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A strategic role for tertiary education - Maharey

Hon Steve Maharey
21 August 2001 Speech Notes

Responding to the needs of communities
A strategic role for tertiary education

Opening remarks at a public meeting on tertiary education hosted by Ann Hartley, Member of Parliament for Northcote, Zion Hill Methodist Church Hall, Birkenhead.

INTRODUCTION

I’d like to start by thanking Ann Hartley for giving me the opportunity to speak to you tonight about tertiary education.

I think most people realise nowadays that the strength of our tertiary education system is pretty important for us as a nation. Too often, though, people think that unless they are part of the system themselves they don’t have very much to contribute to any discussion about it.

I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I think it’s absolutely vital that both those who run individual tertiary education institutions, and those who run the system as a whole, have their ears wide open to hear from the wider community and listen to their needs.

In many ways, the changes that the Government is currently making in this area are largely about opening tertiary education right up, and letting the community in.

THE ROLE OF TEAC

Shortly after taking office the Labour/Alliance Government established a Tertiary Education Advisory Commission (TEAC). It was tasked to provide advice on the future strategic direction of the New Zealand tertiary education system.

Their first report set out a broad vision that has informed their work ever since. Their second report, Shaping the System, gave us the steering mechanisms we will need to use our tertiary education capability strategically. These are:

 Charters for publicly-funded providers that are meaningful and set out their special mission and contribution to the system as a whole;

 Provider profiles to avoid duplication and focus each provider on their specialties and the needs of their stakeholders;

 A Centres of Research Excellence Fund to foster excellence in areas of strategic importance; and

 A Tertiary Education Commission to bring the administration of the whole system together under one agency, with strong involvement from business and other stakeholders in its governance.

This month we have also announced a $35 million Strategic Change fund to help institutions adapt to the new environment, and a tertiary efficiency study to identify opportunities, in particular, from collaborative action between institutions.

The Government has also agreed to develop a Tertiary Education Strategy. This means we will need to set out priorities for strategic investment in the system.

TEAC’s third report addresses this. It recommends a set of strategic priorities for the tertiary system, in order that it contributes to the national goals for economic and social development.

This is necessary if New Zealand is to compete successfully in a global environment. This marks a new phase for tertiary education policy in this country.

THE CURRENT SITUATION AND THE CHALLENGE

Since the education reforms undertaken by the Fourth Labour Government in 1989-1990, the New Zealand tertiary education system has made significant gains in terms of responsiveness to student needs, and in terms of increasing national participation levels.

The intent of those reforms was to create a balance – with institutions getting the autonomy they had been seeking and that autonomy being constrained by carefully drawn up Charters setting out complementary institutional missions.

In implementing those reforms, however, instead of the proposed co-operative model, the National government developed a market-place model. This has placed some institutions at risk and resulted in a fragmented system lacking in clear direction.

Our challenge now is to provide future-focussed leadership to the tertiary education system.

New Zealand now faces new and demanding challenges in a period of rapid global change – in technology, in communications, and in labour market dynamics. The tertiary sector has a key role to play in equipping New Zealand to meet these challenges and to take advantage of the opportunities they create.

It also has a fundamental role to play in promoting a vibrant cultural identity, which places value on diversity, achievement and innovation.

Tertiary education is one of this country’s major public investments in building the skills and capability needed for the future. To maximise the benefits of this important investment, a paradigm shift is required.

The tertiary education system will no longer be solely driven by the choices of consumers as it was during the 1990s, when it was too narrowly focussed on student demand as the primary determinant of resource allocation.

Rather, the focus of the tertiary education system will now be to produce the skills, knowledge and innovation that New Zealand needs to:

 transform our economy;

 promote social and cultural development; and

 meet the rapidly changing requirements of national and international labour markets.

Of course, responsiveness to students will nonetheless remain a critical part of the system.

This Labour/Alliance Government will lead a shift to a co-operative and collaborative sector, unified by a clear vision for the future, which contributes effectively to New Zealand’s development as a knowledge nation.

While maintaining strong levels of participation, the tertiary education system needs to be more explicitly aligned with wider government goals for economic and social development.

The key message is that the tertiary education system can no longer be seen in isolation from the Government’s wider social and economic development initiatives and strategies.

THE TERTIARY EDUCATION STRATEGY

The tertiary education system is diverse and complex. To achieve the paradigm shift we need, across all areas of the system, it will require a well-designed Tertiary Education Strategy

The tertiary system includes learning in workplaces as well as classrooms and laboratories. It includes long-established universities and polytechnics and new training and research establishments. It includes full-time and part-time learners, adults and school leavers, learning in lecture theatres and learning by distance.

The Tertiary Education Strategy will cover the whole tertiary education system, and will have linkages with the compulsory education system and the labour market.
All elements of the system need to be performing to the highest standards to ensure we develop the skills, capabilities and knowledge that New Zealand requires for the future.

The Tertiary Education Strategy will outline how the tertiary education system will achieve the paradigm shift from looking inwards at consumers, to looking outwards at how it can:

 contribute to New Zealand’s goals for economic and social development;

 produce the knowledge that New Zealand needs to be a world leader in innovation;

 produce the skills and competencies that New Zealanders need in order to fuel our economic growth; and

 develop the capabilities within the sector to meet the needs and expectations of enterprise and communities.

The Strategy will outline priorities and milestones for the next three to five years and inform policy direction, purchasing decisions and capability building by the TEC, as well as provide a framework within which the tertiary education system can develop.

A NATIONAL DEBATE

The development of new strategies for the tertiary system cannot be undertaken without continued dialogue with the sector and the public. We want to encourage wide-ranging debate.

Tertiary education is key to all sectors of New Zealand – businesses, industries, schools, community organisations, research institutes, iwi and Mäori organisations, and Pacific communities. That’s why we want to know what the tertiary education priorities are for every sector.

The Government invites your feedback, questions and suggestions on the priorities recommended in TEAC’s report -- as well as your own priorities for tertiary education -- by 31 October 2001.

You can write, fax or email. We have also set up a consultation website, at www.talktertiarystrategy.minedu.govt.nz

We intend to release a draft Tertiary Education Strategy, based on the discussion and consultation process, in December this year, and to finalise the Strategy by March 2002.


CONCLUSION

In deciding what our requirements for tertiary education are, we need to think about our needs, not only as a knowledge nation, but also as a particular kind of knowledge nation.

We already know that if we are to become a nation that uses knowledge in all we do, we have to invest in information technology, research and development, innovation, skills training, lifting educational levels and ensuring New Zealanders learn what they need to function in a global environment.

But identifying our particular path in the knowledge age will be a key task for this Government, and I hope it will be our lasting legacy. The Knowledge Wave conference earlier this month was a timely addition to these deliberations.

Between the Knowledge Wave, the Science and Innovation Advisory Council report on an innovation framework for New Zealand, and the contribution of Shaping the System, I am hoping for a period of intellectual ferment.

We have to decide what we have competitive advantages in. In the context of globalisation there is no sense in New Zealand trying to be the best at everything. We need to play to our strengths.

We need to decide where to invest. In my opinion land-based industries like fishing, agriculture, aquaculture are obvious points of leverage. So too are tourism and the new industries like film that rely on our unique location

But I urge you all to put forward your own views. Get personally involved in the debate about the future!

I want to see people becoming impassioned about what our best path to a knowledge society is. It’s a subject that should provoke strong feelings, because it’s so important to our future as a nation.

I want to say to all of you, get behind the cause of the knowledge society in general. Argue about the nature of the New Zealand knowledge society in particular! Government needs to forge a strategic partnership with business to work through this, and come up with a sustainable answer.

Because what we have to do is settle on this. We do finally have to come to a point where we are starting to say that we all agree. Otherwise we’ll be back here in ten years time with a nice list of things that we’ve done but there will have been no real push in any particular direction.

Thank you for your future engagement on these issues.

ENDS

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