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.