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Nation Building - Steve Maharey Speech

Hon Steve Maharey
Speech Notes

Nation Building:
Lifelong Learning for a Knowledge Society

Address at the launch of the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission's Shaping the System report. National Library Auditorium, Wellington.


Thank you, Russell, for providing us with that useful overview of the Shaping the System report. I'd also like to thank the entire Commission, and its secretariat, for all the thought and effort they have put into the report.

Let me start by saying that this, broadly, is what we were looking for when we set up the Commission less than a year ago.

Thank you all for coming to the launch of this important document. I am glad to see all of those here from every part of the sector -- adult & community education, colleges of education, industry training, polytechnics, private providers, universities and wananga.

I am also pleased to see those who are not from the sector itself but who have engaged with the need for tertiary education reform. Your involvement is vitally important. Tertiary education is about everyone, because it's about the skills and knowledge that underpin our prospects as a nation.

This means that there are few more important things that we can do than ensure a better strategic alignment between tertiary education and the needs of our nation.


Achieving this is going to mean intervention on the part of Government.

The last decade shows that there is no point simply hoping that the market will provide a match between the $2 billion we spend on tertiary education and the range of skills and research we are looking for.

Our predecessors in government glimpsed this, but they did so too late, after ten years without strategy. We hope this report can form the basis of multi-party consensus on the way forward for tertiary education.

The reform process is going to involve the Government coming back in as a major player in the tertiary education system again. The Government has an important responsibility as a custodian of the taxpayers' investment, a protector of students' interests, and an advocate of stakeholders' interests. In other words, we're here to serve the interests of the nation.


In order to do this effectively, though, we are going to need to look towards a partnership model. In a complex society, we cannot run the whole system out of Wellington. We all need to work together.

Individual tertiary education providers, whether a small PTE or a large university, may not be best placed to have a system-wide strategic overview or to assess what TEAC calls the 'third-party effects' of their actions.

Nonetheless, there are many decisions in which those within the system ¡V teachers, general staff, students, managers and governors -- do have the keenest insight. We are still looking to capitalise on the innovative capacities of individual providers.

We also need to value the perspective that business and industry stakeholders can bring. They need the skills and knowledge that come out of the tertiary education sector, and they have a genuine hunger to be more engaged with what goes on in these important centres.

Then there is also the rest of the community. Tertiary education has a lot to offer regions, the research community, and of course individuals. These offering cannot always be calculated in economic terms. The societal role of tertiary education in equipping us as citizens should not be underestimated. The arts, humanities and social sciences have a vital role in our conception of the nation-building role of tertiary education.

We need to bring all these perspectives together. We need to draw the whole community into an active engagement with tertiary education.

We need central structures that can bring those voices together and articulate those goals.


And we need those goals to drive tertiary education as a system. For ten years the driving feature of this system has been competition. That has been misplaced.

I do not argue that there should be no trace of competition of any form in tertiary education. The competitive striving for excellence has always characterised academia ¡V that is healthy.

But our competitive gaze should be directed globally. Our competition is not the neighbouring university or polytechnic from which we might hope to poach students (or more importantly EFTS). It is the Australian system of tertiary education and innovation; it is the Canadian system of tertiary education and innovation; the Irish; the Finnish.

And let's not forget the huge conglomerates roaming cyberspace advertising their e-learning wares. There are powerful technological forces at work at the moment, which are having a globalising effect on tertiary education. In that kind of context, we need to differentiate ourselves. We need to show what we have to offer that makes us special.


Our system, taken together, has to give us the skills and the innovative capacity that equals that of anywhere else in the world.

We need mechanisms in place that say to providers, "is that in the interests of the system overall"?

But it can't be just about building barriers. So let's frame that question in the positive: "What can you strengthen in your organisation that will complement the strengths of other providers? What makes you different?"

We need steering mechanisms that focus providers on that.

The wheels of these steering mechanisms will, in turn, be oiled by a new funding system. The Commission has begun work on the task of reviewing the way the funding of learning and research is allocated to see how it can be made to mesh better with the overall strategy. They will report to me on this in August. It was important, however, to first have a framework in which to better consider funding priorities.


And we need, in all of this, to think broadly about tertiary education. Our conception of it has to be an inclusive one. Our goal is relevant learning in quality environments. That does not mean specific bricks or particular mortar.

Learning happens in a wide variety of environments.

Adult and community education providers provide the basis for a broad range of learning, often outside formal credentialed structures and in many cases focussed on capacity-building needs of communities.

Universities act as a storehouse of knowledge and also function as a critic and conscience of society. They take the lead in enabling advanced learning at the forefront of knowledge creation.

Industry training breaks down the barriers between work and learning. It provides access to formal learning for many people who would never set foot inside an educational institution, and allows their skill acquisition on the job to be recognised.

Wananga have a variety of educational missions, but all united by a commitment to teaching in accordance with tikanga Maori. They provide Maori communities with the means to control their own learning opportunities.

Polytechnics and institutes of technology provide a regional network, connected closely to the skill needs of their locality. They have the widest range of roles of any part of the system, with an emphasis on diversity, vocational training and promoting community learning.

Colleges of education provide a specialist learning environment for those training to become teachers. Their combination of a specialist focus supplemented through alliances with other providers is worthy of emulation.

Private providers cover a range of niche areas. They provide learning opportunities to students in disciplines, locations and teaching styles ¡V including for instance Pacific Island teaching styles ¡V not covered by the public sector.

We need to see the whole picture and not make assumptions that any contribution adds up to more than any other does in the formation of an inclusive knowledge society.


And we need an approach to tertiary policy that reflects that need. This means:

„h Central structures that provide for more active engagement by the Government and other stakeholders;

„h Regulatory mechanisms that focus providers on making a distinctive contribution to the overall system;

„h And a comprehensive approach that sees the system as encompassing the full range of quality-assured learning environments beyond the school system.

And a focus on excellence. I endorse and affirm the focus on centres of research excellence that the report advocates. The Government intends to move quickly on this.

Shaping the System is offering us an approach to each of these areas ¡V central structures, regulatory mechanisms, a comprehensive approach and research excellence.


Is it the best way to accomplish those things? I think so, but I want to hear your views.

This Government is very clear about two things. First, we do want a more co-operative and collaborative tertiary education sector with a clear strategic direction, and strong links to the wider economy and community.

Second, we want to act quickly.

We know the sector is impatient. We know the business community is impatient.

Let's discuss these ideas but let's do it promptly. Over the next month I am going to travel to each of the largest tertiary education centres in the country ¡V Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton and Palmerston North ¡V and I'm going to hold forums a little like this. Commission members will be there, too, and they are going to get around a few of the smaller centres as well.

During that month I encourage everyone to ask:

* Will the objective of a strategic tertiary education system be achieved through the proposals in the report?
* Will an integrated approach to all types of tertiary education and training contribute to this?
* Will the classification of providers, more active use of charters and the introduction of profiles provide for adequate steering of the sector?
* What impact might charters and profiles have on the number and scope of providers?
* Will the steering mechanism that is required be produced through the absorption of existing functions into a Tertiary Education Commission, based on a representational model?

Then at the end of the month I want to get the peak organisations of the various parts of the sector together and hear their considered response. We intend for key aspects of the Government response to the report to be released no later than the end of May.

For now, though, I will be interested to hear your initial comments.

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