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Cullen: Tertiary Teaching Awards Ceremony

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

26 June 2006 Speech Notes

Embargoed until: Monday 26 June 2006 at 7pm

Address to Tertiary Teaching Awards Ceremony

Grand Hall, Parliament Buildings

Professor Graeme Fraser, Chair of the Tertiary Teaching Awards Committee, committee members, 2006 awardees, ladies and gentlemen.

As many of you will be aware, I started my professional career as a tertiary teacher, before moving on to a different (some might say higher) calling. Even so, I very much appreciate how valuable it is to find in one person a combination of high standards of scholarship and high standards of pedagogy.

Since my days as an academic, the task of tertiary teaching has become more complex and more challenging. In the 1970s the essential requirements were a good grasp of one’s discipline, an active research interest, and a basic understanding of educational psychology as regards the young, white, middle class students who made up the large majority of the class.

Since then much has changed:

- The subject matter has expanded significantly, with more course options and a greater demand for inter-disciplinary study;

- Our understanding of how students gain mastery of a discipline has developed well beyond the notion of a course of lectures and some assigned reading; and

- The demographics of the New Zealand student population has changed entirely, with a greater age-range, more mature students, much higher rates of participation by Maori and Pacific peoples and a significant number of international students, for many of whom English is a second or third language.

In this context, teaching excellence is a greater challenge and a very precious commodity. Hence the importance of the awards that will be presented tonight.

These awards are, I believe, an important counter to the past tendency to reward academic staff primarily on the basis of their research. It has been a serious anomaly that the large bulk of a tertiary teacher’s time and effort is devoted to teaching, and yet, in the university context at least, career advancement has been on the basis of a record of research.

I believe research is very important, and measures such as the PBRF attempt to reinforce a culture of research excellence in the tertiary sector. However, we need to achieve a balance. As I have said on previous occasions, we may need to re-examine the way we think about degree courses to recognise the reality that undergraduate degrees are about gaining mastery of a discipline, and can be taught perfectly well by teachers who are informed by, but not necessarily engaged in, active research.

During my brief time so far as Minister for Tertiary Education I have been impressed by the energy, focus and imagination that many tertiary teachers bring to their task. You are the people who carry our tertiary education system, and the people who are responsible for its solid international reputation.

Tonight’s awards focus on the brightest stars in an already bright galaxy.

My current focus as Minister is on how to make our tertiary system a better environment in which excellent teaching can flourish. You will be aware that I made a set of announcements in March on future directions for funding and quality assurance in the tertiary sector. The process of consultation on those proposals has just been completed, and I expect to make more detailed announcements within the next few months.

I believe that, whatever the precise reshaping that will occur, teaching excellence will be a clear winner. As the government has signalled for the past six years, we want to make a shift away from funding quantity to funding quality. While the EFTS system has some strengths, it has encouraged a short term focus and led to a degree of churn in the system.

Our aim is to create a funding system that favours quality teaching and does not force compromises on institutions as they chase increased volumes in order to maintain revenue. Clearly it is not possible to fund tertiary education without some reference to student numbers; however, that will be much less of a driver than in the past.

Another important part of the shift will be a move to multi-year funding. This will provide institutions with more breathing space and allow them to invest more systematically in staff development and course development.

Finally, the reforms will include a revamp of our current input-based quality assurance system. Measuring inputs is without doubt the easiest approach, but it provides little insight into the actual quality of teaching, and does little to encourage a culture of excellence amongst the tertiary teaching community. On top of that, it burdens institutions with compliance costs.

The alternatives require a greater degree of sophistication, and a recognition of how professional leadership operates within faculties to foster that culture of excellence.

That brings me back to tonight’s awardees who, whether they like it or not, are recognised as leaders within their institutions and across the whole of the tertiary sector. I trust that you will take your award both as a recognition for your years of hard work and as an invitation to provide leadership within the sector and enhance further its reputation for quality teaching.

Thank you.


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