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Decision on Unitec application

10 August 2005

Decision on Unitec application

Education Minister Trevor Mallard announced today that Unitec – an Auckland- based Institute of Technology – will not become a university.

“I understand this will be a disappointment to Unitec and its supporters but the advice I received was clear. Unitec does not meet the criteria in relation to two of the key academic characteristics for universities as required by the Education Act 1989.

"The findings in relation to the academic criteria were from a panel of experts, chaired by Sir Douglas Graham which included international experts. They found that Unitec did not meet the criteria for advanced learning and the development of intellectual independence; nor the criteria for international standards of research and teaching.

“I was also not convinced there was evidence that establishing Unitec as a university would be in the national interest,” Trevor Mallard said.

The process for assessing Unitec’s application was fair and rigorous, involving: the opportunity for Unitec to make its case and to comment at key stages; thorough consultation with the public; advice from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, informed by the expert panel, on the extent to which Unitec met the academic characteristics of a university; and advice from the Tertiary Education Commission as to the interests of the tertiary education system and of the nation as a whole.

“Unitec has successfully developed its niche in Auckland. This decision means Unitec should continue to serve the Auckland area as an excellent polytechnic. I am sure Unitec can thrive as it differentiates itself from other providers in the tertiary education sector.

"Polytechnics play a crucial role in tertiary education by providing accessible, relevant and quality education for students that meets their vocational needs, supported by applied and technological research,” Trevor Mallard said.

The reports to the Minister on the Unitec request are on www.minedu.govt.nz.

Unitec Decision: Questions and Answers

What is the Minister's decision and what are the reasons for it?
Education Minister Trevor Mallard, has decided not to recommend that Auckland based Institute of Technology Unitec be established as a university.

In coming to this decision, the Minister took advice from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).

NZQA’s advice was supported by a panel of experts (including international experts) chaired by Sir Douglas Graham, and found that Unitec falls considerably short in two of the five academic characteristics necessary for university status under the Education Act 1989.

The areas of short-fall are:
- advanced learning and the development of intellectual independence; and
- international standards of research and teaching.

The Minister also accepted advice from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) that Unitec has not provided sufficient evidence that its establishment as a university would be in the interests of the tertiary education system or of the nation as a whole.

What does the decision mean for Unitec, its students and its stakeholders?
The decision means that Unitec will continue to serve the Auckland area as an excellent polytechnic. Looking forward, Unitec can focus on building on the vital contribution it currently makes to the network of polytechnic provision and meeting the educational needs of the communities and stakeholders it serves.

What process has been followed in coming to the decision?
The Minister of Education followed the statutory process under section 162 of the Education Act 1989 when making his decision on Unitec’s request to become a university. The process was initiated by Unitec.

Unitec was consulted on the process and on the substantive requirements by both the NZQA and the TEC. The Minister also gave Unitec the opportunity to provide further reasons as to why he should not confirm his preliminary view.

The academic criteria

The NZQA carried out the relevant consultation and provided advice to the Minister on whether Unitec met the characteristics of a university set out in section 162(4) of the Act. In preparing this advice, the NZQA followed its guidelines (established for the Auckland Institute of Technology’s process for university status) and formed an expert panel, chaired by Sir Douglas Graham, to provide it with advice upon which to base its recommendation.

Unitec was also given an opportunity to check the expert panel’s report (minus the recommendations) for factual accuracy. It was also provided with the Ministry of Education report on the summary of submissions made on whether Unitec meets the characteristics of a university, and a full set of submissions.

The national interest criterion
At the Minister’s request, the TEC carried out the consultation and provided advice to the Minister on whether the establishment of Unitec as a university was in the interests of the tertiary education system and the nation as a whole. Unitec had the opportunity to comment on the TEC’s preliminary assessment before the TEC gave the Minister their advice.

Preliminary view

The Minister considered the advice from the NZQA, the TEC, the Ministry of Education, and Crown Law and arrived at a preliminary view not to recommend that Unitec be granted university status.

Unitec was given an opportunity to provide a response to the Minister’s preliminary decision and did so, providing further information to support its request. After receiving further advice from the NZQA, the TEC, the Ministry of Education and Crown Law the Minister confirmed his preliminary view that he would not be recommending that Unitec be granted university status.

The consideration process was fair and rigorous, involving:

- the opportunity for Unitec to make its case for establishment as a university and to comment at key stages of the consideration process;
- thorough consultation on Unitec’s request and conducted on the Minister’s behalf by the NZQA and the TEC;
- advice from the NZQA on the extent to which Unitec met the academic characteristics of a university; and
- advice from the TEC as to whether establishment would be in the interests of the tertiary education system and of the nation as a whole.

How long has it taken to come to a decision?
Since Unitec resumed its request in 2004 after initially requesting in 1999, the Minister has proceeded with promptly and appropriately.

The Minister gave an undertaking to Unitec that he would aim, so far as practicable, to come to a decision by 1 July 2005. In the event he indicated his preliminary view on 27 June 2005 that he would not be recommending that Unitec be established as a university. He also gave Unitec the opportunity to provide reasons why he should not confirm this preliminary view. Since then, the Minister granted an extension to Unitec so that it could provide additional material.

The recent High Court case, heard on 2 and 3 June 2005, found that the Minister acted unlawfully in suspending Unitec’s application in 2000. The Crown has now lodged an appeal against this judgment. As the matter is now before the Court of Appeal, it would not be appropriate to comment further.

The Judge’s finding of unlawfulness about the time taken to make the decision has not stopped the Minister from making his substantive decision. The High Court judgment does not deal with the provisions in the Education Act relating to how a decision is made to recommend to the Governor-General that a university be established.

What does the decision mean for the government's Bill on establishing universities that has been going through Parliament?

The bill and the Unitec request are not related.

The bill has no bearing at all on the decision on Unitec’s request for establishment as a university. It no longer proposes that its provisions, if enacted, would have retrospective effect.

What the bill seeks to do is ensure that the strategic issues – i.e. whether New Zealand needs another university – are considered first, before resources are committed to considering whether a candidate institution measures up against the academic criteria.

Why doesn't New Zealand have a university of technology category?
The Education Act does not have a special category of tertiary institution for “universities of technology.” The government does not believe that New Zealand needs such a category.

New Zealand already has a new university with a technological focus – the Auckland University of Technology. That institution is in the same institutional class as our other universities.

Analysis does not indicate that there is a serious system-wide problem that would be addressed by adding a sixth category of tertiary education institution.

The educational outcomes sought by an extra category could in all likelihood be achieved more flexibly through ‘tools’ already available such as the charters and profiles that providers must have in order to access government tuition funding. The charter and profiles set out each provider’s niche contribution to the tertiary education system, in line with the Tertiary Education Strategy 2002-07.

What does the decision mean for the role of polytechnics generally?
The decision not to establish Unitec as a university means that Unitec remains as a polytechnic provider for the Auckland region. The decision does not alter the government’s expectations as to the contribution that polytechnics will make to New Zealand's social, economic and environmental goals.

Polytechnics, like other types of institution, were established in order to deliver specific education outcomes.

Specifically, the role of polytechnics is to:

- provide vocational training and education at certificate and diploma level, especially in trades and other applied areas;
- provide applied degree level education and training;
- offer regional tertiary education, particularly where students and learners are unlikely to travel for training or the training meets a regional need
- provide pathways into tertiary education for adult students and learners, students and learners with few prior qualifications, and preparing them to achieve at higher levels; and
- provide niche training for particular industries.

ENDS

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