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A Step Towards Cooperative, Collaborative Sector

Hon Steve Maharey
8th June 2000 Speech Notes

A Step Towards a Cooperative and
Collaborative Sector

Address to Hutt Valley Polytechnic / Unitec Applied Technology Institute Launch of Memorandum of Understanding,at Turnball House


It's good to be here for the launch of the Memorandum of Understanding between these two fine tertiary institutions.

I see this Applied Technology Co-operation Agreement very much in the context of a shift from a competitive tertiary education towards one based on cooperation and collaboration.

This is, as I'm sure you will know, the change of direction that this Government promised before coming to office, and it is what we are setting about achieving in office.

But it is more than that. Over the last three years or so I have spoken widely to participants in the tertiary sector, at all levels – chief executives, councils, staff and students. And I have detected a sea-change. Of course, many people have always been uncomfortable with the previous government's competitive model for tertiary education. But in the last year or so, even many of its previous advocates have begun to think again.

Because the model hasn't worked. It has led the tertiary sector to the brink of an abyss. Many tertiary institutions are now in truly difficult financial situations, and even those better positioned are battered and bruised. Since becoming Associate Minister with responsibility for Tertiary Education, I have had to step in to give one polytechnic the financial breathing-space to reorient itself for the future. Several polytechnics now have Crown Observers working with their Councils to work out a plan for their ongoing viability.

The uncertainty that competition creates is one thing, but also damaging is what does not happen. It is very difficult for institutions to share expertise under a model of intense competition. It is hard to develop positive synergies between them.

I congratulate those who, even before the election of this Government, realised that the competitive thrust needed to be tempered, by fostering bilateral and multilateral relationships.

A DIFFERENT MODEL

The market model was wrong, not in seeing education and research as the basis of our success in an increasingly knowledge based world – they are – but in believing we should treat it like any other commodity.

We need to reassert a vision of education consistent with a broader view of education that we have held in this nation over the past century.

The basis is of this has been set out for our new Tertiary Education Advisory Commission in its terms of reference. New Zealand needs:
 A more cooperative and collaborative tertiary education sector
 A commitment to excellence in teaching, scholarship, and research
 A greater sense of partnership between the key contributors to the sector, including individuals, local communities and industry
 An environment where all those involved in teaching, scholarship and research are committed to contributing to the nation's future direction
 An environment where Maori requirements and aspirations for development are fully supported, and which gives recognition to the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles
 An environment where participation by all is encouraged, including by Pacific people, other ethnic groups, and people with disabilities
 A sector that fully supports regional and local communities, and
 A sector that comprises a range of well-managed institutions and providers that can work together across the whole system to meet the education and research needs of the nation

This Government wishes to develop a more widely shared strategic direction and understanding about tertiary education with educators, the research sector, business and communities that will enable New Zealand society and the economy to flourish.

We need to move away from a system where institutions were effectively told – we don't care what you teach or research, or how you do it, and we don't care how you manage yourselves: "You get the students in the door and you'll get the EFTS dollars."

Tertiary institutions need to become more connected and involved in the society and economy. So much more will be expected of them and they will need to deliver on those expectations by working closely with a variety of constituencies.

In order to do that in a way that makes the most of all of the New Zealand public's tertiary investment, we need a sector that flies in formation.

One of the main challenges to tertiary institutions will be to work together. Your institutions have embraced that challenge, and for that I salute you.

The Tertiary Education Advisory Commission is currently grappling with how to construct:
 A funding system that encourages institutions to work actively together;
 A way of funding research that advances national and international levels of excellence in a complementary way across the sector – we do not want to see unnecessary duplication occurring; and
 A system where institutions identify what they do best in order to serve New Zealand’s social, economic and regional needs.

This will alter the drivers that underpin how polytechnics and other institutions operate. This Government, following TEAC's recommendations, is going to set the drivers to steer our tertiary system in a more cooperative and collaborative direction.


A CALL TO REFORM

Exactly how much change that will require is in many ways up to the sector itself. The drivers are not yet in place but the Government's objectives are clear. Institutions should start now in moving away from the competitive model and towards more cooperative and collaborative strategies.

And those who manage and work in tertiary institutions should be telling the Commission what is required to bed in that change of mind-set.

What is that you respond to when you get up in the morning and decide what you will do for the day? What can we change that will make it easier for you to reach out to your colleagues in other institutions and work with them, rather than trying to leverage market share off them?

There is a genuine tension between the need for a strategic vision for the sector and an ethos of institutional autonomy. I am firmly of the view that academic independence, and the independent role of universities as the critics and conscience of society must be protected. I am less firmly of the view that protecting this will require a continuation of the present statutory framework and accountability arrangements.

If the sector is willing to buy into a cooperative framework there may not be any need for the government to act to assert what I see as its legitimate ownership interests.

The 38 public tertiary institutions have between them combined assets worth approximately $4 billion. It may be a somewhat controversial thing to say, but let me say it any way – the Government sees these assets as public assets.

The tertiary sector is not just a significant financial asset. It is also important in a variety of ways. The sector:
 caters to a large and growing proportion of the population every year, and over 90% of the population will participate in tertiary education before reaching 25 years;
 currently offers over 52,000 courses of study;
 employs almost half of the total research and development staff in New Zealand in the universities alone; and
 is estimated to bring in to New Zealand approximately $500 million per year in export earnings.

A well-established, broad-ranged tertiary sector is a terrible thing to waste. We don't intend to do so.


CONCLUSION

So once again I come to those people of vision who have seen the requirements that a modern tertiary sector must face, and have evolved new ways of working to meet them.

I would like to pay tribute today to Unitec and to the Hutt Valley Polytechnic for what is being undertaken here today

In particular I want to pay my respects to those who have signed the memorandum on behalf of their institutions.

Dr Martin Hall, Executive Dean of the Applied Technology Institute at Unitec, is a man who cares passionately about vocational education in this country. I know that he has worked assiduously to develop an environment in which technology education can flourish across the sector.

Dr Linda Sissons too has a commitment to vocational education, dating from her time at the Trade Union Education Authority, if not before. She has also been instrumental in turning around the prospects of the Hutt Valley Polytechnic in a very difficult environment. And, of course, she is charged with introducing cooperation and collaboration across the sector as a member of the afore-mentioned Tertiary Education Advisory Commission. Linda clearly practices what she preaches!

I do not under-estimate the complexities of cooperative practice, either for the sector as a whole or between your two institutions. But you are pioneers in developing practices that will sustain New Zealand as a centre of quality education and innovation in the new century.

ENDS

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