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Maharey Speech: The Tertiary Education Reforms

The Tertiary Education Reforms: What’s in it for the workers?

Address to the Association University Staff (AUS) Conference 2002. Quality Inn, Wellington.

INTRODUCTION Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you here today. This is the third time I’ve addressed your national conference as Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education). In each of my previous addresses I have spoken to you about the development of the tertiary education reforms. Those reforms are beginning to gather speed.

Let me just list some of the main elements:

The Tertiary Education Reform Bill, which was introduced on the day I spoke to your conference last year, will resume its passage through the House this week; this legislation will very shortly be passed into law, in time for the revised commencement date of 1 January 2003.

The Transition Tertiary Education Commission has been in operation for nearly a year now, contributing to policy development and working with the sector on the charters and profiles trial.

At the beginning of next year it will be formally established as the Tertiary Education Commission – the new organisation will be officially launched in mid-February.

New Zealand’s first Tertiary Education Strategy, for the period 2002-07, is in place, and is guiding ongoing policy development, including the criteria for the Assessment of Strategic Relevance.

An interim Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities has also been published.

This Wednesday I will be announcing the government’s decisions on the Performance-Based Research Fund.

The first ever Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards have been presented.

Decisions have been made on the ongoing role and funding of Private Training Establishments, emphasising that the public sector is the core of the system, while recognising PTEs’ valuable niche role.

Seven Centres of Research Excellence have been selected, involving researchers from a range of institutions.

Interesting discussions are going on within the sector about partnerships and even mergers.

The secor is also working with government officials through the Collaborating for Efficiency project to identify and recognise good practice in tertiary institutions and to make sure these practices are widely adopted;

(The government does not want a dollar back from this process, by the way. Any savings will be able to be reinvested by the institutions themselves.)

Dr Meredith Edwards has begun talking with the sector about Governance Review of Tertiary Education Institutions, which she is undertaking for us.

The Fee Maxima Reference Group has met for the first time and its terms of reference have been approved.

The Funding Category Review Scope Working Party is finalising its report, which will be circulated to peak organisations before Christmas.

I am acutely aware that from the staff point of view all of this change is viewed with a jaundiced eye. It is reasonable to ask – so what is in it for the workers?

It is after all also reasonable to say that the reforms will only succeed if staff take ownership of them. For this to happen there have to be advantages.

So let’s look at what is happening from a staff point of view.

THE COUNTRY WE CAN BE

As you will know these reforms started from a simple idea – nation building.

The argument is that we are building a particular kind of nation here.

A knowledge society. (And when I say ‘knowledge’, I am referring to both its creation and its application).

A society that reflects the economic, social, cultural and environmental aspirations of New Zealanders in this century.

This can only happen if education and research enable it to happen.

New Zealand needs to build distinct national infrastructure of its own. We need to invest in this infrastructure and make sure it does indeed enable us.

Now this is not just the traditional social democractic view – which I adhere to. It is a developmental view of education and research. It sees these activities as vital to us, as a nation seeking to create a future for our people in the 21st century.

As you know discussions of this kind are not new to New Zealand. We have been here before with Learning for Life under the last Labour government.

(The 1990s mark something of a sidetrack in this regard, with the conviction – which culminated in the Green and White Papers -- that the state should not have a view on tertiary education outcomes, but merely set the framework).

Nor are these discussion unique to us. We can see this happening in Australia with the Crossroads review, and in Britain with the pressure coming on there from economic considerations.

What is happening is that we are all trying to settle on the role of our education and research system.

I hope we have found it, and that for staff this will mean a more settled policy environment so they can get on with their work.

It will mean change:

The notion of a strategy;

Of dialogue with an intermediate body;

Ideas like excellence, relevance and access place demands on staff;

The pressure to cooperate and collaborate;

To differentiate and specialise;

To connect.

All of these elements of the new system mean demands, which are to an extent already being met within the system, becoming commonplace.

But they are opportunities not threats.

THE REFORMS IN PRACTICE

Let’s look at a few concrete examples.

The Tertiary Education Reform Bill, with its requirements for a strategy and priorities, commits the government to seeing education as its responsibility.

Overall funding is rising. Tuition subsidies rates have risen by nearly 10% under the government, which is ahead of the rate of inflation, even when frozen fees are taken into account. And more targeted funding has been on top of this.

The Funding Category Review will look at the level of funding for selected courses, and provide an opportunity for anomalies to be addressed.

Support for students has risen, and this has had an impact for staff. Students who would otherwise have been deterred by rising fees and mounting interest have been attending universities. I don’t doubt that some staff jobs have been saved as a result.

We are already seeing evidence of a more cooperative environment. This can be seen for instance in an increasing willingness to collaborate across institutional boundaries in areas such as libraries. This is being picked up by the sub-group of the Collaborating for Efficiency project focussing on sharing of library services.

We have seen some interesting initiatives emerge from the sector in response to the Centres of Research Excellence Fund and the Strategic Change Fund.

The new Performance-Based Research Fund will lift overall quality and bring more funding to research activity.

So too will the overall emphasis on research that Pete Hodgson has been overseeing in his portfolio as Minister of Research, Science & Technology, including a significant increase in the Marsden Fund.

We have introduced new funds of money for Strategic Development to assist institutions with worthwhile initiatives that they otherwise would not have been able to undertake. A key focus for this initially will be collaborative development of E-Learning facilities.

There has been increased support for collective bargaining with the passage of the Employment Relations Act. I am aware that the Association of University Staff is considering aiming for a Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA), in its next bargaining round. Obviously this is a matter between university management and staff, but it would be fair to say that such a move, if adopted by staff and by management, would not be incompatible with the collaborative intent of the tertiary education reforms.

Next year, we intend to develop terms of reference for, and then undertake, a Strategic Review and Plan for the Tertiary Education Workforce.

We are reviewing governance, because we need to have better-run institutions. Strengthening System Capability and Quality is one of the key components of the tertiary education strategy. This will also be reinforced with more focus on building management capability, including a management conference next year.

We’ve put in place small but significant and symbolic policies like the Tertiary Teacher Excellence Awards. It is extremely important that we celebrate our top teachers and that we learn from their experiences. I would like to anounce the release today of a Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards 2002 publication, profiling this year’s recipients.

We’ve seen an increasing recognition of the significance of the social sciences and humanities. This is reflected in Objective 22 of the Tertiary Education Strategy and in the reference to “the development of cultural and intellectual life in New Zealand” in the new Object Clause. It will also be evident at the Social Policy Research and Evaluation Conference in April next year. The conference aims to promote the continued production of high-quality, policy-relevant social research in New Zealand by building better linkages between government advisers, social service providers and social policy researchers and evaluators.

CONCLUSION

Over the next few years as the reforms bed in we will see if they make a positive difference.

The reforms themselves cannot make this difference. We are not dictating change.

We are seeking a “paradigm shift”, a new shared understanding of what we are doing in education and research. This can be seen for instance in the shift from the ‘participation’ focus of the 1990s, which tended to boil down – as a senior official once told me – to a strategy of greater volumes at lower unit cost. Our focus, instead, is on excellence, relevance and access. Excellence – because we wouldn’t want the education that New Zealanders receive to be anything else. Excellence has always been the watchword and the guiding light of the university sector, at its best. And to me, excellence still come first. Relevance – because in the 21st century a country’s tertiary education system is a crucial strategic asset. And Access – to ensure that the diversity of New Zealanders are able to have their learning needs met, over the course of their lives, in the ways that are most appropriate to them.

These reforms have been a long time coming. Even beyond the TEAC consultation over the last term, you can see these themes already emerging in Learning for Life.

The policy changes coming into force over the next few years represent the culmination of all of that. It is time to settle our approach, to move on from the uncertainty that always accompanies reform and to work together to ‘bed in’ the reforms in a way that works for staff, students, institutions and New Zealand.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak here today.

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