The oil price shocks of the late 1970s forced the government to reduce spending in many areas including adult education, an area in which Minister of Education Merv Wellington had little interest. Initially threatened with abolition, the National Council of Adult Education (NCAE) had its annual budget slashed by almost two-thirds and became ineffective. It was put into recess in 1986 and disestablished in 1990.
Meanwhile, in 1988 the minister of education set up a new body called the Committee for Independent Learning Aotearoa/New Zealand (renamed Community Learning Aotearoa/New Zealand or CLANZ in 1989) to advise the government and distribute funds to community adult education groups. CLANZ could not employ staff and was not well-funded. It lost its advisory powers under the National government elected in 1990.
Adult education funding was slashed in the 1991 government budget. The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), along with some other adult education providers, lost all government funding over the following two years. It continued to offer classes but at a much-reduced level. Throughout the 1990s very little government policy on adult education was produced and its profile was low.
University of the Third Age
The University of the Third Age is an international organisation that promotes education and mental stimulation for retired people. The first New Zealand branch started in 1989. Members attend lectures and study groups.
Adult education was placed back on the government’s agenda in the 2000s when the incoming Labour government (elected in 1999) included adult education in its pre-election policy. The government set up a working party on adult education, whose report guided policy on the sector, and an adult literacy strategy was released. Adult education came under the ambit of the Tertiary Education Commission (founded in 2003), which planned and funded tertiary education. CLANZ was administered by the commission but applications to it for funds declined and it was wound up around 2007.
Funding cuts were announced to non-vocational adult education courses in 2009. Glenfield College principal Ted Benton commented that for people who attend courses, ‘it’s the highlight of their week. It’s not the macramé they look forward to, it’s the social contact – it must save a small fortune on the health budget. Whether it’s belly dancing or yoga or Thai cooking these courses enable people to get out of the house and do something in the community.’1
In 2009 the National government announced significant funding cuts to evening and weekend adult education classes at schools. Remaining funding was directed away from non-vocational classes like cooking towards literacy and numeracy classes delivered by schools and community providers, and foundation courses delivered by institutes of technology and wānanga to prepare students for tertiary study. Non-vocational courses continued but providers had to charge higher fees. Enrolments dropped and many schools closed their adult education programmes. Community providers that received no direct government funding relied on grants or funds provided by other government departments. The number of evening and weekend class students dropped from 153,746 in 2009 to 22,503 in 2013.
New adult education services less reliant on public funding emerged in the 2010s. Wellington-based Chalkle (founded in 2012) connected teachers and learners through a website. Teachers set their own fees and classes were held in all sorts of venues, including libraries, community halls, offices and cafés.