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Cullen: Opening of New Massey Auckland Complex

Hon Dr Michael Cullen
Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney-General, Minister of Finance, Minister for Tertiary Education, Leader of the House

26 April 2006 Speech Notes

Opening of New Lecture Theatre Complex at Massey University Auckland Campus

Lecture Theatres Bldg, Gate 1, Albany Expressway

Professor Judith Kinnear, Massey University Vice Chancellor, Professor John Raine Massey University Auckland Deputy Vice Chancellor, staff and faculty, Members of Parliament, representatives of local and regional councils, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here today to open the new Lecture Theatres Building.

One of the many positive aspects of my job as Minister for Tertiary Education is being invited to share in the success of tertiary organisations throughout the country. Those successes outnumber by a wide margin the occasional failures, and it is sadly the latter that tend to dominate news coverage.

The new lecture theatre which we are opening today is an impressive piece of architecture; but it is much more than that. It is an act of commitment on the part of Massey University to building a substantial presence at the heart of the North Auckland region.

The lecture theatres will dramatically ease the space pressures the Albany campus is experiencing. It will also be used by the local Albany community for public lectures, distance learning classes and conferences.

This is a fine example of a tertiary institution working to meet the needs not only of its students but also of its local community.

The logic of this investment is compelling. The communities to the north of the harbour bridge continue to grow numerically, and they have their own unique identity which goes far beyond being satellites of Auckland City. The councils in the region have long recognised the need to build key social and commercial infrastructures. And the decision of Massey University some years ago to establish a campus at Albany has provided a focus for higher learning, research and collaboration with local industry.

Massey has a strong reputation as an institution that engages with the community and with key businesses in its catchment areas. The opening of this complex puts Massey firmly at the heart of this community.

As I have been learning in the last six months or so, leadership in the tertiary sector can be a delicate matter. Maintaining a clear focus amidst a changing education market and changing community expectations is a very difficult task.

For the last few years, the government has been trying to steer the tertiary sector between two extremes. On the one hand, the university sector in particular needs to move beyond any notion of an elite community of scholars responsible only to themselves, and looking mainly to overseas models for inspiration. In that task, I believe we have been largely successful, after 15 years of a funding system that encouraged a broadening of participation well beyond the social strata, that until the 1980s, dominated university enrolments.

But on the other hand, we need to resist the temptation towards creating a homogeneous university sector, where institutions offer essentially the same learning experience.

At the start of this month I announced some new directions in tertiary policy, founded on the notion that each institution needs to make a distinctive contribution to the tertiary system as a whole. That contribution must be firmly based on quality teaching and learning, on a commitment to measurable outcomes, and on a rigorous pursuit of relevance to the needs of the community.

The contribution of institutions will also be placed more clearly within a network of provision. We have immense resources within the tertiary system, and I am eager to ensure strong incentives for collaboration amongst institutions. For example, universities and institutes of technology and polytechnics need to enhance their relationships to improve pathways into university-based programmes and increase learning opportunities for students.

There have been some fears raised that seeing universities as part of a network threatens their autonomy. Those fears are unfounded. Universities will continue to be research-led institutions that provide independent intellectual leadership and encourage critical thinking and innovation.

I have every expectation that Massey will continue its role as a multi faculty institution, offering research based science, social science, business, education and creative arts qualifications. As such, I will be looking to it to provide leadership in developing networks of provision that ensure best possible use of resources and the government’s investment in the whole of the system.

This will require university councils to work closely with Vice Chancellors and management teams to ensure the strategic direction of their institutions is in line with government priorities and stakeholder needs.

Massey has a long track record in applying more flexible thinking to the task of tertiary education. It has been New Zealand’s main pioneer in developing extra mural and distance learning options at degree level. Each of its campuses in Palmerston North, Albany and Wellington has a unique flavour, responding to the economies and communities in those regions.

Alongside this, Massey University Auckland is establishing key partnerships with local industry. In particular, I am impressed by the close linkages the campus has developed with North Shore technology companies through its enterprise incubator unit, the e-centre.

This collaboration is resulting in a growing number of new enterprises and is increasing student employment opportunities.

This sort of foresight and planning will be key to a new funding system in which the government funds tertiary education organisations based on plans agreed with the government. These plans would outline the specific student and other stakeholder needs individual organisations had identified and were going to meet. While enrolments will have a role in the funding formulae that are applied, they will not have the prominence that they have under the EFTS system.

In keeping with the focus on longer term planning, the government will commit funding to institutions on a multi-year basis, thus providing more certainty in forward planning.

I am also looking for changes to the quality assurance and monitoring of the system. These changes would enable institutions to demonstrate more clearly how they are meeting the needs of students and stakeholders. What we need is a more open dialogue around how to ensure taxpayer money is spent on high priority areas in a way that is getting results for everyone with a stake in tertiary education, including business, industry and communities on a regional and national basis.

Quality teaching is crucial to the success of these reforms. Institutions must ensure that their teaching staff has opportunities to upskill and stay on top of developments in their chosen fields. The government wants to see continuous improvement in education delivery as well as a sharper focus on outcomes.

Having said that, from my own somewhat distant experience as a university teacher, I am convinced that quality assurance should not become an exercise in compliance. There are many paths up the quality mountain and what is most important is that we have informed debate and a focus on building and motivating our teaching staff at all levels.

Of course, the opportunity to teach in high quality, state of the art facilities such as this one is an important factor.

I am very pleased to declare this new lecture theatre complex open, and offer my congratulations to those who have worked long and hard to bring it to completion.

Thank you.


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