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Association of University Staff Annual Conference

Hon Pete Hodgson
Minister for Tertiary Education
27 November 2007 Speech

Association of University Staff Annual Conference

It is a real pleasure for me to be here today at such an important time for the tertiary education sector.

This is my first formal meeting with the university sector as your new Minister and indeed, as the new Minister for Economic Development, Research, Science and Technology, and Tertiary Education. An exciting and challenging prospect for me is to use the opportunity the Prime Minister has given me, to explore the synergies that this collection of portfolios offers up.

The development of human capital is central to all three portfolios, and it is your day to day business. Society has always looked to universities to lead the development of tomorrow’s leaders. The way you carry out your role impacts on the skills, attributes and attitudes students develop.

Each year 125,000 students attend our universities. If there is one single factor that will make a difference to whether they do well in their studies, it is the quality of the teaching they receive and how their learning is managed and supported.

Through initiatives like the establishment of Ako Aotearoa – the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence – we are supporting ways to continually enhance teaching excellence.

This is the first centre of its kind in New Zealand and a great initiative for tertiary education. The government is supporting it to the tune of $20 million over the next five years.

Those of us who have had the opportunity to go to university will remember the power and influence of inspiring lecturers and the impact they had on the way we thought, how much we learned, and in many cases, what we did next. That was the case for me at Massey, and at Vic, and as the MP for Dunedin North the views of Otago academics continue to influence me, albeit informally.

Just last week I released the annual Profile and Trends Report on tertiary education for the 2006 year. The report shows that more New Zealanders are taking part in all forms of tertiary education, with nearly half a million students enrolled in formal study in 2006. Forty per cent of us hold a tertiary qualification, compared with 25 per cent a decade ago, and those with higher-level tertiary qualifications has also increased.

The Prime Minister has referred to my three portfolios as creating, in effect, a Minister of Innovation. New Zealanders are renowned for innovation – introducing better ways of doing things and finding creative solutions to problems. We wear this badge with pride across the world and often hear positive comments about our graduates from overseas colleagues.

The university sector is fundamental to the success of all three portfolios. You are at the forefront of knowledge development and critical thinking. You also play a vital role in this country’s research and innovation activities. Research, and research extension into industry, is crucial if we are to increase productivity. To keep us competitive in the global market place, we need new and more innovative production methods and ways of working.

And we also need to ensure that we are making the best use of the investment we make in research, whether it is in the university sector or with Crown Research Institutes. We have a lot of collaboration; we need more.

The policy which gave us Centres of Research Excellence – which in an earlier life I had a hand in developing, and aims to create innovative hubs of teaching and research – underscores the importance that we place on fostering research excellence.

So does the Performance Based Research Fund, and early signs are that it is succeeding in its goal of increasing the quality of research. The government has made a commitment of more than $200 million to fund the outcomes of the PBRF Evaluation this year, and universities receive 99 per cent of this funding.

Over the last two years there has been much change in the sector and great progress has been made toward an improved focus on student achievement, meeting stakeholders’ needs and developing a culture of continuous improvement, rather than raw enrolment statistics.

The Tertiary Education Commission has been working closely with the sector and its stakeholders to ensure these changes are successful.

Yesterday I met with the Tertiary Education Commission Board for the first time and they briefed me on the Investment Plan process.

The university sector has worked with the TEC in a constructive way, enabling the TEC to have a far greater understanding of the sector’s work and the issues it faces. This is more than a new funding system. It is a whole change in the way institutions think about what they offer, how they plan, how they budget and how they contribute overall.

Change is challenging for everyone and it is to the credit of all those involved that the TEC Board was able to consider all the university plans yesterday, and make decisions – not that I get to know what those decisions are. Those decisions will be communicated to university Vice Chancellors on or before 14 December. For the first time, an indication of funding over a three year period will be provided.

When the results of this process are made public, I know that you will see some shifts in the way that universities are differentiating themselves, as well as a change to working more closely together in the interests of a network of provision across the country.

I want to acknowledge the work of my predecessors in this portfolio, and to single out Michael Cullen, whose determination to improve quality and relevance is clear to us all. He left the portfolio with sadness.

I would also like to recognise the contribution of the AUS to the Tripartite Forum – a commitment by union representatives, government and the Vice Chancellors’ Committee to finding ways of addressing issues affecting the sustainability and effectiveness of the university sector. Clearly I’m new to the portfolio and not yet fully immersed in recent history. But it is already clear that the Forum has been, and is, a good thing.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the contribution of your departing General-Secretary, Helen Kelly, and would like to wish her all the best as she takes up her role as the new President of the Council of Trade Unions.

As the reforms progress, I have no doubt that the AUS will continue to contribute strongly on all fronts. And, I would like to finish today with a challenge.

I challenge the Association of University Staff to keep coming to the table with the big strategic questions. I have no doubt that you will do this – and that the university sector will all be the richer for it.

Thank you, and good luck with the remainder of your conference.

ENDS

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