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Limited Alignment Between Strategy, 9-Point Plan

The release of the draft Tertiary Education Strategy (TES) for the period 2010-2015 for consultation reveals limited alignment with the nine-point plan contained in the university briefing document to the current Government. The key difference between the two documents is the strategy’s emphasis on improved tertiary education system performance as opposed to the plan’s call for increased public investment in universities.

There is common ground over boosting the achievement of Māori and Pasifika students. The strategy lists a Government priority for tertiary education as assisting these students to achieve at higher levels. Under a heading “A Step change for Māori and Pasifika”, the universities’ plan for “Government and university action” talks about all universities having strategies in place to strengthen the engagement of Māori and Pasifika communities with university education.

Another tertiary education priority contained in the draft TES for the next five years is an increase in the number of young people achieving at level four and above of the National Qualifications Framework, particularly completing degree-level qualifications. Releasing the draft TES, Tertiary Education Minister Anne Tolley made the following remarks in a media statement: “With a growth in demand we need to ensure the best return on the public’s investment. It (the strategy) also sets out the improvements Government is seeking in the performance of the system. In particular, providers need to be more responsive to students and industry and make better use of resources.” Those remarks encompass a further strategy priority; “improving the educational and financial performance of providers”.

However, the nine-point plan advocates increased public investment in universities, indexation of that investment, differentiated public investment in tertiary education and a commitment to universities’ distinctive contribution through research and research-led teaching. Increased public investment in university education would appear to be an obvious way of addressing the strategy goal of more young people completing degree-level qualifications.

On the research issue, the draft TES does list strengthening research outcomes as a tertiary education priority. Universities called for increased and accessible research funding in their plan, enabling them to support greater numbers of research students, particularly at doctoral level, for the benefit of New Zealand.

The remaining TES priorities are continuing to assist adult learners to gain literacy, language and numeracy skills that lead to higher-level study or skilled employment, and increasing the number of young people moving successfully from school to tertiary education.

On the latter priority, the nine-point plan drew attention to universities’ engagement with lower decile schools to promote interventions to encourage students to achieve at secondary school level, thereby ensuring those students were more likely to progress successfully to university education. Bridging programmes for secondary school pupils were employed along with mentoring and other forms of support once students enrolled at university.

The NZVCC will make the universities’ view known by the time submissions on the draft strategy close on November 6.

Other items …

Importance of Marsden Fund support emphasised

The record $66 million investment from the 2009 Marsden Fund round was welcomed by the NZVCC through a media release which said the increased funding underlined the importance of university research and its value to society.

NZVCC Research Committee chair Professor Sir David Skegg said the 99 university research projects supported by the 2009 allocation should deliver a wide range of outcomes, including improving the health of mothers and their babies and “teaching an old brain new tricks” – a reference to a research project on whether the use of Prozac can increase brain plasticity.

“It is good to see increased government support for basic research covered by the Marsden Fund. Basic research is about discovery and largely takes place in universities. Such research is the most likely source of a breakthrough that will contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth. Further, university research on social issues is vital in understanding and alleviating societal impacts such as those caused by recession and rising unemployment.”

All told, 111 research projects attracted support from the fund this year, including two project extensions and 36 fast-start awards to assist outstanding researchers early in their careers. The University of Otago was successful with 25 projects worth a total of $18 million over three years, the University of Auckland 26 projects ($12.4 million), Victoria University of Wellington 16 projects ($9.7 million), Massey University 11 projects ($7 million), the University of Canterbury 14 projects ($6.8 million), the University of Waikato four projects ($2.6 million) and Auckland University of Technology one project worth $300,000.

Universities accounted for $57 million of the $66 million allocated from the Marsden Fund in 2009. A total of 934 preliminary proposals were received by the fund administrator, the Royal Society of New Zealand, with 214 parties subsequently invited to submit a full proposal. The overall success rate for Marsden applications this year was 12 per cent, well up on previous years.

Southland to host 2010 University Games

A Southland consortium led by Sport Southland and involving the Invercargill City Council, Invercargill Licensing Trust, Stadium Southland, Venture Southland and the Southern Institute of Technology has been successful with a bid to host the 2010 University Games in April.

The successful bid was announced recently by University Sport New Zealand (USNZ) which evaluated two other proposals. After a call to member campuses to express their interest in being involved in the bid process, personnel from two universities accompanied USNZ staff to the bid cities to meet the proposed games consortia and visit facilities.

The 2010 University Games will run from April 13 to 16 with Stadium Southland being the hub for events, serving as games headquarters and the venue for some of the social programme. Track cycling events will take place in the world-class ILT Velodrome. Further information is available from: http:// .

More schools to use KAREN

Education Minister Anne Tolley has announced an extension of the national education network trial to June 2011 with an expansion to include more schools. A business case is being prepared for an education network which could potentially incorporate all schools.

The existing trial provides 23 schools, or around 16,000 students, with access to a range of content and services across the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN). The trial is of interest to universities as major stakeholders in KAREN and is being carried out amid concerns about the on-going operating costs of the network.

The estimated 200 schools that will be on a fibre service midway through next year will be able to join the extended trial. Schools on the trial will be able to access a range of content and services at speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. It will also provide opportunities to further test and implement design elements and content.


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