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Showcasing Tertiary Teaching Excellence

24 June 2002
Hon Steve Maharey Speech Notes

Comments at the inaugural Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards ceremony. Grand Hall, Parliament Buildings.

Welcome to this ceremony to announce the recipients of the inaugural Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards.

Rewarding excellence in teaching at the tertiary education level

As a nation we have for some time had ways to recognise and reward excellent teachers in primary and secondary education. We have had ways to acknowledge excellent tertiary research. In a sense excellence in research has its own rewards - through publication, professional recognition and in some instances through product development.

Most tertiary graduates are able to name a few memorable tutors or lecturers. Perhaps (and this is surely in the dim past) too often the memories were of rambling but inspirational lectures, various eccentricities, booming voices or hair length. Just occasionally we recall people who helped us to experience our disciplines with clarity and excitement.

Until this year we have had no formal, national mechanism for identifying and applauding our very best tertiary teachers.

Last year, when these awards were being thought through, we had numerous debates and discussions about a suitable title for the awards. We liked the idea of naming them after a significant New Zealand tertiary teacher. Rather like the Halberg Awards in sport. Should they be the Rutherford Awards, for example? Or the Alan MacDiarmid Awards?

The problem was that every notable name that was raised was linked with research rather than teaching. They might have been excellent teachers, but their reputation, certainly their more public reputation, rested on their research. We got nowhere in finding an evocative title – and confirmed that these awards were sorely needed.

The importance of excellent tertiary teaching

So tonight we recognise excellence in those who are at a crucial interface of New Zealand’s development as a knowledge economy.

Behind our best scientists, engineers, our best technicians, teachers, doctors, farmers and social workers are tertiary teachers who have inspired people to reach their full potential.

Excellent teachers have commitment to their subject, knowledge, enthusiasm and the ability to stimulate thinking, interest and innovation.

The best of these are also organised, well prepared, clear about what they teach and how they evaluate achievement – in themselves and in their students.

Above all, they are committed to the achievements of their learners - advancing understanding of the subjects they teach and contributing to each learner’s development in the wider context of the thinking world.

The Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards

The Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards are borne out of this Government’s desire to see these outstanding teachers recognised.

These awards are an important element of the government’s tertiary education agenda to provide clear strategic direction for the entire post-secondary education and training system.

The government’s Tertiary Education Strategy (2002/07) was released earlier this year. The very first of the five strategies underpinning this document is to “Strengthen System Capability and Quality”.

One of the objectives within that strategy is “a stronger system focus on teaching capability and learning environments, to meet diverse learner needs”.

We aim “to maintain international standards of excellence in teaching and research” and say that “good providers should reward innovation and excellence”.

In launching the tertiary strategy I said that this was not a document that was going to be launched with fanfare and then relegated to the far recesses of a bookshelf. I intend it to be a blueprint for action. Well, here is some action.

With these awards the government is leading by example - putting our money where our strategy is. These awards recognise those who are excellent already, and inspire others to meet those national goals.

In turn I encourage institutions play their part in fostering the ongoing development of outstanding teachers and to share their insights and methods with others in the sector - above all invest in and reward their efforts.

Successful tertiary education in New Zealand will take many forms in the coming years – fostering excellence in teachers and trainers will be a critical factor in the success of all of those endeavours.

Government will be a partner in this process. Initiatives like these awards and the recently established Centres of Research Excellence are evidence that we see tertiary education as the key to developing a knowledge society.

The Awards are one way of enhancing the careers and capabilities of tertiary teachers and encouraging them to share good practice with others.

Sharing best tertiary teaching practice

Competition between institutions and individuals is good, but it is collaboration that will make the biggest difference to the future of New Zealand – this is never more true than in the profession of teaching. Teachers thrive on collaboration and mutual support.

That is why we have ensured that a feature of the Awards scheme is a publication documenting some of the approaches, experiences and methodologies uncovered in selecting tonight’s recipients. This publication will be available within a couple of months. I expect it to be valuable, practical and inspirational. It will describe, promote and share excellent teaching practice in the tertiary sector.

Tonight you will see that excellence is alive and well in our tertiary institutions.

Thanks and conclusion

I would like to thank the committee who had the difficult task of choosing winners from the many outstanding entries received: Professor Graeme Fraser, Andrew Campbell, Deborah Willis, Stuart Middleton, June Tam, John Blakey, Christine Teariki and Paul McElroy. And another acknowledgement of Norman Kingsbury, the original chair of this committee.

It has been a demanding task - in terms of the time and commitment required and also as it required these people to make judgements on the work of their peers. I thank you very sincerely for that.

We don’t intend this to be an evening of tension, nail-biting envelope opening and victory speeches. But we are going to keep you waiting a little longer. We thought you’d like to eat first. After that will open the envelopes and meet and applaud this year’s award winners.

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