2 May 2012

University science courses to get Budget boost

9:15 pm on 2 May 2012

Science and engineering courses are in for a surprise boost in the May Budget - but it might come at a cost to other subjects.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says the Government is paying too little for subjects such as chemistry and physics in comparison to other courses.

The Government pays universities $10,545 per year for a science student - nearly twice what it pays for a business or arts student.

Mr Joyce says New Zealand's tertiary education subsidies are out of step with other developed nations.

"We pay a higher subsidy for humanities and commerce than the Australians do, we pay a lower subsidy for science and engineering.

"That tends to mean that universities are a bit more biased towards those other subjects because we end up paying, probably, a little bit more than they need to encourage those subjects and not enough for the science, technology and engineering subjects."

Mr Joyce told Radio New Zealand the Government will address that in the Budget - news that has come as a surprise to university leaders and staff.

He says the Government wants to rebalance tertiary education toward science, technology, engineering and maths.

The Institution of Professional Engineers says there is strong demand for engineers because of the Christchurch rebuild following recent severe earthquakes, big infrastructure projects and the push for more high-tech industries.

The University of Auckland says more funding is good and school leavers need to take the right subjects so they can study engineering.

The Tertiary Education Commission recently told tertiary institutions to increase enrolments next year in science, technology, engineering and maths and, if necessary, to cut other courses to do that.

It has also told institutions to promote the subjects to school students and provide catch-up courses to help people enrol and succeed in science and engineering courses.

The Tertiary Education Union is worried that any funding increases will be balanced by cuts to subsidies for other subject areas.

Union president Sandra Grey says the Government has made it clear it will not be putting new money into education.

"So this is going to have major implications in getting universities to shift their attention into science, engineering and mathematics and to take away from other areas."

The Budget will be delivered on 24 May.