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Polytechnics in the Emerging System - Speech

Steve Maharey
2pm Tuesday 26 September 2000
Speech Notes

Innovation, Cooperation and Differentiation:
Polytechnics in the Emerging System

Address to the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education- Te Hau Takitini o Aotearoa 2000 Conference. Brentwood Hotel, Wellington.

INTRODUCTION

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today; pleased because I know that your organisation and its members and the present Government share a common vision - a better tertiary sector and as a consequence a better society.

I am sure you want to work in institutions that are abuzz with learning. Learning should be exciting, interesting, challenging. But if individuals and institutions are concerned about security, short-term and long-term, then it is harder to make the necessary commitment.

The Government sees the need as diversity with excellence - that is, each part of the sector doing its own portion of life-long learning with high goals and high achievement.

I want amongst other things today to talk about trust. This Government is leading the debate in this country at the moment about the concept of ‘social capital’. Loosely defined it is the connections between individuals and their social networks and the forms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.

These connections can be organisations, formal and informal, such as churches, bowling clubs, or reading groups, or in less-structured exchanges, such as dinner with friends or chitchat around the office coffee machine.

The claim is made that they merit the word 'capital' because they have, and add, value, specifically in improving the productivity of individuals and groups. Of course as well as productivity they add self-esteem and identity as well.

Trust is an essential component of such social capital.

Our tertiary institutions are key centres for developing and fostering social capital. Around them and through them there is a host of activities that add value in all sorts of ways to our society.

You and your colleagues play a crucial role in this value-creation. Teacher-bashing at all levels of our system is too prevalent. You work in a profession that requires dedication and hard work.

Your task is made more difficult by the very information revolution that offers greater opportunities for learners at all levels. You have to balance competing claims, the global co-existing alongside the local. As society gets more complex, so does your work. The knowledge society needs knowledge management. Your skills are an essential component of that knowledge society.

So I thank you today for your efforts for your students over the years and would ask that when you return to your institutions you pass on this comment to your colleagues.

THE TERTIARY EDUCATION ADVISORY COMMITTEE PROCESS

I was delighted with the Tertiary Education Advisory Committee's initial report Shaping A Shared Vision. The Commission was not formed to develop the Government's policy. That had already been made clear, as anyone who has read both Alliance and Labour 1999 education policies can confirm. Both parties wanted;
 A sector characterised by diversity with excellence;
 Cooperation and collaboration between tertiary education providers;
 The focus to be on strategy, quality and access.

This Government does not believe policy is best translated into ways and means by a few people sitting in back rooms beavering away in isolation. That way does not inspire trust.

That is why the Commission's work is an open process. Its task is to advise us on strategic direction. Further, composed of tertiary practitioners, it is a conduit by which the various parts of sector can bring their ideas, suggestions and concerns to our attention.

What is heartening is that I find the sector itself receptive to the need to change, for greater flexibility and diversity. Formulating a strategic direction in concert with the sector is I believe the best way to generate solutions for which the sector has a sense of ownership.

The strength of the Commission is the cross-section of skills and experience individual members can bring to bear with regard to the sector as a whole, and importantly their willingness to engage with those outside the sector.

I stress this point. For the comments I made earlier about sector inclusion, if quoted out of context, could portray a picture of advice received only from the sector. That is not what I mean nor what I want.

I have said repeatedly that the Government wants to see tertiary education having a closer working relationship with groups such as business. Indeed, one of our terms of reference to the Commission was the need for "a greater sense of partnership between the key contributors to the sector including individuals, local communities and industry."

I believe when the history of New Zealand education is written at the end of the 21st Century the work of the Commission will figure prominently. In July, working under a tight time-line, it presented me with a framework for the strategic direction of tertiary education that will serve as the foundation for future reports and for constructive input from the sector.

As I said earlier, I want to restore a sense of trust to the sector. This process will, I hope, restore the sector's trust in the Government. It will mean we can trust the advice we receive.

The to-ing and fro-ing of the process will enable you and other stakeholders to participate and thus have a sense of ownership in the decisions that are made. I urge you all to look closely at, and respond to, Shaping a Shared Vision.

BUILDING UPON STRENGTHS

The change process builds upon existing strengths. The media tends to present the problems of the sector. You and I know about these. It is no secret that I am concerned about the financial situation of a few institutions. It is the Government's policy to support regional development as much as it can.

But we also know of the many positive things that are happening. We should celebrate these as well as remedying the problem areas.

It is my long-held conviction that to ensure the best use of the taxpayer's dollar, the tertiary sector has to act together in a more collaborative fashion.

Institutions must see themselves as each providing an essential element within an overall system, not simply as competitors whose status comes solely from gaining the greatest number of students. We need a win/win situation, not a win/lose one.

There is already quite a degree of formal and informal collaboration and co-operation within the sector. Many of these illustrate the potential combined strength of separate institutions, each making their specific contribution. For example, Waikato Polytechnic is working with Ruakura and Auckland University to identify a hormone that may be able to increase milk production.

There are other examples of successful collaboration to illustrate my point. These are evolutionary, grass-roots developments where learning networks have been established through strategic alliances which also bring resourcing benefits.

COLLABORATION WITHIN THE SECTOR

A growth feature of the sector has been the number of memorandum of agreements that have been negotiated and signed.

For example, my understanding is that Whitireia Polytechnic has now signed ten of these agreements. Three of these are with other institutions: CIT, Otago Polytechnic and Victoria University.

Amongst the others are agreements with various health authorities and agencies. Indeed the close relationship between the polytechnics and the health services is one of the success stories of our education system.

Earlier this year I attended the launch of a Memorandum of Understanding between UNITEC and the Hutt Valley Polytechnic. UNITEC’s Applied Technology Institute and Hutt Valley Polytechnic agreed to work together to develop a strategy of cooperation.

In this way they can increase the opportunities for students in a wide range of vocational areas. With additional resources to call on, there will be the capacity to meet more specific needs and even to customise education and training to meet the specific needs of niche groups.

Then Lincoln University, Christchurch Polytechnic, Christchurch College of Education and Te Rununga o Ngai Tahu created Te Tapuae o Rehua to increase the participation level of Maori students in tertiary education.

The aim is to enable Maori students to use the best path to improve skills in both industry and academia. It will ensure quality of course content, delivery and environment for Maori. Now, the University of Otago has joined the group, increasing the geographical and educational coverage.

Such alliances are also being formed across the Tasman Sea, and further. Christchurch College of Education has links with Griffith University in Queensland, while UNITEC and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology are engaged in discussions about working together on issues of mutual interest.

COLLABORATION WITH THE COMMUNITY

As well as this global outreach it is also pleasing the way that institutions are working cooperatively with their local community.

Manukau Institute of Technology is one such example, since it has reached an agreement with the Otahuhu-based community provider Pacific Island Education Research Centre (PIERC). The agreement covers a number of ways in which that Institute can assist PIERC and creates pathways by which PIERC graduates can continue their studies at the Institute.

Manukau Institute of Technology also has several outreach projects that involve local schools and one that involves local Pacific Island churches.

It is involved in the Employment Consortium Project as a member of the Manukau City Council Employment Strategy Group and runs its own Upward Bound Programme. Both of these programmes address the issue of high school students who are at risk of leaving school without any qualifications.

The Institute has also been an active participant in the proposed Four-Tier Education Policy based in North Otara. The proposal is that Clydemore Primary School, Baird's Intermediate School and Hillary College will work with the Institute to offer an integrated and co-ordinated set of academic programmes from the primary to the tertiary level. This sounds a very exciting and innovative proposal.

Throw into all these exciting educational mix and match possibilities the fact that the Institute also is in a joint venture with the University of Auckland, this opens up the possibility of students in the area accessing university disciplines. As an educator myself I find such proposals exciting. It is life-long learning in evolution.

I know throughout the sector there are deliberate policies of offering a range of related programmes of study with multiple entry and exit levels. This “staircasing” facilitates life-long learning by enabling students to access courses appropriate to their needs, and allowing them to develop their studies in a flexible manner, through combinations of full or part-time study.

COLLABORATION FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT

You already work to local strengths and opportunities. Waiariki Institute of Technology for example has strong developments in tourism and forestry.

Tourism staff at the Institute have been involved with the Lincoln University research project on "Tourism Impact on Maori." Arrangements have been made for selected Rotorua students to study in Phuket and Helsinki. As well as attracting international students, last year there was a visiting lecturer from China.

The Faculty of Forestry and Technology, as one would anticipate, has a close working partnership with the primary industry. There is direct support and input from the forestry industry into developing programmes at this Institute.

Two examples where training is being offered to meet a forecast of increased employment in the industry are:
 A course leading to the Certificate in Wood Mouldings and Remanufacturing was initiated with Fletcher Challenge Forests at their Kawerau and Taupo plants. Students make use of these manufacturing facilities for hands-on experience.
 Additional Forest Harvesting and Practical Logging courses are being offered where students are trained on forestry contractor's worksites.

TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION

Another heartening factor is the use being made of technology. One interesting example is the Open Polytechnic.

A considerable number of the Naval personnel are Open Polytechnic students. During last November's examination round there were RNZN ships in the Persian Gulf, East Timor, Melbourne and Bougainville.

Previously, examinations had been delivered by hand. This not only involved considerable planning, it ran two further risks, examination compromise or a last minute change of location for the students.

High-tech wizardry solved the problem. The Open Polytechnic examinations were sent to the Naval Examination Centre for encryption and additional password protection, then transmitted electronically through satellite communication systems to the ships for downloading.

The exams were available internationally within minutes of transmission. Even complex diagrams were compressed and transmitted without distortion.

Most people are aware of the need to upskill themselves in the new technologies. This is an area in which I know both polytechnics and colleges of education provide programmes.

For example, Wellington College of Education reports that last year's Internet-based course aimed at exploring the effective use of computers in a classroom context attracted heavy enrolments. Teachers from all over New Zealand studied online such topics as Internet resource location and evaluation, spreadsheets and charts for processing numerical data and database software for organising and processing information.

Christchurch Polytechnic's School of Electrotechnology gained accreditation as a Cisco training academy. Cisco is one of the world's leading suppliers of communications and Internet equipment and software. Such developments speak well for the knowledge society. These are all exciting developments, necessary sources for the knowledge society.

CLEAR ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

This Government sees polytechnics as critical to the knowledge society. Far too often the focus of discussion of the knowledge society has been exclusively on a handful of scientists and managers who are seen as making the key decisions for developing the economy.

I am looking to see both clear differentiation between institutional types and also differentiation within types. We also want to see some specialisation by each institution.
The role of polytechnics will continue to reflect the definition in the Education Act, which emphasises diversity, vocational training and promoting community learning. For every polytechnic these statutory missions should take precedence over the provision of the sort of degree programmes that aim to emulate or compete with the universities.

The future is one of increased diversity. The future will also involve filling niches. Polytechnics should play to their strengths rather than adopt a one-fit size fits all approach or simply offer their version of a standard product.

That is why I am heartened at the exemplars of alliances and cooperative ventures I mentioned earlier. This enables the sharing of expertise and resources rather than competing with one another in every area of provision.

I am also well aware that there will be representatives from the four colleges of education here. As a result of the policies of the last ten years the teacher education sector is like the polytechnic sector, unsure of its role.

Teacher education providers, some of whom are polytechnics, are a crucial component of the knowledge society. The quality of our school leavers depends upon the quality of the pre-service education and upskilling for existing teachers. Your voice too must be heard as part of the interactive process I outlined earlier.

The creation of an Education Council, which was another of our pre-election policies, will enable the teaching profession to take a leadership and ownership role that has been denied for too long.

CONCLUSION

Earlier this year, David Blunkett, the United Kingdom Minister of Education, gave a speech at Maritime Greenwich University. In it he addressed the issue of higher education and social justice. Here is what he said.

"In a knowledge economy, higher education becomes an instrument of social justice, since it serves not only as a driver of wealth creation, but as a critical determinant of life chances. As we expand access, and participation becomes the norm rather than the exception, so the higher education system will increasingly underpin social justice within the community."

That is a good articulation of the vision that I know you and I share. As you return to your own institutions remember that vision. Talk it over with your colleagues. A knowledge society that is not just and fair is not a healthy knowledge society.

Thank you for inviting me here today. I look forward to working with you, and with everybody who cares about tertiary education. By working together we will create the kind of environment and high quality institutions that are needed to underpin New Zealand's knowledge society.

ENDS

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