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Hon Trevor Mallard: Quality in tertiary education

14 September 2005

Hon Trevor Mallard

Quality in tertiary education

Speech to NZAPEP (New Zealand Association of Private Education Providers) Conference, Rangimarie Room, Te Papa, Wellington

Thanks for the invitation to open your conference this morning.

It strikes me as the perfect opportunity to discuss the key role that PTEs (Private Training Establishments) play within the tertiary education system, especially as we move to develop it further into a system that has quality as its prime focus.

The latest Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities, the STEP, is a good place to start as it reflects this new direction and Labour's commitment to move from the "bums on seats" approach of our predecessor in government.

The STEP plainly sets out this important shift. As well as moving to lifting quality in the system, Labour also wants to make sure that the courses and range of education that is being provided around the country are actually relevant to national and local community goals, and that we are supporting more collaboration rather than fruitless competition.

Quality and relevance is needed throughout the tertiary education sector - for students who don't want to waste their money and time on worthless courses, for employers, local communities and industry who want well-qualified workers with the skills needed to support economic growth at regional and national level, and for taxpayers who want reassurance that their tax dollar is being put to good use.

I am pleased to see that the tertiary sector - including PTEs - is getting behind this change, and also sees the importance of it.

I want to acknowledge PTEs’ initiatives to further increase the quality of their provision, for example the appointment of Nadja Tollemache as the first NZAPEP Quality Commissioner. This is an important signal for your industry.

Perhaps the best way of summarising what the STEP means for PTEs is to look forward about two years, when the current STEP concludes, and a fresh one will take over.

By then I expect that we will still have a broad range of provision, with PTEs continuing to play a vital role, along with schools, independent tertiary providers, wananga, polytechnics and universities.

Providers will also be working more collaboratively with each other, and with Industry Training Organisations, to resolve instances of unnecessary overlapping provision.

The vast majority of TEOs (Tertiary Education Organisations), and especially PTEs, will have evolved to the extent that they require minimal steering effort from government agencies.

For example, this has been the first year of assessments of the strategic relevance of PTEs. The third and final part of the review of PTEs’ provision will be completed in 2007. Beyond then, I expect we won’t need such reviews.

PTEs will know where they sit in the wide portfolio of education provision, and be able to confidently play to their strengths.

I think the PTE sector’s future can be summarised as - innovation, specialisation and co-operation - in effect you will have built on the key strengths that you already display.

PTEs will continue to be quick on their feet: responding rapidly to new challenges and opportunities and new areas of need, by developing innovative education and training.

PTEs will continue to have a crucial role in specialisation, working in close partnerships with specific industries to answer their specific training needs.

There will be more cooperation on delivery, with PTEs and tertiary education institutions understanding and building good staircasing opportunities, both into and out of qualifications and work.

Over the past few weeks, Labour has set out its commitment to dealing with skills shortages, and ensuring trades training remains as top priority - as it has been throughout our six years in government.

We had a lot of catching up to do after National ignored the issue, wrongly thinking market forces would solve the problem.

More than 8000 trainees are now in Modern Apprenticeships, demonstrating the solid progress the Labour-led government has been making towards addressing skill shortages. Overall, participation in industry training during 2004 increased to over 139,000.

In the next term of government, Labour will create 5,000 extra modern apprenticeships and increase overall participation in industry training to 250,000. Our commitment and investment exceeds National's policy in this area by a long way.

You should be aware that the opposition's policy will put planned investments for more industry training at risk. It has said it will ring fence education funding at current levels, and that funding from the tertiary sector will be shifted into schools.

There is absolutely no way that this can be done without core activities in the tertiary education system being pulled back and reduced.

I also note that National is still refusing to disclose what it's budget for education will be, and what exactly it will get rid of to pay for its policy of tax cuts.

National will have no choice but to slash education funding as it has to cut $3.5 billion from somewhere, on top of the $3.5 billion it intends to borrow to meet the $7 billion worth of tax cuts.

While we acknowledge that the tertiary reforms haven't produced the positive outcome we are looking for as quickly as we might have hoped, I am confident that the strategy we have laid out is starting to kick in and has the sector behind it.

In July I announced a major shake-up of the sector, which will see funding shift from low quality to high quality provision. I also note that many of these shifts would not be possible without the existence of an independent funding body such as the Tertiary Education Commission.

We do not have secret agendas, and our policies are consistent and well thought out - compared to the contradictions, flip-flops and confusion and forgetfulness that voters are getting from the other side on a daily basis across most key portfolio areas.

The last thing you all need is an upheaval that would most certainly take us backwards as a country, not forwards as Labour intends.

I believe the changes that we have put in place with the sector's help, and the planning going forward, will make huge improvements to tertiary education in New Zealand. Labour is determined not to put this progress at risk.

By 2007, I expect tertiary education providers to be well on the way to meeting the demand for quality, excellence and relevance, so the needs of New Zealanders are being met.

The STEP also signalled another aspect of a quality education system: effective teaching and learning, that helps people learn and up skill, by helping teachers to be better teachers.

As you all know, we have made $4 million per year available for a national centre of tertiary education excellence, and the Teaching Matters Forum was established to lay the groundwork for this new initiative.

The forum has been consulting with the sector about what this centre will look like and do, through regional meetings and focus group discussions involving over 600 people.

They found broad agreement on the need for an organisation to support and promote the importance of effective teaching and learning.

Key features have been agreed - and I'm happy to outline some of these here at your conference today, because I want to stress that it is very important for PTEs’ to also participate in this new initiative.

The centre will promote and support effective teaching and learning across the entire tertiary sector in New Zealand.

As with all good education, the learner will remain the focus, and the vision for the centre will be achieving the best possible educational results for learners in the tertiary sector.

All tertiary education organisations and groups who work with teachers and learners, including existing networks and professional bodies, will be supported by the centre, and it will also be accessible to individual teachers.

Its roles will include building and maintaining networks to spread individuals’ and organisations’ best practice right through the sector.

It will analyse and spread evidence about what works on the ground to enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning.

It will also create incentives for quality, such as running and further improving the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards from 2007.

The centre will not be a regulatory, certifying, or punitive body, it won't be imposed from Wellington, and it won't extract levies or fees from tertiary education organisations.

It will follow the successful Centres of Research Excellence model whereby the CoRE is hosted within a Tertiary Education Institution, but does not belong to it.

So this new centre may be hosted on behalf of the entire sector by one TEO or perhaps a group of TEOs, with the host providing the infrastructure and office space.

Further work on the governance, location, establishment and transitional arrangements for the centre are now under way.

The TEC will soon be meeting with peak bodies such as yours to discuss the preferred method of selecting a host, such as whether to run a contestable process or facilitate a single collaborative proposal from the sector.

PTEs’ participation in this centre is vital, not only because of what the centre can do for your teachers and learners, but also in reverse - that is, what PTEs can do for the rest of the tertiary education sector by contributing your unique insights and experience.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge your work in contributing to the progress we’re all making towards achieving the goals set out in the Tertiary Education Strategy.

The new investments being made in tertiary education and training signal that there will continue to be exciting opportunities for PTEs in delivering quality and relevant education.

I hope you have a productive and enjoyable two days for the rest of your conference.

I am now pleased to declare this conference open.


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