A Developmental Approach to Tertiary Education
Hon Steve Maharey Speech Notes
A Developmental Approach to Tertiary Education:
The view from 2007
Address to the Economic Development Association of New Zealand (EDANZ) Conference, Innovation, Workforce Capability & Regional Economic Growth. Palmerston North Convention Centre, Palmerston North.
I’d like to begin by thanking the Economic Development Association of New Zealand, not only for inviting me to address you today, but also for your ongoing engagement with this Government’s effort to reform the tertiary education system.
I had a very useful meeting with your Chair, Chris Pickrell, and your Executive Director, Ann Verboket, last November. This gave me great confidence that EDANZ saw the same need that we in the Government do to strengthen the “developmental’ focus of tertiary education. It also highlighted the vital role that EDANZ can play as a national body to assist regions to address the skill development needs that arise from regional growth strategies.
Since then, I know EDANZ has continued to play an active role in the consultation on the reforms, and in particular the formulation of the first nationwide strategy for tertiary education in this country.
The Tertiary Education Strategy was released in draft form in December. The finalised version should be released publicly in May. It will cover the period through to 2007.
What I would like to do today is outline some of the key themes emerging from the workshops we’ve held with business and other stakeholders around the country, and suggest on the basis of that where we aim to be by 2007 in terms of a “developmental’ tertiary education system.
TERTIARY EDUCATION’S CONTRIBUTION TO DEVELOPMENT
First though, let me explain what I mean by tertiary education’s “developmental’ role.
When people talk about tertiary education they’re generally thinking in terms of universities, with polytechnics possibly thrown in as an afterthought. The role of these institutions is often seen as self-defined. They are the critic and conscience of society, standing apart, and choosing what to comment upon. Or they are involved in curiosity-driven research, once again in areas of their own choosing.
These roles are fundamentally important, and I am totally committed to their continuation. But they are only part of the mission of tertiary education.
Other people talk about tertiary education primarily as providing a service to individuals. These individuals enter tertiary education, decide which skills and qualifications they wish to obtain, and then leave when they have done so.
This way of looking at tertiary education is the one that dominated in the 1990s. Learning and qualifications were seen as an undifferentiated black box and the sole measure of success was seen as being quantity. By this measure, New Zealand has been very successful. We are one of only three OECD countries where both participation rates and completion rates for university-type tertiary programmes are above the OECD average.
This, too, is important. This, too, is not enough.
Increasingly, there has been recognition both here and abroad that we need tertiary educators to be in dialogue, not only amongst themselves and with their current students, but with society as a whole. We have moved into the age of the “knowledge society’ where knowledge, skills, information and creativity are becoming the main drivers of a country’s competitive advantage. We are increasingly aware of the importance of these attributes in contributing to social development as well.
No matter who you are - a small-medium enterprise, a major corporate, a city or district council, an iwi, a community organisation, central government or (of course) an Economic Development Agency - the tertiary education sector can play an important role in helping you meet your aspirations.
The Labour Party recognised this before the last election when we gave our tertiary education policy the name “Nation Building’, taking the term from the work of the Australian educationalist Simon Marginson. We have continued to reflect this in Government. In fact, giving the tertiary sector back a sense of what might be called its “nation building’ role has been at the heart of the work of the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission (TEAC), which led to the present round of reforms.
Increasingly, however, we have tended to equate the role that tertiary education needs to play with the contribution of other areas of Government to the general project of economic and social development. This is, in part, summed up in the Growing an Innovative New Zealand framework, while the social dimension is emphasised in the current work of the agency we have re-named the Ministry of Social Development.
This “developmental’ approach, seeing New Zealand as essentially a “developing nation’ whose circumstances can and must be transformed, is a distinguishing characteristic of this Government. This was made very clear last month when we released the Growth and Innovation framework for New Zealand. This framework identified a well-educated and skilled and adaptable workforce as an essential ingredient in producing a successful economy in the 21st century.
We are developing a Kiwi model of development, which sees the government as a leader, partner, facilitator, and broker, working with other sectors to get results. This perspective is reflected in our determination to “open up’ tertiary education to a closer relationship with our economy and society.
THE REFORM PROCESS
The Government currently has a number of linked processes underway to move tertiary education towards a developmental focus and turn the TEAC vision into reality:
- The Tertiary Education Reform Bill is in front of the Education and Science Select Committee and public submissions are being held this week;
- This bill also implements decisions made as a result of the Industry Training review;
- Consultation has been completed on the draft of the Tertiary Education Strategy, and the final version is being written;
- The establishment process for the Tertiary Education Commission is underway and expressions of interest for its board have been received;
- Advice will go to Cabinet on the Government’s response to TEAC’s funding proposals next month, and this will inform the 2002 Budget;
- The final report of the Training Opportunities and Youth Training Review will be considered at the same time;
- The Ministry of Education will report to me shortly on proposed uses for the $35 million Strategic Change Fund to assist tertiary institutions to adapt to the new environment; and
- The Royal Society is discussion with the five successful Centres of Research Excellence over the details of their funding and their application for “start-up’ capital funding.
This work has been informed by extensive consultation, both with the sector itself and with the wider set of stakeholders in tertiary education throughout our economy and society. An important component of that has been the Tertiary Education Strategy workshops held around the country.
Therefore, for the remainder of my time with you today I’d like to reflect on the feedback we’ve received from business and others on the strategy, particularly as it relates to economic development, and what kind of changes we envisage in the period through to 2007 as a result of that.
OVERVIEW OF THE WORKSHOPS
Attendees at all the workshops were very positive about the Government’s overall policy approach to tertiary reform, about the concept of a Tertiary Education Strategy, and about the key imperatives for change outlined in the draft document. There was widespread acceptance of the need to balance competitive and collaborative forces, and to build real and value-creating connections between the sector and the society around it.
Most significantly, there has been no adverse reaction to the six major goals outlined in the draft. These were:
- Develop the skills and knowledge New Zealanders need for our Knowledge Society;
- Ensure learning and research for Maori development;
- Raise foundation skills so that all people can participate in our Knowledge Society;
- Educate for Pacific peoples’ inclusion and development;
- Strengthen research, knowledge creation and uptake in our Knowledge Society;
- Enhance system capability and quality for our Knowledge Society.
There was general agreement that these are indeed the priority areas in need of attention. Indeed, if anything, participants were concerned that it was difficult to disagree with any of the strategies, goals and targets in the draft and more specificity about the “how’ and “when’ were needed. The finalised Strategy will start to provide this.
There was widespread approval, and even excitement, at the link to New Zealand national development goals. The emphasis on a system-wide approach and the inclusion of a section outlining national development aspirations was viewed very positively. The New Zealand section in the document was praised, with several participants asking for more detail regarding national goals and for the identification of priority investment areas. In the wake of the Growing an Innovative New Zealand framework’s release, we are now in position to address this in the finalised strategy
Participants at each workshop to date have expressed a strong desire that this Strategy be one that can attract bipartisan support and survive across possible changes of government. Clearly, I’m not in a position to promise that. I can, however, comment that I have not perceived any strong antipathy to this strategy as it is developing from the National Party, and that they at least claim to broadly support a developmental approach. The position of ACT is less certain in this regard.
In the end, it’s up to you. If the sector and stakeholders support the strategy, and make this support widely known, then you will not find any major political party seeking to make capital out of changing it. That’s what’s happened in places like Ireland; it can happen here, too.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GENERIC SKILLS
Workshop participants were asked what changes needed to occur in the tertiary education system if New Zealand is to evolve towards a knowledge economy and society by 2007. A recurring theme, particularly from business participants has been the need for improved attention to generic and transferable skills.
Get foundation and generic skills right, we were told, and much of the rest will follow.
By 2007 the tertiary education system will be more responsive to the often articulated requirements of employers for graduates to possess high level generic and transferable skills.
There is international consistency around the skills that are considered “generic’ in relation to work lives. These are:
- Communication skills, including oral and written literacy;
- Self management skills;
- Skills in interpersonal dynamics;
- Numeracy skills;
- Thinking and problem solving skills;
- Technology skills, including computing; and
- “How to learn’ skills.
International development of a “core’ skills curricula increasingly also include “civics’ skills for active citizenship in a democracy. At some United States colleges, for instance, they may also include aesthetics, multi-cultural and ethics skills.
At present the development of a knowledge society is often thought to imply additional investment in the development of scientific or technology skills. In actual fact, these types of high level generic skills, which stress interpersonal, intrapersonal and “humanities’ skills, and which are often taught as part of a liberal arts curriculum, are just as critical.
Research across the world has shown that employers are likely to employ graduates, no matter what their discipline they’ve studied, if they possess attributes such as willingness to learn, teamwork, communication skills, problem-solving skills and analytic ability and flexibility and adaptability.
By 2007 providers will be dedicated to ensuring that all learners acquire a high level of these generic skills and to working with employers to ensure that the skills included in programmes are actually being manifested in the workplace.
The inclusion of such high level generic skills in nearly all tertiary level programmes will be understood to be important because they:
- Increase the flexibility and adaptability of the workforce to change;
- Build civic traditions and preserve shared heritage and societal values; and
- Minimise the risks of people’s skill sets becoming obsolete.
STRENGTHENING OUR CURRENT WORKFORCE
The Tertiary Education Strategy is premised on a broad conception of tertiary education as encompassing all post-school learning throughout a person’s life.
Ongoing skills development is at the core of this Government’s programme, and reflecting this, will be a central element of the Tertiary Education Strategy. From the outset this Government has set itself the objective of building of a skilled and adaptable workforce to meet the demands of a high wage, knowledge based economy.
By 2007 there will be a greater appreciation throughout society that tertiary education is not just a phase some people go through at the end of their schooling. There will be greater awareness of the breadth of the tertiary education system, including areas such as adult & community education and foundation pre-employment courses such Training Opportunities and Youth Training.
In particular there will be greater awareness of the existence and importance of learning options for those currently in employment. As the Council of Trade Unions has often pointed out, it is estimated that 80% of the workforce of 2010 is already in the workforce of today. That means that any workforce capability strategy must have those already in the workforce clearly within its focus.
By 2007 Government decisions arising out of a comprehensive review of Industry Training in 2001 will have lifted the volumes, quality and responsiveness of industry training, and encouraged higher rates of completion. Industry Training Organisations will be taking a leadership role in identifying and meeting future skill needs in their industries, and in promoting training to employers and employees in order to meet these needs. There will be a significant increase in strategic collaborative partnerships between ITOs.
A focus on the continued development of the existing workforce will not however be solely the responsibility of ITOs. Over three quarters of the Open Polytechnic's students are already in paid employment, and are nevertheless able to study part-time to enhance their career opportunities.
New initiatives for young people undertaken by this Government such as Modern Apprenticeships and the Gateway programme in schools will be well established and flourishing by 2007.
Modern Apprenticeships is a prestige pathway that is about providing mentored, work based vocational education and training for young people. Launched at the beginning of 2001, Modern Apprenticeship will have had achieved its initial target of 3,000 in training as early as 2002, and be moving from strength to strength.
Gateway will have improved the transition from secondary school into the workforce, and fostered amongst employers a culture of systematic workplace training for school students. Gateway will also have helped strengthen links between Industry Training Organisations and schools.
CONNECTEDNESS WITH BUSINESS AND OTHER STAKEHOLDERS
Participants at the workshops identified more meaningful collaboration, especially with industry and with small-medium enterprises as another necessary change. “Connectedness’ was a theme of the draft strategy and participants were asked to discuss the sorts of “connections’ they feel will most advance our development as a Knowledge Economy and Society and discuss local examples of best practice and areas for improvement.
This segment led to very positive discussions between providers and local development agencies. Many expressed the view that while connection is much discussed at present, there is a need to act more rapidly and in a more focussed manner, if these connections are to lead to real innovation and to generate economic and social value.
By 2007 tertiary education providers will be building strong relationships and networks with businesses and communities to ensure that their programmes, qualifications and delivery modes are relevant and responsive to the rapidly changing training needs of learners and employers. Partnerships with communities and enterprises will be key to obtaining feedback on the relevance and appropriateness of the skills being delivered by tertiary providers.
The Tertiary Education Commission will be playing an important facilitative role in 2007, though not as extensively as in the early years of the Strategy. At a local level, enterprises will have well-developed relationships with the institutions and other providers in their area, and this will be reflected in, and reinforced by, their charters and profiles. The Commission’s main role will be in “making the connection’ where an enterprise, industry or community has identified a skill development need, but is unsure where in the sector to look in order to meet it.
Many employers, particularly larger employers who regularly employ large numbers of graduates, will have formal links with tertiary providers regarding course development. Many professional associations will also interact with the tertiary sector in terms of accreditation procedures.
The tertiary sector will also have become increasingly adept at anticipating the skill sets demanded in the labour market, and will have reduced the time-lags involved in meeting the economy’s need for new skills and new ideas through greater responsiveness in curriculum development and flexible modes of delivery.
INTERFACE WITH SCHOOLS
Workshop participants wanted the Strategy to be more explicit regarding the link between the tertiary system and the school system. I agree this is a priority.
As you may be aware, work is currently underway on educational and employment transitions for 16-19 year olds. The government is considering introducing an education and training leaving age that would see young people required to be active in increasing their skills until age 18.
Many young New Zealanders have trouble making the transition from school to post-school learning and the workforce. Labour is considering including the introduction of an education and training leaving age in its election policy this year. Several European countries already have an education and training age.
Under the proposal the school leaving age would remain at 16, but further education and training opportunities would be provided to increase young peoples skills and ability to enter the workforce. While many young people entered formal tertiary education, others were left to fend for themselves until they turned 18 and became eligible to receive the unemployment benefit.
It will also be an important priority for the Tertiary Education Commission to work with the Ministry of Education to ensure strong linkages between schools and tertiary education providers (and ITOs).
By 2007, the tertiary system will be working in partnership with the compulsory schooling system to raise foundation skills so all people can participate in New Zealand's knowledge society and economy. New Zealand will have a well-integrated network of foundation education programmes, providing a range of clearly articulated pathways for learners to acquire foundation skills. Adults and youth who have not gained key foundation education programmes through the compulsory schooling system will be able to access quality foundation skills in contexts and settings relevant to them - including family-based, work-based, institution-based, and in their local communities, schools, churches and marae.
Schools, providers, the Careers Service and the TEC will also, by 2007, place more stress on the provision of quality information to potential learners of all ages about skills matching, the employment outcomes of programmes of study, the personal financial returns on tuition investments, and the importance of generic skills. Providers and the Careers Service will assist schools-based advisors to provide more robust and more up-to-date information, and the TEC will assist in disseminating such information widely across the tertiary and compulsory systems.
RESEARCH AND THE APPLICATION OF NEW KNOWLEDGE
Tertiary education is not just a site of learning, but also - particularly at the university level - one of the development of new knowledge. We in New Zealand have not always been as effective as we should be at ensuring that ideas and insights that occur in tertiary education institutions are able to make their optimal economic or social contribution.
By 2007 tertiary providers will have increased their links with research-users across many areas, especially through the increasing funding they receive from innovation, economic, social and environment research output classes, the New Economy Research Fund, the Health Research Council and from industry. There will be increasing numbers of ventures where new knowledge has been fully commercialised through spin-off companies.
There will be genuine two-way learning between researchers and users throughout the research process, including the engagement of end-users in research programme design, development, execution, and implementation. This will involve end-user financial commitments to research programmes. Providers will be focussed on how to best capture benefit to New Zealand throughout the pathways to implementation and the management of intellectual property (for example, via product or prototype development, licensing, and spin-offs).
A key difference between the position now and that in 2007 will be the increasing specialisation of the research “landscape’ with centres of excellence and collaborative clusters focussed on a small number of areas in which New Zealand can take an international leadership role and which are critical to economic development and social well-being. These will not be our only areas of research investment, but these areas of distinctive competency will be the targets for priority, marginal and discretionary investment.
Tertiary providers will work alongside the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which still dominate the New Zealand business landscape, to assist in improving the technology absorption capacity of these firms. Innovative partnerships of this sort, particularly in the regions, will be critical to the capacity of SMEs to seize new product and market opportunities. Providers, including polytechnics, will be experimenting and innovating in technology diffusion/absorption ventures.
CONCLUSION - A CULTURE OF CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT
Those are some of the key areas with implications for economic development that are likely to be evident in the finalised Tertiary Education Strategy. I am very optimistic about the ability of the Strategy, reinforced by the Tertiary Education Commission (including through funding), to act as a point of focus for real change in the tertiary education system over the next 5 years.
I am equally confident that when we come to the next five-year strategy a whole new set of urgent priorities will have become apparent, some of which we will not have even thought of yet.
However, there are many other areas where work is needed before then.
The Strategy will, I believe, create a quantum shift in the relationship between tertiary education sector and Maori and Pacific communities. This will produce great benefits - and great challenges.
We are also this year releasing a discussion document on the vexed and difficult area of Student Support. By 2007 we need to be well on our way towards an approach to financing studying that is broadly considered to be fair, and which does not produce perverse socio-economic consequences.
We will also begin this year reviewing polices with regard to governance and quality in the tertiary sector. Weak governance has been an important contributing factor to the financial weakness of many institutions in recent years. It could equally frustrate their ability to grasp the opportunities of a more connected and strategic approach. And perceptions that many quality-assured programmes are nonetheless not delivering a quality environment for learners need to be addressed.
Finally, once the dust settles on the present changes, we need to start having a serious think about tertiary curriculum reform. In particular, is the current range and structure of tertiary qualifications best-suited to our needs moving into the 21st century?
There is, and will continue to be, much to do. I think we are taking tertiary education an a trajectory that is good for workforce capability, good for innovation and good for regional economic development. I hope that EDANZ and the EDAs will continue their strong engagement to ensure that this potential is realised.