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PM's Speech: Tertiary Education Funding Announced

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister Speech:

Partnerships for Excellence Tertiary Education Funding Announcement - Thomas Building Auckland University 3.00 pm Tuesday August 24.

It is my pleasure to come to Auckland University today to make an announcement which is both very significant for this university and for economic and social development in New Zealand.

Today’s announcement is about funding from the new Partnerships for Excellence Fund – one of a number of government initiatives designed to support the goals of the Tertiary Education Strategy.

The vision of that strategy is to build and maintain world class capability in New Zealand tertiary education, to support innovation in tertiary education, and to enhance the role tertiary education plays in the development of New Zealand’s society and economy.

Already Auckland University has been able to benefit from a number of these new initiatives.

Only a few weeks ago I was at a function at the National Research Centre for Growth and Development – one of a number of the new Centres for Research Excellence located at this university.

In a country our size, it simply isn’t possible to develop stand alone, world class centres of excellence across all subjects in each university.

We need to specialise, and we need to cluster our skills and talent. Those clusters can be virtual, and through the Centres of Research Excellence we see tertiary institutions and Crown Research Institutes working collaboratively across institutional and geographical boundaries.

That makes the research money stretch further.

The establishment of the Performance Based Research Fund is also designed to identify where our research strengths are, and then play to those strengths.

But our vision goes beyond backing world class research to looking at how we can link that research where appropriate to innovation in the economy and in society.

Research consortia are being funded through the Research, Science, and Technology budget to link researchers and industry – where industry also contributes funding.

And the Tertiary Education Commission has $31 million over five years for growth and innovation pilots to encourage tertiary organisations and industry to share their knowledge and expertise.

Already $1 million has come Auckland University’s way from this new fund to develop new courses for the design of components for the plastics and composites industry; to form an ICT Innovation Academy; and to develop entrepreneurs-in-residence and mentoring programmes with industry.

Today’s announcement is a major one.

Our new Partnerships for Excellence Programme had its genesis in a proposal originally put forward by Auckland University.

That led to the government agreeing to fund a new world class business school here with a contribution of up to $25 million, matching private funding.

From that initial project we were able to develop clear objectives and criteria for what was to become the Partnerships for Excellence Fund.

The next grant, also of up to $25 million, was earmarked for a project at Otago University.

Last September applications were invited from the tertiary sector for a contestable funding round for the Partnerships for Excellence Fund.

Eleven proposals were received by the Tertiary Education Commission, which established a panel to assess them.

The panel itself received assessments of each proposal from Tertiary Education Commission staff and representatives of the Ministry of Education.

Additional external advice was sought to assist with the assessment of some applications.

The Tertiary Education Institutions which submitted proposals had the opportunity to provide written comments on drafts of the advisors’ reports.

The panel then decided to draw up a short list focusing on three main issues:

alignment of the proposals with the Tertiary Education Strategy alignment of the proposals with the eligibility criteria, and an initial evaluation of the quality of the business cases.

The panel then met with, and interviewed representatives of each of the four shortlisted proposals. It decided to recommend only two proposals for funding to the government.

These recommendations were considered by the Cabinet Policy Committee with power to act on 11 August, and were accepted.

I have spelt the process out in some detail to make the point that there was a solid and robust process which led to these decisions.

Both the successful proposals are from Auckland University. While other proposals had merit, they did not meet the requirements of the Partnerships for Excellence facility to the same extent as these two proposals. That is because these proposals combined a number of factors which were not all present in the other proposals. Those key factors were:

each of these two proposals represents a major step up in capability for the University each of these two proposals is much more than just an extension of existing activity each of these two proposals has strong linkages both with the Tertiary Education Strategy and with national social and economic goals each of these two proposals will have significant impact if they are successful.

Therefore it was the view of the panel and the TEC that these were the only two proposals that should be supported at this time

The two successful proposals are:

the establishment of a biotechnology and innovation centre for graduate training and research, and the Starpath Project.

The government will contribute up to $20 million across the two initiatives.

Our contribution will be offered as a no-interest loan, to be converted into a capital injection when the initiatives are up and running.

The money will be paid in instalments over the next three to four years at a rate which matches the University’s fundraising with its donors and private sector partners.

The Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology will be located in the School of Biological Sciences, which already hosts one of the Centres of Research Excellence. The panel ranked this proposal first for the following reasons:

the proposal was a solid proposal with a clear justification for the amounts being requested. It was not just an extension of the Centre of Research Excellence at the School, but has a sufficient “step up” quality to make it eligible under Partnerships for Excellence. it linked well with the call of the Tertiary Education Strategy for excellence in research. As it is being developed in the School which hosts the Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery, it has a strong base for enhanced excellence. there was a good case made that without the additional graduates New Zealand would not be able to make the most of the potential gains from the government’s Biotechnology Strategy. This very strong linkage to economic goals was seen as one of the significant positives of the proposal. The likelihood of these gains being achieved was strengthened through the extensive links with the commercial sector which had been developed. the proposal had a strong business case and clearly developed strategic rationale, and the resources for the proposal had been well defined. it was also considered that the equipment being purchased would allow research in biotechnology to move into areas which would be important for future development.

The second ranked proposal – the Starpath Project – aims to build upon a sequence of initiatives targeted at critical development points along the educational life cycle. The objective is to bring about a step change in the educational and employment outcomes for low income, Maori, and Pasifika students. That will be done by devising, testing, co-ordinating, and delivering a set of robust and replicable initiatives to deliver this step change. The rationale for the panel’s support for Starpath was as follows:

the issues it would be dealing with are of profound social and economic significance the quality of the people involved was seen as a major strength and would ensure that the outcomes would be delivered the proposal was markedly different from any of the others because it was focused squarely on issues of access, participation and success. It was also concerned about building capability in the long-term. While it was fundamentally a research project, it was clearly intended for practical application. This made the project particularly attractive.

My congratulations go to Auckland University for putting forward these two successful projects.

Both are important to New Zealand in quite different ways.

Biotechnology stands to play an ever bigger part in our future.

And we need to lift achievement levels in low income, Maori, and Pasifika communities to lift our overall standards of living and quality of life significantly.

I wish Auckland University well with both these very exciting initiatives.

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