring jobs and slash its revenue by $10m a year, or 10% of its $103m total revenue.

The Government says it wants to make the polytech sector more financially viable, yet its own policies may doom some of them.

National  says  the  international education sector risks losing up to $40m a year if the government implements changes to make it harder for international students studying graduate diplomas to get post-study work visas.

National MPs Michael Woodhouse and Simeon Brown say international students are a critical revenue stream for  Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), and those studying graduate diplomas alone bring in as much as $40m a year

A change proposed by the government to require students studying Level 7 graduate diplomas to study in NZ for at least two years before becoming eligible for post-study work visas fails to recognise the higher calibre of those studying graduate diplomas.

Many of these students have already obtained bachelor’s degree and should get the same post-study work rights as those graduating from bachelor’s degrees in NZ.If the government doesn’t make this change to its proposal, some in the international education sector estimate that student enrolments could drop by at least 50% in 2019, which would see the industry and our economy lose out on millions of dollars. The ITPs have been clear that this policy would destroy a significant part of the sector.”

Associate Tertiary Education spokesperson Simeon Brown says Education NZ estimates the proposed change could affect up to 17,000 international tertiary students and cost almost $500m in export earnings a year.


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