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‘Elite’ role for universities needs to be debated

9 June 2004

‘Elite’ role for universities needs to be debated

The government is urging a debate on how the unique knowledge creation role of the nation’s universities can be ensured.

Speaking at a Council Meeting of the Royal Society of New Zealand today, Associate Education (Tertiary Education) Minister Steve Maharey said government policy has refocused the university sector on its primary role of creating and transferring knowledge. It was now important to develop a national consensus about how to ensure the nation’s universities consistently push knowledge boundaries and make a genuine contribution to New Zealand’s economic and social development.

“Research is at the very core of what defines and distinguishes a university. The research they produce also has a national development role by acting as a repository of knowledge and expertise, questioning existing knowledge and transferring new discoveries from the laboratory to the boardroom and community.

“It is essential that we reposition our universities as the institutions to influence the direction and quality of our research and ensure that they become the elite institutions that they were intended to be.

“A recent discussion paper issued by the Tertiary Education Commission asks some hard questions about how best to achieve this transformation. Questions like whether universities should cut back on or abandon their sub-degree programmes in favour of expanding their post-graduate offerings and whether it should remain a requirement that staff teaching undergraduate degree programmes must also be active researchers.

“As the government increases funding for research in the tertiary education sector it’s time to debate these issues openly and agree on how we can maximise the economic and social returns from this investment,” Steve Maharey said.

Recent tertiary education research initiatives include: The introduction of the Performance-Based Research Fund which will increase to $180 million by 2007 (including $33 million of new funding); A new high-speed internet super link between tertiary education and research organisations in New Zealand and overseas; The establishment of seven Centres of Research Excellence and new funding to build research capability in the social sciences; and The additional $212 million invested in the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology which universities have a strong track record of successfully bidding for.

ENDS

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