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Mallard: Value for money in tertiary training

11 February 2005 Speech Notes

Hon Trevor Mallard: Value for money in tertiary training
Speech to WelTec Day, WelTec, Petone

Thanks for inviting me along today to talk to you. I've been here quite a few times already - my last visit late last year was to open the new Centre for Creative Industries. That visit highlighted the type of innovative thinking that is going on at WelTec to build effective working relationships with industry.

My colleague Jim Anderton has told me about your Project GDP initiative, which is another excellent example of how tertiary educators and industry are working together to lift New Zealand’s international performance.

This is exactly the type of activity that polytechnics need to be involved in if we want to move forward. Work is well advanced on developing the next Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities that will guide the sector for the remaining period of the current Tertiary Education Strategy. Our priorities in tertiary education as we go forward will reflect the unique situation we find ourselves in, brought about by a strong economy and record low levels of employment.

We have made it clear that we see public expenditure in tertiary education as an investment in this country’s future. And as responsible investors, we are looking increasingly carefully at where we can ensure solid returns. We expect value for money and we expect to see high quality programmes that address agreed priorities.

The Tertiary Education Commission will be doing some important work this year that will lead to funding shifts for 2006. Our government wants to facilitate growth in a number of industries, particularly in the primary and service sectors, such as agriculture, tourism and biotechnology.

We are intent on building the right conditions and support that will help continue to grow our economy, and build wealth for our communities. Helping to meet skill shortages is a key function of the tertiary sector and polytechnics in particular. The new National Certificate in Building Controls which is to be provided through WelTec, is a good example.

At WelTec your core business includes preparing people for their first and subsequent careers and jobs, and directly addressing the gaps in skills and knowledge gaps. Greater emphasis is being placed on up-skilling our existing workforce to meet a growing global demand for high value-added products. And nobody is better placed to meet this need than polytechnics.

At WelTec, you've already shown you understand the importance of building stronger links between the community you serve and industry in particular. This is demonstrated by the partnerships you have formed and the wide range of clients you provide services for, like Fonterra, Caltex, Genesis and Foodstuffs.

The Labour-led government is keen to foster this type of approach and has put up $21.5 million over four years to help polytechnics and institutes of technology better connect with business and industries through the Business Links Fund for Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics.

You are probably aware that this fund's main aim is to enhance the capability of polytechnics to transfer expertise into industries and to provide high quality education and training that is relevant to students.

It is also intended to help you build more cohesive links with other groups who play a crucial role in addressing skills shortages, such as the industry training organisations Getting a better definition of the roles that each part of the tertiary education sector should play was a key aspect of the Distinctive Contributions consultation programme carried out by the Tertiary Education Commission last year.

It is obvious from the wide-ranging submissions received that opinions in the sector are divided, and there is a need for more dialogue to find common ground. The Tertiary Education Commission is about to look closely at overlapping provision across polytechnics and industry training organisations. I look forward to some early progress in this work, to ensure that government gets value for its investments and to assist polytechnics and industry training organisations to be clear about their respective roles.

One of the tensions that has arisen is the desire by some polytechnics and institutes of technology to become specialist programme providers on a national basis while the government’s view is that polytechnics should generally have a regional focus closely tied to the aspirations and needs of their local businesses and communities.

We can continue to debate this issue, but the bottom line is all about making the best use of taxpayers’ money. We see targeted approaches as a good way to do this, to ensure we get the best value for money from our tertiary education spend. We want to minimise the duplication of provision and we also want to ensure taxpayer funds are being spent only on courses that have a high strategic relevance regionally and nationally.

These are obviously related areas and I strongly encourage you to engage openly and positively with the Tertiary Education Commission when it contacts you in the coming weeks. Regardless of our roles, we all have a part to play in shifting public perceptions about the value of technical and trades training, if we want to tackle the current skill and labour shortages. Our government will continue to invest in modern apprenticeships and industry training because these initiatives have proven to be highly successful.

We have already hit the 7000 mark in terms of the numbers of modern apprentices. Your work, along with industry training organisations and other providers, is to provide relevant high quality technical and trades education and training to meet regional and national needs.

I am very keen to work with you and others in the sector to change the mindset and break down the myth that technical and trades training is somehow second-class. We need to push the message out there that this sort of training is critical, that a school leaver who opts for technical and trades training is as important as tertiary students who go onto degree programmes.


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