On 26 May 2022, the Department of Higher Education (JPT) through the IPTS Governance Division announced that it was implementing a review of the Private Higher Education Institutions Act 1996 (Act 555). The announcement included an invitation for feedback, views, and suggestions for the improvement or amendment to the provisions of the Act to strengthen the quality of education and services provided by private higher education institutions.
This is a welcome move because policies, legislation, and regulations concerning higher education must be constantly reviewed to ensure that the education provided in the private sector matches the changing needs of those seeking higher education as well as the needs of the nation, particularly after the Covid interruptions to education. Act 555 must be reviewed against the impact of those interruptions and the many changes taking place globally in higher education. The Ministry may have to approach the Act with a view not only to review its current provisions but to revamp the entire legislation. The private sector has matured to a level that it is now an equal partner with public institutions in meeting the nation’s needs in higher education. Any review of the law must aim to recognize the role of the private sector and steer it to further growth.
The invitation for feedback stipulates the way the feedback is to be given and specifies a list of 14 areas as shown below for comment. We note that the stipulated areas follow the divisions as are now found in Act 555.
We feel this is a restricted approach that might lead only to the tidying up of the Act, possibly giving more control to the regulators. Any feedback that is framed against existing provisions in the Act severely limits a frank and meaningful discussion of underlying policies and many of the current practices that are not rooted in any of the provisions of the Act. Nor does it allow a discussion of how to move the sector forward.
Another point is that the feedback specifications as now framed do not allow for an engagement between the sector and the regulators on important systemic issues. We hope that the restricted approach will not prevent institutions from raising matters concerning the operation of the system of private higher education against other legislation, such as the NCHE Act 1996, the MQA Act 2007, and the UUCA Act 1971, and the Immigration Act 1959.
The review must go beyond the Act and review ad-hoc decisions made in the past such as those that introduced EMGS. Some of these decisions may have exceeded the regulatory role of authorities as provided in Act 555 and other legislation. These omissions are probably the result of JPT’s perception of its jurisdictional limitations, but our opinion is that any proposed attempt to improve the private higher education sector will not be complete unless these other provisions are considered.
There is a wealth of experience in the sector that was developed over the decades, going back to a period before 1996. It is accumulated experience with expertise that covers every aspect of a higher education system from governance to the design and delivery of courses of study. When taken together with the commercial expertise required to sustain the sector, it is an experience that must be regarded as a valuable asset. The regulators of the system, and we say this with great respect to them, do not have the same experience and expertise as those in the sector they regulate. We only make the point to encourage greater collaboration between those who regulate the sector and the leaders of the sector.