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NZQA position on national degrees strongly opposed

NZVCC Electronic News Bulletin Vol. 8 No. 4 1 April 2008

Lead item …

Universities strongly oppose NZQA position on national degrees

The NZ Vice-Chancellors’ Committee and its Committee on University Academic Programmes continue to disagree strongly with the NZ Qualifications Authority’s interpretation of the Education Act in regard to degree approval requirements.

The disagreement arises from a proposal for a national degree by the Extractive Industries Industry Training Organisation. NZQA has indicated it will further consider the application once it has received suitable course approval and accreditation information. The proposal would then be considered in terms of an application for consent to the granting of the degree under two relevant sections of the Education Act.

CUAP chair Professor Pat Walsh says any national degree approval based on unit standards is inconsistent with the Education Act and would run counter to the Tertiary Education Strategy’s emphasis on quality degree provision. It could open a window for other degrees of this type which could adversely affect the international reputation of New Zealand degrees.

Professor Walsh says the NZVCC’s position on university degrees on the National Qualifications Framework is long standing. More than a decade ago the Committee decided that the NQF should not encompass tertiary degrees because the unit standards approach was incompatible with the breadth, depth and coherence required of a degree by the Education Act.

In 2003, NZQA published the NZ Register of Quality Assured Qualifications. The Register codified the shared understanding between the Qualifications Authority and NZVCC of the criteria for defining various types of national and local qualifications. The EXITO proposal is the first degree that NZQA has considered registering on the NQF. It is the first significant disagreement between NZQA and NZVCC over the recognition of qualifications since the register was introduced.

According to Professor Walsh, NZVCC’s fundamental concerns about the registration of degrees on the NQF are well illustrated by the EXITO proposal. Section 254 of the Education Act requires that a degree must be a course of advanced learning “taught mainly by people engaged in research” yet no evidence has been provided this would be the case with the EXITO proposal.

Further, section 254 of the Education Act requires a degree to be a course of advanced learning which “emphasises general principles and basic knowledge as a basis for self-directed work and learning”. A unit standards approach is fundamentally inconsistent with this requirement. It is understood that rather than being a comprehensive qualification, the EXITO proposal focuses more narrowly on risk management.

Finally, the proposal delinks the approval of the qualification itself from the qualification providers. In fact, EXITO appears to be still considering who the providers of the proposed degree would be. Professor Walsh says the NZVCC considers the questions of programme approval and provider accreditation to be inextricably linked, as the coherence of the degree depends on the involvement of consistent and appropriate providers.

Other items …

Lindsay Taiaroa to chair NZUSS

On the invitation of the trustees, former NZVCC executive director Lindsay Taiaroa has agreed to replace Dr Graeme Fogelberg as the Independent Chair of the New Zealand Universities’ Superannuation Scheme Trustees for a three-year period from May 1 this year.

Chinese invite NZ university participation in tripartite programme

Delegates from the Chinese Ministry of Education and Chinese Scholarship Council met with representatives from New Zealand universities and the NZVCC last week to discuss PhD scholarships for Chinese students to study here and opportunities for collaboration with Chinese universities.

The Chinese Scholarship Council has up to 6000 PhD scholarships available per year for students to study at selected universities around the world with 5000 of those awards available only to students from China’s top 49 universities.

New Zealand universities were also invited to participate in the tripartite partnership programme. This initiative partners a prestigious Chinese university, and an established offshore university, with a developing Chinese university, usually located in the remote northern and western regions of China. Key advantages for participating universities include increased exposure and a higher profile in China, access to resources, increased academic capacity and the ability to attract students. The Chinese and New Zealand Ministries of Education are also working on a framework to foster research collaboration between the two countries.

UCOL students join NZUSA

The Association of Students at UCOL has joined the NZ Union of Students’ Associations which now has 17 member associations representing more than 200,000 students at universities and polytechnics around the country. UCOL students voted in favour of the move at a general meeting of their association yesterday.

Major higher education reviews in UK, Australia

The Association of Commonwealth Universities news service reports that March has seen the announcement of major strategic reviews of higher education in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

In Australia the new minister, Julia Gillard, called for a revolution in higher education citing the importance of nations investing wisely in knowledge, skills and innovation. Criticising the Howard government for being asleep at the wheel for more than a decade, she called for the creation of a globally competitive higher education system. Public funding of tertiary education declined by four per cent in Australia between
1995 and 2004 compared with an average increase of 49 per cent across the OECD. Initially, she announced moves to reduce tuition fees in strategic subjects but any major changes would await the outcome of a strategic review led by the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Australia. This would report in December this year and would advise the Government on the key objectives for higher education in Australia and suggest how they could be achieved through reforming the sector and changing the regulatory and funding arrangements.

In the UK the minister, John Denham, spoke about the importance of skills and innovation in the national economy and called for the higher education sector to work with government to produce a framework for the expansion and development of higher education over the next 10-15 years. Denham suggested that a one per cent increase in the size of a country's tertiary education workforce could increase its GDP by around six percentage points, but bemoaned the fact that so few 15 year olds in the UK (32 per cent) expected to go on to study at university level. His rationale for the review (or series of review studies) was that the UK needed to be better positioned to face the challenges from international competitors.


The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee Electronic News Bulletin is produced every second Tuesday and distributed to parties with an interest in the Committee’s affairs. Back issues are archived on the NZVCC website:

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