Skilling the Nation Conference 2 - 3 November
THE ASSOCIATION OF POLYTECHNICS IN NEW ZEALAND
Te Aka Haumi O Ngà Kuratini O Aotearoa
5 November 2001
Skilling the Nation Conference 2 - 3 November
"We must dare to imagine that there can be a different future" was the message Northland Polytechnic Chief Executive Officer Denis Snelgar gave at this weekend's Association of Polytechnics in New Zealand conference Skilling the Nation.
The conference held in Palmerston North this weekend brought together over 200 business, political and education sector representatives for the first time to specifically discuss the role the polytechnic sector could play in the economic and social development of New Zealand.
And the sentiment was strong. While we live in a world of words and information, it is action that creates and drives change - and it is time for a proactive approach.
The polytechnic sector was commended in being proactive and determined in its examination of how it could build stronger partnerships with business and Maori, and how it can cultivate leadership to facilitate economic growth.
Associate Minister for Education (Tertiary) Hon Steve Maharey commented that the conference was right on the money because it could "touch the lives of every New Zealander because it applies to real people, real lives, the real workforce and the real economy".
Keynote speakers and members of four panel groups, along with delegates from the public and business sectors, challenged the leaders within the polytechnic sector - CEOs, Council members and senior staff - to rethink the way they operate, the way they relate to each other and the way they interact with outside agencies and organisations.
Seen in the wider context of economic development, the conference was not a sectarian talk-fest, rather a discussion between all sectors about the role that polytechnics can take in New Zealand's economic development.
Through this a key issue emerged. New Zealand must formulate a national vision and strategy to hasten growth: although education will not in isolation create growth, it is a key component.
Key themes coming from the conference:
It was agreed that the successful implementation of a national strategy for economic development will necessitate up-skilling at all levels of New Zealand society and that the polytechnic sector is ideally placed to drive and facilitate this development. Because of their regional and vocational focus, polytechnics have the ability to teach, coach and develop New Zealanders of all backgrounds and skills.
The conference's first keynote speaker, Ireland's Skills Initiative Unit Director, Dr Sean McDonagh, placed great emphasis on the fact that the up-skilling of the workforce must be holistic and totally inclusive. This up-skilling was described as a ladder, and it was repeatedly emphasised by all speakers that the whole workforce must take a step up.
Whether it is long-term beneficiaries becoming active participants in the workforce or earthquake engineers taking their expertise and applying this in a creative way on a global scale, there was unmitigated support for the proposition that this must occur at all levels of the economy.
For Maori, education, which increased competency levels in all subject areas, was identified as the only real way to improve social and economic performance.
There was much discussion on partnership between business and polytechnics. While there are examples around the country of where business and polytechnics work together well, both sectors conceded that the current situation could be improved upon. It was mooted that polytechnics should approach businesses with 'what would you like', rather than 'this is what we have' and business need to shift their focus to future requirements rather than on present deficiencies.
It was agreed by both sectors that working relationships needed to be formed where both parties have a stake in the creation and ongoing success of partnerships. Because polytechnics operate on a regional basis these partnerships would be with regional businesses. Work experience whilst studying as part of the qualifications framework was also given much importance.
Keynote speaker Peter Biggs, Managing Director of advertising agency Clemenger BBDO and Chair of Creative New Zealand called not for the development of a knowledge economy or society, but of a creative society based on imagination, innovation and the application of knowledge.
There was a concensus that a creative culture - in all fields of business, be it in laboratories, art studios, factory floors, corporate offices, or polytechnics - was going to be essential to New Zealand's success as world leaders in innovation. The polytechnic sector, therefore, must look to itself. It too must be creative if it is to nurture creative people.
It was identified that a strategy for ongoing success and the sustainability of polytechnics must be based around co-operation between institutions and not on the competitive model that has resulted from the market driven reforms of nineties.
Programme duplication within regions will be phased out by the Government, a policy that was largely accepted and agreed upon by sector leaders. Keynote speaker Dr Guiliano, President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Institute of Technology, reinforced this stating "schools cannot be all things to all people".
The polytechnic sector called on the government to become more in tune with their requirements, with Hon Steve Maharey acknowledging that improvements could be made. Various polytechnic leaders voiced support for the suggestion of Ireland's Skills Initiative Unit Director, Dr Sean McDonagh, that continuity of educational policy was critical for the improved effectiveness of the tertiary system.
Although, predictably, there was some discussion of funding, the focus was on processes and behaviour. It was indicated that all future funding would be strategic as part of the national plan. It was also noted that "more could be done with more, but the question is what polytechnics can do better with what they have?"
For the majority of delegates the conference ended on Saturday afternoon. The polytechnic sector, however, met today to discuss its future in light of the discussions of the proceeding two days.
Today's discussion will include a set of key 'propositions' that were considered by the delegates in the lead up to the conference, which focused on.
* Developing mechanisms for defining skills needs.
* Forging partnerships involving polytechnics, industry and government.
* Encouraging and developing an applied research culture within our sector.
* The recognition of excellence.
* Developing a culture of lifelong learning.
* Providing leadership in developing innovation and entrepreneurship.
A full set of the propositions and speech notes will be available on www.apnz.ac.nz.
For further information contact: Jim Doyle, Executive Director, APNZ ++64 4 471 1162 Media enquiries: Steve Flowers on 04 382 6610 or Tracy Dillimore, ++64 25 405 595, firstname.lastname@example.org