Tertiary providers get good marks

Palmerston North's tertiary education providers are chalking up good grades, despite concerns the ranking systems don't recognise distance or part-time students' success.

The Tertiary Education Commission's (TEC) most recent report on the sector's performance showed the city's providers have been making steady progress in terms of their students' academic success.

TEC has released its latest Education Performance Indicators for providers who receive the Government's Student Achievement Component funding, a pool of millions of dollars contested by institutes nationwide.

The figures show success based on the percentage of equivalent fulltime students (EFTS) completing courses, qualifications and the number of students moving on to higher-level education and staying in study.

For Palmerston North providers it was good news, with Massey University, UCOL and Te Wananga o Aotearoa all steadily improving over the past five years.

The pattern is echoed nationally, with completion rates climbing since 2009, including a jump among wananga and polytechnics and the university sector's completion rates being the highest ever at 86 per cent.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has applauded the sector's efforts, citing the Government's introduction of incentives, such as publishing educational performance and linking funding to outcomes, as factors pushing providers to improve.

"Course completion rates are the simplest building block of performance and results," he said.

But Massey University says there are shortfalls in the system because it fails to account for providers with a number of distance or part-time students - who were increasing across the tertiary sector.

Last year Massey had 16,100 EFTS, but a headcount of 28,263 students, UCOL had 3013 EFTS and a headcount of 4020, and the wananga had 20,362 EFTS, but a headcount of 31,808.

"That's a huge issue for us," Massey vice-chancellor Steve Maharey said. "The university has around about half its EFTS tied up in part-time or distance students and as a result, because they have children, houses, jobs and life changes, they never complete a qualification.

"But when you run that through the model TEC and the Government currently use, we always show up as having a lower completion rate, which is nothing to do with the quality of the institution or the quality of the students."

Maharey said because results were published in a list it appeared to be a "ranking", but it wasn't a fair representative of a tertiary providers' results.

The commission says the statistics give a snapshot of providers' performance indicators, but don't give a comprehensive picture of an organisation's overall performance.

UCOL chief executive Paul McElroy said positive trends were a result of the providers' hard work.

"[We're] focusing on supporting teaching teams and enhancing students' learning experiences," he said. "Staff have worked hard to contribute to these outcomes and remain dedicated to student success."

Manawatu Standard