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Maharey Speech: HERDSA Conference Canterbury Uni

Excellence in tertiary teaching and research: Preparing the Nation for a Knowledgeable Future

Steve Maharey Speech to the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) Conference, University of Canterbury, Sunday 6 July.


Thank you for this opportunity to address your conference.

Your theme, “Learning for an Unknown Future”, is an apt and timely one for academics, researchers, students and those charged with improving the pedagogic skills on our campuses.

It may not be quite so apt for a politician with responsibility for tertiary education.

In the profession I joined on leaving academia, we are at least perceived to create our own futures and work darned hard to ensure successful, secure and contented futures for all within our portfolios.

Given where New Zealand’s tertiary education system is at and where it’s going in the next few years; and given your inclinations and callings, I anticipate rich and varied dialogue between all of you from Australasia, North America and Europe.

I’d like to be a bit provocative this evening and suggest that – for New Zealand at least – the future is, in fact, not unknown. Rather, it is actually quite well mapped-out.

I will argue that the key to realising this future is knowledge. This in turn relies on the achievement of excellence within our tertiary education system, both in teaching and in research.

I will then outline some of the initiatives that the government is currently embarking upon, and raise some questions about the next steps from there. I’ll close by saying a few words about HERDSA’s new fellowship scheme.


So, is the future unknown? I am reminded of the famous education reformer Clarence Beeby, who once lamented the lack of clear direction for the education sector, saying:

“The cause for surprise is not that [they] should have lagged along the road but that they should have gone so far, since no-one has ever quite known where they were going.”

I believe that we in New Zealand do know where we are going, both at the level of the tertiary education sector and as a nation.

Yes, there are challenges. We are living in a time of dramatic change and many of those changes are technologically and economically driven.

Globalisation of the world's economies has created a fast changing and complex world. The world of work is changing rapidly and our population is becoming even more diverse. Societies like ours are increasingly characterised by diversity, differentiation and fragmentation rather than homogeneity, standardization and the economies of scale that characterised 20th century society.

But the government is about where we need to go. if the challenge and uncertainty is around globalisation, then the solution is the creation of a knowledge society.

And globalisation also contains the seeds of the knowledge society within it. It has fuelled competition and spurred the gathering and creation of knowledge. The technologies for gaining, sharing and applying knowledge are changing rapidly. Research, science and technology are increasingly pivotal in creating knowledge to solve business, social and environmental problems.

As a result, knowledge is growing at exceptional rates. The “knowledge society” is far more than a quick cliché – it’s an imperative. We have to create more knowledge in this country, and we have to apply that knowledge within our own boundaries to all facets of our lives---whether business, our families, or our lives in our communities.


In this context, the government sees New Zealand as essentially a ‘developing nation’. Our programme for its development as a knowledge society has come together in what we have described as the Growth and Innovation Framework. The framework has three core elements.

Firstly, we want to strengthen the foundations that are the necessary conditions for successful economic performance in an uncertain and ever-changing world.

This means we need sound government finances, a competitive economy, a cohesive society, a healthy and skilled population, sound environmental management, a strong research base and a globally connected economy.

The second element of the framework is that we will build more effective innovation, through a mix of attracting and developing talent, creating new venture investment funds, making better linkages between tertiary institutions, industry and communities and by increasing global connectedness.

Finally, we are developing areas where our natural advantages and aptitudes give us scope to boost growth and innovation. These are biotechnology, information and communications technology and the creative industries. It is important to stress that these are sector level competencies that have applications across a range of industries.


Clearly, tertiary education plays an important role in this kind of ideas-driven future, and so we also need to be very clear about where we are going as a sector. That’s why the government has developed a Tertiary Education Strategy in consultation with tertiary education organisations, industries and communities.

The strategy focuses on six key goals.

We’re going to build a more strategic and more capable tertiary education system, aligned to national goals.

We’re going to ensure the system we create contributes decisively to Maori development aspirations.

We’re going to ensure all New Zealanders have the foundation skills they need to participate in our new knowledge society.

We’re going to place stronger emphasis on higher level creative, specialist and technical skills.

We’re going to do more to ensure success for Pacific learners and communities.

Finally, we are going to boost research and knowledge creation to ensure that research and innovation are key drivers of our economy.

There is also a very clear policy framework now in place for implementing the Strategy.

Advised by the Tertiary Education Commission and the Ministry of Education, government issues a statement of priorities every two or three years setting out its key areas for focus during that period.

Tertiary organisations seeking funding from the Commission use the Assessment of Strategic Relevance to align their annual profiles to the strategic instruments, and the funding then flows into those activities which are going to achieve what the country needs.

The charter is the long-term overview of what a tertiary organisation is all about, developed in consultation with its stakeholders. The profile is the other basis for dialogue with the TEC as funding provider, as well as a rich source of information about the focus, capabilities, and direction of changes across the system.

The Commission deploys the Integrated Funding Framework to fund teaching, learning, research, and strategic development right across the new system.

What this adds up to is nothing less than an entire integrated system, involving all post-school education and training in universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, wananga, PTEs, foundation education agencies, ITOs and adult and community education providers... all of them working to a shared strategic vision, and that shared vision will stem from our broad goals as a nation.


The Labour Party gave our 1999 tertiary education policy the name ‘Nation Building’, taking the term from the work of the Australian educationalist Simon Marginson. The tertiary education reforms are designed to give the tertiary sector back a sense of what might be called its ‘nation building’ role.

We need tertiary education organisations to take a more strategic leadership role amongst their own communities and within the nation as a whole.

In order to carry out their central role in a knowledge society, tertiary education providers will need to be fleet-footed and innovative institutions.

It’s worth looking at the work of Burton Clark at the University of California, Los Angeles in this respect. As we look for a model to understand what this means in a most-managerialist post-market era, it’s worth looking at the work of Burton Clark at the University of California, Los Angeles. Clark found five common features emerging from the “organisational pathways of transformation” in five European and British universities over the last 15 years:

a strengthened steering core – the development of an administrative capacity to respond quickly and decisively to changing circumstances;

an extended developmental periphery; including the most obviously entrepreneurial efforts like companies that exploit intellectual property;

a diversified funding base, involving a widening and deepening portfolio of support from a range of funders;

a stimulated academic heartland – the leadership needs to win the hearts and minds of its academic community;

and an entrepreneurial culture, taking root throughout the institution.

I’d like to focus for a moment on what Clark calls the “stimulated academic heartland”

In order for the institution to operate in a consistently and successfully innovative manner, the leadership needs every department to accept and engage in the process. Even the most traditional needs to be able to see educational as well as economic value in a more enterprising approach.

Institutions need, in short, to nurture their heartland.

It is important that our aspirations are framed in terms that make academic, rather than simply economic, sense. That is why the credo of the reforms has always been Excellence, Relevance and Access.


I want to concentrate my comments this evening on excellence, because that is probably the value that those of you in that heartland hold dearest. But before I do I just want to say a few words about relevance and access.

A call for relevance is sometimes greeted with a certain amount of anxiety from the ‘heartland’, as masking a relentlessly utilitarian and economistic viewpoint.

I just want to briefly stress that this is not the case. Relevance doesn’t just mean economic relevance and, far from being academically detrimental, it can be very academically beneficial.

To take one example – back in the 1990s I visited a Massey University Philosophy department programme called Philosophy for Children. This programme is still being run today. University lecturers go into primary classroom and talk about the big philosophical issues.

A typical session consists of a group reading of a source text, followed by the gathering of students’ questions that have been stimulated by the reading. These questions form the agenda for discussion. Each reading usually generates enough questions for several subsequent discussions in the community of inquiry.

What could be more non-vocational than this? But in an age when we are all being confronted with often complex decisions from an early age, what could be more relevant?

In terms of access, I just want to emphasise that this means more than simply participation rates. We want to ensure every group within New Zealand gets full access to the full range of tertiary education of the kind for which they are best fitted, and to the fullest extent of their powers.

For instance, are women coming though to PhD study at the same rate as men? Are Pacific Island students tending not to enrol for potentially lucrative courses in skilled trade and craft areas?

Another area of current attention is to increase participation by Mäori in a broader range of disciplines and in programmes that lead to higher-level qualifications. The National Institute of Research Excellence for Mäori Development and Advancement, established as a Centre for Research Excellence in 2002, is one group doing impressive work in this area.

They are funding a Mäori and Indigenous (MAI) Doctoral Bridging programme to accelerate Mäori doctoral completions by providing greater support at the initial phase of proposal development, support for the writing of theses, and career development. The target is to produce 300 PhD graduates from the University of Auckland and a total of 500 nationally in five years.


This leads nicely into the first area I want to talk about in terms of the drive for excellence, which is tertiary research.

If our tertiary system overall is to be driven by, and rewarded for, a focus on excellence, relevance and access, then the Performance-Based Research Fund is anchored very much in the ‘Excellence’ section of the trinity.

If we are to achieve our goal of becoming a world-leading knowledge society, we need to nurture, retain, reward and attract world-class talent.

Although many people are working within the system at the cutting edge of their fields, the current funding and regulatory approaches do not adequately reveal, celebrate or reward them. We are determined to fix this problem, and the PBRF is an important part of the solution.

For many of you at this moment, the PBRF may seem more like a compliance exercise, involving the assembly of evidence portfolios and the like, than the beginning of an exciting new era.

I’m confident that when the results come out early next year, and the money starts to flow, that will change.

We will also build research capability in the social sciences within academic institutions. This will network New Zealand’s leading social scientists in the tertiary sector, and enable them to share their expertise with policy makers. The $5.2m Building Research Capability in the Social Sciences (BRCSS) project will link leading researchers in tertiary sector to build up critical mass in priority areas in the social sciences aligned with the government’s goals. This project complements the seven Centres of Research Excellence which have already been established and are in the main focused on economic and environmental-based issues. New knowledge generated will be used to enhance the government’s social, economic and environmental goals.

Collaboration between universities and Crown Research Institutes is also increasing. I was really pleased when the Association of Crown Research Institutes (ACRI) took the initiative to foster dialogue between CRIs, Universities and Research Associations. At a workshop in February, ACRI facilitated agreement to a joint work program addressing issues of common interest. Such collaboration can help to maximise the benefits from the public investment in research through Vote RS&T and Vote Education.


Research is by no means our sole focus, however, and I want to focus on excellence in teaching.

While traditionally, the focus on excellence in tertiary education has often been directed at research, there is now a movement towards more effective teaching practice.

Increasingly, both here and overseas, the importance of the tertiary teaching process itself is being realised as a strong contributor to the quality of learning outcomes for the student.


One example is the annual Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards for New Zealand. This year’s awards were presented on 23 June to 34 academics from 8 tertiary institutions.

In presenting the awards, Prime Minister, Helen Clark noted them as an important element of the government’s aim to enhance the quality of tertiary education. The awards recognise excellence in tertiary teachers and the contribution they are making to our country.

They inspire others to lift their own teaching practice.

Great teachers have an important enabling effect on their students. They convey to their students the gift of learning and enable them to continue building their skills across a lifetime.


An important element of the funding framework that will strengthen the focus of teaching excellence, and both balance and complement the PBRF, is the performance element that will be introduced into the Student Component.

The purpose of the performance element is to provide incentives to Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs) through marginal changes in funding, to bring about a systematic focus on improving educational gain by learners.

The overall goal of the performance element project will be:

to reward quality in terms of educational gains by learners within the funding arrangements for tertiary education as part of the wider tertiary education system reforms. It is likely that the early work on the project will have a strong signalling effect within the sector, and should influence provider behaviour even before the performance element is introduced. The scale, difficulty and sensitivity of the performance element project will require effective stakeholder involvement, and its success is critically dependent on achieving a good degree of buy-in from the sector. Experience overseas, particularly from the UK, suggests that a performance funding system will be less stable if it is centrally imposed and if there is little or no support from the sector. We are therefore proposing to undertake a staged process for the development of the indicators and their implementation. In summary it will involve the Ministry of Education and the Tertiary Education Commission convening a small technical working party charged with making a recommendation as to a preferred option for suitable performance indicators. After submission to Ministers, the technical working party’s proposal will then be published before the end of the year and put to a wider sector representative group who will make recommendations to Ministers. Design will be informed by accepted principles, such as simplicity, transparency, clear incentive effects, ease of administration, low running costs and broad acceptance within the sector; The size of the performance element will attract debate. Many of you will be aware that, in other countries, the amount at risk is around 1-5%. New Zealand is unlikely to deviate greatly from international practice, and of course the impact on providers and transitional issues will be considered when deciding the amount to be put at risk. OTHER INITIATIVES

We are also moving on other initiatives that we support a better working environment for teachers, and help provide an environment for excellence.

We have begun working towards a process of putting together a Strategic Review and Plan for the Tertiary Education Workforce. This will enable institutions to provide the relevant and high quality tertiary education and research that the Strategy asks of them. Phase one of this process, during this financial year, will be to identify issues the review might cover and propose possible methods for undertaking the review.

The Collaborating for Efficiency project has helped tertiary institutions to develop collaborative strategies through working together, and staffing issues have been considered as part of that. The Steering Group is yet to report, and some of the sub-group reports are still being finalised. That said, here are some quick previews of outcomes from the Staffing Group:

consistent measurement of staff workloads and enhanced quality of HR practice;

consistent national workforce data collection including the categories of staff employed, discipline related staff data, casualisation and trends in qualifications, retention and turnover;

limiting the proliferation of tertiary qualifications in the national interest, with promotion of the benefits of franchise and articulation models to promote more effectively the use of elite staff and specific resources to enhance educational outcomes for students.


Where do we go from there? Some of the developments we see in other jurisdictions offer some possible options.

Australia has recently announced that a new National Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education will be established as a national focus for the enhancement of learning and teaching.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is currently in the process of bringing three existing agencies together to form a new Academy for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. The academy's overarching role will be to support continuous professional development for teaching, by: sponsoring and developing good practice,

setting professional standards,

conducting and developing policy on teaching and learning; and

accrediting training,

In relation to that last point, by 2006 the British government wants all new university teaching staff to have received accredited training.

Are there lessons here for us?

Should the New Zealand government be looking at establishing some sort of overall ‘academy’ or ‘national institute’ to support the development of teaching? Or should we focus first at the individual subject level?

Should we consider making funding available for the professional development of teachers within the tertiary education sector?

Should we expect new entrants to the tertiary teaching workforce to attain accredited teacher status?

Both the Tertiary Education Commission and myself are giving thought to these sort of questions at the moment and I’d be interested in your feedback.


Of course, the government and its agencies are not the only ones with an active interest in supporting and promoting professional development, which brings me to the real reason I’m here today.

Tonight we launch of the HERDSA Fellowship Professional Recognition and Development Scheme.

I am pleased that HERDSA is playing a leading role in professional development within teaching. The HERDSA Fellowship Scheme fulfils a similar purpose to the teaching excellence awards I mentioned earlier – and on a wider scale.

As I’m sure you know, the HERDSA Fellowship scheme is designed to recognise higher education teaching that meets a certain set of quality standards. It then builds on this recognition through advanced professional development activities designed to ensure that the standards are maintained and built upon.

It will provide opportunities for further professional development in cross-institutional groups, and will provide a process for critical reflection into teaching practise and the learning process.

This scheme will enhance the professionalism of teachers in higher education and provide a way to recognise and reward those who assist high quality learning.

I welcome these Fellowships wholeheartedly, and I am sure that they will have wide-reaching and long lasting results.

So, without further ado …..

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