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A Shared Vision for Tertiary Education

Embargoed until 8am, Thursday 3 August 2000
Thursday 3 August 2000
Speech Notes

Strategy, Quality, Access:
A Shared Vision for Tertiary Education

Speech to the Auckland University of Technology staff, The Blue Room, Hikuwai Plaza, Wellesley campus, Auckland University of Technology.


[Slide One]

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you here today. I would like to use this opportunity to mark the release of the first, interim report of the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission, entitled Shaping A Shared Vision. I would also like to offer my thoughts on the conclusions reached by the Commission in this first report, and what they mean for the sector.


As you will be aware, one of this Government’s first actions in the field of tertiary education was to set about establishing an eight-person Tertiary Education Advisory Commission. The purpose of the Commission is not to develop our tertiary education policy for us. As anyone who has read Labour’s “Nation- Building" or the Alliance’s 1999 tertiary education policy can confirm, both parties in this coalition Government have very clear, and complementary, ideas about the direction that our country’s tertiary education system needs to move in.

We want a sector characterised by diversity with excellence.

We want cooperation and collaboration between tertiary education providers.

And we see the need for our tertiary education policy to focus upon strategy, quality and access.

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The Commission’s task, as first articulated in the draft Terms of Reference which we circulated this February, is to help develop a “widely-shared strategic direction” for tertiary education.

[Slide Two]

The fundamentals of the Government’s vision, which would inform that task, were finalised with the release of the Commission’s final terms of reference in April. “In order to become a world-leading knowledge society that provides all New Zealanders with opportunities for lifelong learning,” the Terms of Reference state, “New Zealand needs:
 a more co-operative and collaborative tertiary education sector;
 a commitment to excellence in teaching, scholarship and research;
 a greater sense of partnership between the key contributors to the sector, including individuals, local communities and industry;
 an environment where all those involved in teaching, scholarship and research are committed to contributing to the nation’s future direction;

[Slide Three]

 an environment where participation by all is encouraged, including by Pacific peoples, other ethnic groups, and people with disabilities;
 an environment where Maori requirements and aspirations for development are fully supported, and which gives recognition to the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles;
 a sector that fully supports regional and local communities; and
 a sector that comprises a range of well-managed institutions and providers that can work together across the whole system to meet the education and research needs of the nation.”

Considerable thought was put into the selection of the members of the Commission. The previous Government was loath for its advice on tertiary education to come from the sector itself. I think they thought that too much knowledge of how the sector actually works might contaminate their conclusions. They preferred taskforces peopled with financiers and supermarket-chain managers.

Now, I have nothing against financiers and supermarket-chain managers. I think it is absolutely vital that we have a tertiary education system that it is an integral part of the development of both our society and our economy. This will mean much greater engagement with business on the part of our tertiary education providers, and particularly our universities, which have not always been as responsive as they could be in this regard. I suspect that the Auckland University of Technology has much to teach its fellows in that respect.

However, I believe that the answers to how the sector needs to change can be found within the sector itself. I also believe that formulating a strategic direction in concert with the sector is the best way to generate a solution that the sector has a sense of ownership over.

The Commission members therefore come from the tertiary education system, but equally importantly they come from across the sector. It would have been very easy to select a group of well-known university academics and administrators. It would also have been misguided. The strength of the Commission are the cross-section of skills and experience they can bring to bear with regard to the sector as a whole, and their willingness to engage with those outside the sector.

[Slide Four]

Norman Kingsbury, the Chair of the Commission, has a career that has spanned the tertiary sector and he is currently the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

Jonathan Boston is one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent authorities on public policy, with tertiary education policy as a specialty.

Tony Hall is the kind of person we need more of in New Zealand, a genuine social entrepeneur in the area of second-chance education.

Patricia Harris has one of the best grasps of strategic research policy of anyone in this country. She also participated, along with Jonathan Boston, on the Ministry of Education Research Funding Reference Group.

John Ruru has a first-hand knowledge and appreciation of the needs of businesses and Maori communities in rural and provincial New Zealand. He has a strong involvement in polytechnic and industry training provision in his region.

Linda Sissons is one of the most dynamic and effective managers in the polytechnic sector today. She also has a background in distance education, which is becoming an increasingly important component of tertiary education delivery.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith is an accomplished researcher in the social sciences. She is also a sophisticated advocate for Maori students and staff and, through her involvement with Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, for Maori providers as well.

Ivan Snook is one of New Zealand’s most respected educational philosophers, and Vice-Chairperson of the Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC).

The Commission convened for the first time in May this year. We set them a daunting task, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Commission on this initial report. They have had limited secretariat support over this period, they have not had permanent accommodation until recently, they came to the task with diverse perspectives and many of them had never met before. Yet by mid-July they were able to present to me a framework for the strategic direction of tertiary education which will serve as the foundation for their future reports and for constructive input from the sector.


[Slide Five]

I want to emphasise that last point. The Commission is a ‘rolling think tank’. There will not be any single report which is the Report of the Commission. Shaping a Shared Vision is an initial report designed to give the Government, the sector and the community a sense of where they are heading. I have to say I am very comfortable with where the Commission is heading, but I will come back to that in a moment.

In many ways, Shaping a Shared Vision is a teaser for the Commission’s first major report, which will be presented to me in December this year. The December report will focus on ‘the shape of the sector’. This will look at the contribution that each type of tertiary education provider should make to the tertiary education system as a whole.

The Commission has committed itself to three reports next year. The first will look at cooperation and collaboration, and the best ways to encourage this within the sector. The second 2001 report will look at how we can best ensure that tertiary education provision is aligned with the needs of society and the economy, both nationally and regionally, offering relevant and high-quality learning opportunities and research.

The third report for 2001 will be perhaps the most far-reaching and will represent the culmination of the first cycle of the Commission’s work. It will focus on the EFTS funding system and the other existing mechanisms for funding learning and research in tertiary education. And it will propose reforms to advance the Government’s aim for tertiary education, for implementation in the 2002 Budget.

I want to say, however, that the Commission has also agreed to work closely with the Ministry of Education to help develop a package of proposals for next year’s Budget that will prefigure those more extensive changes.

I would like now to turn to the Shaping a Shared Vision report itself and address the twelve ‘conclusions’ that the Commission has come to.


[Slide Six]

The first two conclusions are about taking a broad and inclusive approach both to the knowledge society and to tertiary education.
The first conclusion reads,
A broad definition of the knowledge society should be adopted in the development of policy for tertiary education. This includes a recognition of the potentially valuable contribution of all forms of knowledge.

This is an important point to recognise. Too many people see the knowledge society as being simply about more scientists and engineers. I am a sociologist by training and I know that the social sciences have an important role to play in providing solutions to important challenges that we will face in this new century. The same is true of other fields of knowledge.

By the same token, I am also very much aware that the social sciences have failed to build up a significant body of work in this country, in the way for instance physics or the agricultural sciences have. That is not to deny that there have been very impressive individual pieces of research, but this work has not built up a body of knowledge in the way research in other disciplines has. The result is less, rather than more, than the sum of its parts. The challenge for social sciences is to turn that around, and the challenges for us as a Government – both a funder and an end-user of social research – is to create an environment in which that will happen.

I’ve discussed this with Pete Hodgson, the Minister of Research, Science & Technology, and he has asked me to take the lead in this area. Pete is a physical scientist, a veterinarian, by training and we agreed that I had the networks, both academically and as Minister of Social Services and Employment, for the task.

I also do not see an inclusive definition of the knowledge society as incompatible with a strategic and selective approach to focussing our national research effort, and it is clear from their report that the Commission agrees with me.

We are not a big country and we are not a rich country. That was brought home to me recently when I was travelling and talking to policymakers in Europe. We do not have European Commission money to finance our development as Ireland did, nor do we have North Sea oil like Norway.

We cannot match the best in the world if we try to resource every discipline equally. We need to identify the things that we are already good at, and reinforce those.

We also need to identify the kind of knowledge society that we are best-placed to become and build around that. This is a debate that goes beyond the tertiary education portfolio, but it is one that we as a nation need to have.

The point of the Commission’s advice isn’t to avoid making any strategic choices. We need to make strategic choices. In many ways, it is the act of choosing that is important, and actually getting behind some areas of research and economic development and backing them. Maybe, as the few remaining free market ideologues would argue, we cannot be guaranteed of selecting the absolutely most optimal and objective path – but it is better than not choosing any path at all and just meandering. Not even the National Party believes in that anymore!

The Commission’s advice seems to be about not pre-judging what a knowledge society ‘should’ be. We are not going to be able to compete as a nation with the U.S. in information and communications technology, or even with Finland (which is to say, effectively, Nokia). That doesn’t mean we won’t have individual success stories, but essentially that bus has left. We have to find our own vehicle. As for every country that will involve an approach that is niche-oriented, skills-based, innovative and uses new technology. But we have to decide as a nation how we are going to apply that approach to the distinctive attributes that are available to us as a nation.

I don’t want to spend too long on this today but I believe that, for New Zealand, this means our natural resources. We need to apply our skills, innovation and technology across a very broad range of areas where our geographical endowments give us an edge. That includes our primary production sector, where we can point to the very successful and sophisticated development of our wine industry. It means moving our tourism industry to an increasing emphasis on 'added-value' tourists. The work of moviemakers like Peter Jackson also seizes opportunities offered as a result of our beautiful landscape, but, crucially, allies them with cutting-edge New Zealand technology and expertise. These are all ingredients in what my friend Andrew West has called 'the gourmet economy'.

[Slide Seven]

The Commission believes in an inclusive approach not only to the knowledge society but also to tertiary education:
The tertiary education system should be broadly defined to encompass all formal and non-formal learning outside the school system.

For many people tertiary education means what goes on in polytechnics, wananga, universities and colleges of education. If we’re being particularly expansive, we might include industry training and the teaching that goes on in private providers at equivalent levels of the Qualifications Framework.

However, I have always been very clear that I consider the post-school learning that occurs at levels 1 and 2 of the Framework to be utterly vital if we are to have a knowledge society for everybody, rather than just reinforcing inequalities of opportunity.

It is also imperative that there are multiple pathways that people, especially young people just out of school, can take to develop their capabilities, depending on their temperament and aptitudes. Not everybody should be herded into a university because a university education is not the right road for everybody. But the alternative doesn’t need to be – and must not be – a second class option. It has to be equally valid and high-quality, just emphasising different modes of learning.

People recognise that. That’s why this Government’s Modern Apprenticeships Programme is proving to be such a phenomenally popular proposition. We need every possible avenue of learning to be high-quality, accessible and integrated into an overall tertiary education strategy. That includes industry training, it includes adult and community education, and it includes all forms of second-chance learning.

It even includes all the business-based education that goes on every day in companies big and small. That’s not to say we want to start funding all training and development in the corporate sector, or even that we necessarily need to regulate or register it. But unless our conception of tertiary education is broad enough to recognise the role that all of these paths play, we risk giving ourselves only a partial picture of our nation’s learning needs and opportunities.

[Slide Eight]

We could draw an analogy to the health system. We can’t afford to look only at what goes on in our large resource-intensive hospitals, crucial as these are. Nor can we just add in the general practitioners and leave it at that. We have to take account of the vast and complex community health networks and our preventative public health endeavours. Similarly we have to have an integrated picture of our tertiary education system. This seems to me to be the key point of the Commission’s sixth conclusion,
The tertiary education system should be viewed comprehensively and as a whole, and the various funding and regulatory arrangements within it should work together in a clear and coherent manner.


[Slide Nine]

We need always to remember that tertiary education is about students, and it should be judged by how successfully it meets students' needs. The Commission stresses that,
The needs of learners should be recognised as central to the design of the tertiary education system.

I see the mission of tertiary education in the 21st century more than ever as a ‘nation-building’ one, and its key function in this is lifting capability. There are many dimensions to this role – lifting the capability of individuals, communities, businesses, Government and the research community.

[Slide Ten]

The Commission captures these multiple functions of tertiary education as:
 inspiring and enabling individuals to develop their capabilities to the highest potential levels throughout life, so that they develop intellectually, are well-equipped to participate in the labour market, can contribute effectively to society and achieve personal fulfilment;
 preserving, advancing and disseminating knowledge and understanding, both for their own sake and in order to benefit the economy and society;

[Slide Eleven]

 serving the needs of an open, innovative, sustainable knowledge society and economy at the regional and national levels, including those of Maori, Pacific peoples, and the wider community;
 helping to build and maintain a healthy, inclusive and democratic society and promoting the tolerance and debate which underpin it;
 reducing social and ethnic inequalities; and
 reflecting and nurturing a distinctive national identity, including greater understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi.

[Slide Twelve]

If we are to create an environment in which tertiary education can do all that effectively, we are going to have to recognise tertiary education as an integral part of our society and all levels and all stages. Knowledge is changing at an incredible pace these days and both our society and our economy are increasingly dynamic. The days when we could consign tertiary education to a few years tacked on to the end of our school days are long gone.

The Fourth Labour Government spoke of lifelong learning and this has become something of a catchphrase ever since. It has to become more than a catchphrase. The Commission says,
The tertiary education system needs to be designed to respond to the challenge of lifelong learning in a knowledge society, and this may require new ways of organising, delivering and recognising tertiary education and learning.

Nobody should underestimate the scale of the task this sets us. More than any other finding of the Commission’s, this challenges us to re-examine our priorities and preconceptions regarding tertiary education.


[Slide Thirteen]

As I’ve already stated, we are not a rich nation so we need to be strategic. As Ernest Rutherford once said, “We don’t have a lot of money to do this so we’re going to have to think.”

That means we can’t afford the waste that the competitive model of tertiary education has brought us. That includes the duplication of resources with every provider large and small feeling the need to develop its own programme in every area and deliver them unaided. It includes the waste of win/lose as some programmes and even providers succumb to the vagaries of the marketplace. And it includes the resources spent on advertising to maximise market share.

All of this has to stop. Tertiary providers, public and private, need to start thinking in terms of an overall national system in which they play their part. There will be legislative changes to encourage this, and there will be funding incentive changes to encourage it as well. However, as much as anything else, it is about a change of mindset, and that change can start right now.

The Commission affirms the need for a clear strategic direction, one which should
be responsive to the needs of society and the economy and those of tertiary education providers themselves, and be able to evolve and adapt to sometimes rapid changes in those needs.


[Slide Fourteen]

The Commission then goes on to set out some of the key elements that should give form to that strategic direction. It states,
There is a need for more active engagement by the Government with the tertiary education system.

I agree wholeheartedly with this. Indeed, I have been saying the same thing for some time. The promise of ‘more active engagement’ should not be seen as a threatening thing. As the Commission notes, it has to be accomplished in a manner consistent with the principle of autonomy.

But to those who ask, “why can’t you simply leave us alone?” I say, “because society has changed its mind”. Society has decided that we may have left research priorities predominantly in the hands of academics last century and that may have worked well on the whole. But times have changed.

Knowledge is now a very important item throughout our society. Research is now in many cases extraordinarily expensive. We want to know what's going on in our tertiary institutions, and we want to make sure that these huge storehouses of knowledge and expertise are focussed on the same problems as the rest of us. This is because we can no longer afford for them not to be. They're just too important for that.

[Slide Fifteen]

But the question remains, what are the mechanisms by which more active engagement is best accomplished? The Commission states that it
will investigate the desirability of establishing an intermediary body or bodies for the tertiary education system, and the functions that such a body or bodies might undertake.

The Commission only states that it will look at this idea further. It is not recommending that intermediary bodies be set up at this stage. But I want to say that I have some sympathy with this idea. An intermediary body or bodies may be the ideal way to develop and evolve a clear strategic direction in concert with the sector. However, there are some risks with this idea that needs to be explored further. Nonetheless, the idea is definitely on the table.


[Slide Sixteen]

Rather more than that can be said about some other ideas. The Commission states quite clearly that,
There is a need for greater clarity of roles and responsibilities within the tertiary education system.

I am in total agreement with this. The previous Government tended to ignore the distinctive legislative definitions of ‘polytechnic’, ‘college of education’, ‘university’ and ‘wananga’ in favour of a generic concept of a ‘tertiary education institution’. That will end.

The ‘Shape of the Sector’ report will come back to me with clear recommendations on the appropriate roles for each of the institutional types, as well as the possible addition of new ones. It will also advise on the best ways to ensure a strong and effective role for private providers in supplementing and complementing the public sector, rather than competing with it. We will be looking to rationalise the number of private providers that receive public funding, focussing on durable and high-quality providers who fill an important niche.

[Slide Seventeen]

Not only will there be a clear differentiation between provider types, but individual providers will need to look at what their strengths are and how they can best specialise to complement one another. The Commission says,
All publicly funded or regulated tertiary education providers should be required to define and produce an agreed public statement of their distinctive character and contribution to the tertiary education system as a whole.
I want to encourage providers to start working towards this immediately. It will give managers a clear foundation for building their institution's strategic focus. Government's involvement will ensure the mutual compatibility of each institution's mission, which will foster cooperation and collaboration. Furthermore, a mission that has Government backing means institutions will be funded to succeed in this mission, which will give staff and students a significant degree of security, something they do not have at present.

I will be writing to the Auckland University of Technology and every other institution and provider that receives EFTS-funding to ask them to begin defining their organisation’s unique mission. How does your contribution to the national tertiary education system mesh and interconnect with other providers? How could those connections be improved? How does each of your course offerings contribute to and reinforce your institutional mission? What community or communities do you serve, and how? Let’s start that dialogue today.

The formal method by which this mission will be articulated will be worked out over the next little while. It might be via the existing institutional charters or it may be a provider ‘profile’ which sits alongside them. However, it is my intention that by the 2002 academic year every provider that receives tuition funding will have an agreed public statement of their distinctive character and contribution to the tertiary education system as a whole.


[Slide Eighteen]

The Commission’s final conclusion is about the need for active engagement between tertiary education providers, both individually and collectively, and
the research community, business, industry, whanau, hapu, iwi, Maori and the wider community outside the system.

I regard this as absolutely critical. Tertiary education providers, and universities in particular, need to be recognised, and need to start seeing themselves, as in many ways the most central institutions within a knowledge society.

There has been a tendency in the past for universities especially to be a bit insular. That can’t continue. We need to move to a knowledge society and a lifelong learning society. Tertiary education institutions aren’t over there in the corner anymore, but right smack in the middle of everything.

Our tertiary institutions are integral to a well-performing economy. They are also vital for strong and cohesive communities.

We will be looking to configure the tertiary education system with that as a central consideration.


Shaping a Shared Vision is not the final word on the tertiary education system; it was never intended to be. In many ways it is just the conversation starter. Those within, and outside of, the sector should engage with it, and use it as the basis of further engagement with the Commission.

[Slide Nineteen]

But this Initial Report also sets the terms of the dialogue. The questions are now clearly the following:
How should Government achieve more active engagement with the sector?
How do we integrate policy across all aspects of the tertiary education system?
How do we implement some kind of institutional mission or profile?
What should be the clear role of each type of tertiary education provider?
How do we orient the tertiary education system more towards lifelong learning?
Should there be an intermediary body or bodies for tertiary education?
And how can we make our tertiary education providers an integral part of our society and economy?

Thank you for inviting me here today. I look forward to working together with you, and with everybody who cares about tertiary education, on the answers to those questions.


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