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Unitec Reacts To Government Moratorium On New Unis

Unitec Reacts To Government Moratorium On Universities

Press release from UNITEC CEO, Dr John Webster

Just before noon on Tuesday 16 May, UNITEC received a letter from the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey informing us that the Government had introduced legislation to limit the number of universities to eight, with effect from 15 May 2000. We were surprised and distressed to learn this, coming as it does less than two weeks before the scheduled visit of a panel to evaluate UNITEC's application for redesignation as a university.

UNITEC's rapid progress towards becoming a university of technology resulted in the initial lodging of a redesignation application in 1996. That application was placed on hold in 1997 while the guidelines and processes for such redesignation were established by NZQA, and was resubmitted in August 1999.

An assessment panel was scheduled to visit UNITEC during the week beginning 29 May 2000 and UNITEC had a legitimate expectation that the criteria and procedures would be exactly the same as those applied to Auckland Institute of Technology when it was assessed and subsequently redesignated as Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

The Minister has said that his intention is to impose a moratorium on further developments in order to give time for him to receive advice from the recently established Tertiary Education Advisory Commission on the future shape of the tertiary sector. In a letter to the Chief Executive of UNITEC and the Chairman of NZQA, he suggested that the concepts of "university of technology" and "research university" needed to be further explored in the context of developing a "widely-shared strategic direction for the tertiary sector."

UNITEC is currently seeking legal and other advice and reviewing the courses of action available to contest this decision, which was apparently taken at Ministerial level without prior consultation with the interested parties. The delay is frustrating and unnecessary. Clearly, any increased differentiation which TEAC may recommend be introduced across the higher education sector would affect many other institutions. Granting university status to UNITEC in accordance with due process would have added little or nothing to the challenges such an adjustment will pose.

One of the few positives for UNITEC in this announcement is that there can be no room for doubt that the Minister has concluded (correctly) that UNITEC does meet the criteria for designation as a university.

UNITEC has developed into a university of technology through seven years of dedicated work by its staff, students, and stakeholders. During the past six months in particular, a great deal of effort has gone into preparing for the NZQA panel assessment (with no indication from the Minister that such effort was inappropriate or misdirected).

There is no question that UNITEC meets and often exceeds the NZQA standards, and those who have recently visited our partner institution, RMIT University in Melbourne, can attest that the work done in UNITEC by both staff and students compares well with that of the best university of technology in Australia.

In fact, UNITEC has already become a university of technology, although legal constraints in this country currently prevent us from adopting that title. We have achieved our targets while continuing to offer flexible access to students who are not well-prepared for traditional university study or who prefer part-time to full-time study. Our commitment to the goal of comprehensive higher education has recently been emphasised by the establishment of the Applied Technology Institute.

Redesignation as a university is important in giving proper recognition to our graduates and to the work of the institution, and aligning us with our major competitors and collaborators, both here and overseas. University of technology status cannot long be denied when our profile so obviously matches that of comparable universities in other countries which are further down the path of developing a knowledge-based society.

Nothing in this decision will cause us to deviate from strategic directions which are so clearly meeting the needs of our country and our community. We are prepared to be judged by our actions and by the qualities of our staff, students and graduates.

In a very real sense, UNITEC is "Tomorrow's University".

Contact: Dr John Webster UNITEC CEO 09-815 4321 ext 8519.

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