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The Student Agenda - Year 2 - Maharey Speech

2 September 2001 Hon Steve Maharey

The Student Agenda - Year 2

A Strategy that Responds to Students

Speech notes drafted for delivery to New Zealand University Students' Association Conference, Massey University, Albany Campus ¡X speech not delivered due to travel difficulties.


I am delighted to be here today to address the Conference of the New Zealand University Students’ Association. I hope the weekend has been fruitful for you.

As I’m sure you’re aware, this Government has put a lot of effort into improving the position of students. I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken so far, such as fee stabilisation and the changes to the Student Loan Scheme, and I’ll discuss them in a moment.

I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, but I see many challenges ahead. In the second part of my speech this afternoon I would like to step back and address the bigger picture - how the Government is seeking to build a tertiary education system that will meet New Zealand’s future social and economic needs, and propel us forward in our development as a knowledge society. Of course, responsiveness to students will remain a critical part of the system.

I’d like to begin today by talking about the key initiatives this Government has undertaken as part of our commitment to a thriving tertiary education system in this country.


Let me start with an announcement: all tertiary education institutions have agreed to stabilise fees in 2002.

The fee stabilisation offer closed on Friday and every single university, polytechnic, college of education and wananga has indicated that they will accept the offer. We have also had a wide level of acceptance from private training establishments - so their students will be protected as well.

In order to gain an indication of the importance of this, consider the alternative. Under National fees increased by 12% a year. If National had been returned to power and that trend had continued, then students would be facing fees for 2002 that were $1,000 more than they are now.

Fee Stabilisation has saved students $1000 each.

The successful conclusion of this year’s fee stabilisation exercise has also, I think, illustrated the value of constructive engagement. Faced with Government decisions that do not meet all one’s hopes, it is tempting to focus on public displays of disappointment and discontent. That’s understandable but it’s not the way to move things forward.

I think the last few months reflect the fact that Government does have good intentions towards tertiary education, and is willing to listen and work together with the sector to reach mutually acceptable solutions. I’d like to thank NZUSA for showing leadership in this regard.

I hope this lesson in engagement will show the way forward as we move to implement a strategic tertiary education system.


Fee stabilisation for 2002 is also evidence of Labour and the Alliance’s continuing commitment to students. It is the latest in a long line of such measures. Let me briefly recap the record of our first year.

Recognising the burden of student loan debt, the Government elected to write off the interest charged to full-time, full-year students and part-time students on low incomes, while they are studying, for the year 2000 and beyond. We have invested significantly in this policy change. We believe that investment will return a good dividend for the country.

New repayment provisions also ease the situation for former students. These provisions ensure that 50 percent of repayments, less the inflation component, now go to the repayment of principal. As a result, the effective interest rate (that is, the total net interest charges to all loan balances as a percentage of total debt) is estimated to be 3 percent for the 2001/02 income year. Furthermore, projections estimate that under the new provisions, the average repayment time will be reduced by 7.6 percent.

Another policy change allows Student Association fees to be borrowed through the Student Loan Scheme, a turnaround on the previous Government’s policy which threatened to turn students against their associations and put the associations’ very survival in jeopardy. We have also passed a law removing the bias towards voluntary student associations.

We have also:

- Extended eligibility to the Training Incentive Allowance;

- Halved the cost of dental study;

- Committed $3 million over four years in Student Job Search; and

- Committed an additional $6 million to the Department of Work & Income to smooth administration of loans and allowances this year.

Going into our second year, we have moved the focus towards investment in a high-quality strategic tertiary education system, but we have not forgotten student support issues. The Education and Science Select Committee is soon to report back on a review of all aspects of the Student Loan Scheme and wider tertiary resourcing issues. Analysis of the many submissions received will give us a clear idea of the issues and concerns of interested parties, which will then feed in to help inform further policy work on the Student Loan Scheme and other tertiary student support.

As I told your conference last year, we do intend to be a Government of constant improvement. Over time the way forward under Labour and the Alliance will towards wider allowance eligibility, fairer loans and lower fees - rather than heading in the opposite direction, as would be the case under National and ACT.


Our second Budget, apart from a continued commitment to fee stabilisation, also contained two measures that focussed on fostering a high-quality learning experience for tertiary students.

We have provided funding for the establishment of annual teaching awards for outstanding tertiary education teachers. Apart from national recognition, the awards will provide some financial support for the tertiary education teacher to further his or her interests in teaching.

There will be four awards of $50,000 presented annually. All tertiary education teachers, throughout the system, will be eligible for one of the four categories.

We don’t just intend to identify individuals but also practices that can be disseminated. The best examples of tertiary education teaching will also be shared nationally through an annual publication of best practice.

Over the next week I will be writing to people who have been put forward by the sector to form a panel to develop the awards. I am pleased to say that I will be asking your co-president Andrew Campbell to join this panel.

Of course, while “Diversity with Excellence’ is our goal, we recognise there also need to be checks for when reality falls short of that ideal. We are strengthening the resourcing and tertiary focus of the Office of Ombudsmen. I know the student movement has campaigned for this for a long time, because of recognising that legal remedies - while sometimes tempting - are expensive, divisive, time-consuming and uncertain.

Three new investigative officers will be appointed from January 2002 to investigate complaints from students and staff regarding tertiary education institutions. In addition, the Ombudsmen will also take on an enhanced role. The Office of Ombudsmen will work with tertiary institutions to develop operational protocols in the latter part of 2001, and Ombudsmen will visit each institution between February and July 2002.

The Ombudsmen currently investigate some complaints about public tertiary education, but this recourse has not been developed. Enabling the Ombudsmen to have a more proactive role regarding the resolution of tertiary education complaints is likely to focus public tertiary institutions on the quality of their processes. This is likely to lead to an associated improvement in the processes of public tertiary education providers.


I’m now going to move on to address the challenges facing tertiary education in New Zealand. As you all know, we are in a time of change for the tertiary sector.

Tertiary education is one of this country’s major public investments in building the skills and capability needed for the future and promoting a vibrant cultural identity. To maximise the benefits of this important investment, a paradigm shift is required. We need to embrace a strategic approach to tertiary education policy.

You will probably have heard about the idea of taking a strategic approach to tertiary education before. It is an idea you will hear a lot more of - we intend to formulate our tertiary education strategy into a well-presented and accessible document. This will be released in draft form in December and finalised in March of next year.

But what does a “strategic approach’ mean?

Essentially it boils down to this: choosing priorities in a coordinated way.

Strategy means focussing your energy, resources and attention on some things more than on others. But why not pursue everything to an equal degree? There are three reasons:

Firstly, that never happens anyway. If the Government doesn’t make strategic choices then the market will. Many on the right used to trumpet that the market would unerringly produce the skills and knowledge base our nation needs. You don’t hear that so much anymore . . .

Secondly, we are not a rich country. Judged on material wealth per person we were 20th in the OECD in 1999 (down from 9th in 1970). We simply do not have the resources to build up our strength in every area of learning.

Thirdly, we want to turn around that economic position: this Government’s broad vision is to lift our nation back in the top half of the OECD over time. In order to achieve this, we need a better alignment between our skills and knowledge resources -- as developed by our tertiary education system -- and the economic and social needs of our nation.

In saying that, let me add that prioritising some things doesn’t mean you abandon doing everything else. We have to continue to have a broad-based tertiary education system. It’s simply a question of emphasis.

The other dimension of strategy is coordination. You can have a whole lot of people all making their own choices, but that doesn’t amount to a strategic system.

In fact you can argue that that’s a pretty good description of the sector we inherited. Each institution was going off on its own and making its decisions in isolation. Some of them were doing a pretty good job of that; others not so good. But the decisions were taken from the perspective of the interests of an individual institution rather than the capability of the system as a whole.

Let me be clear: we don’t want to swing the pendulum too far the other way by having the new Tertiary Education Commission try to dictate everything. Wellington doesn’t know all the answers!

We need to rely on the innovation and imagination of our individual institutions, providers and ITOs. That’s where the brilliant new learning techniques and cutting-edge new programmes will originate. And we need to rely on students to decide where their own personal interests and aptitudes lie.

But the Tertiary Education Commission will need to engage with those choices to ensure that the tertiary education system produces the skills, knowledge and innovation that New Zealand needs as a knowledge society. In order to do this the Commission will have to work alongside institutions, students, parents, industry and communities


What does a knowledge society mean in the context of New Zealand? In its broadest terms it means successfully applying knowledge to everything we do.

If that sounds undramatic it isn’t. New technologies in computing, communications and biotechnology are changing absolutely everything - forever! We can and must develop our own versions of these technologies, and in our modest way we are doing so. This calls for:

- very high levels of creativity as we apply these new technologies in unique, impossible to copy ways;

- constant and high levels of innovation as we turn great ideas into robust, practical commercial reality; and

- breaking down “barriers of entry or participation” that face many individuals and communities in our present society.

This, in turn, will require substantial investments in education and training, and greater facilities to allow all to access the most modern communications technologies.

If we are to become a nation that uses knowledge in all we do, we have to invest in information technology, research and development, innovation, skills training, lifting educational levels and ensuring New Zealanders learn what they need to function in a global environment.


In deciding what our requirements for tertiary education are, however, we need to think about our needs as a nation more specifically. As well as the generic competencies that all knowledge societies will require , we also have to identify ourselves as a particular kind of knowledge nation.

We have to decide what we have comparative advantages in. In the context of globalisation there is no sense in New Zealand trying to be the best at everything. We need to play to our strengths and to decide where to invest.

In my opinion the answers to these questions come down to three things: location, location, location.

New Zealand’s comparative advantage lies in using technological innovation to add value to our existing endowments as a nation. Look at New Zealand’s natural advantages. We have:

- Fertile soils that are rich in organic carbon;

- A beautiful landscape accentuated by an atmosphere with high luminosity; and

- Low population density.

We need to turn the full power of our knowledge, creativity and innovation to apply the revolutionary new technologies being developed in the northern hemisphere to what we already do exceedingly well.

We have already made a start. We are driving off a successful dairy industry to develop health foods and pharmaceuticals through research into the micro-structure of milk. A key distinctive feature of our fashion industry results from our detailed understanding of merino wool.

We are a great place to live in and to visit. We have the quality of environment that knowledge workers want. Our tourism industry is pitching a quality experience, combining unspoilt locales with first-world amenities - rather than focussing on quantity of visitors.

We have the beginnings of a film industry and related ICT “content’ packaging that can “sell’ the New Zealand landscape experience to the world, even if it is sometimes disguised as ancient Greece or Middle Earth.

This is what might be called a “gourmet’ vision of New Zealand as a knowledge nation. In order to succeed we are going to need to develop our tertiary education on the basis of a clear sense of ourselves.

Identifying our particular path in the knowledge age will be a key task for this Government, and I hope it will be our lasting legacy. Between the Knowledge Wave, the Science and Innovation Advisory Council’s work and the current period of consultation in the wake of TEAC’s report on Shaping the System, I am hoping for a period of intellectual ferment.


There is much still to be done, but tertiary education has already embarked on the process of change. A number of initiatives are underway.

The Tertiary Education Advisory Commission in its second report, Shaping the System, proposed the steering mechanisms we will need to use our tertiary education capability strategically. Government has announced that there will be:

- Charters for publicly-funded providers that are meaningful and set out their special mission and contribution to the system as a whole;

- Provider profiles to avoid duplication and focus each provider on their specialities and the needs of their stakeholders;

- A Centres of Research Excellence Fund to foster excellence in areas of strategic importance; and

- A Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) to bring the administration of the whole system together under one agency, with strong involvement from business and other stakeholders in its governance.

Over the next months, further decisions regarding the structure of the TEC, the nature and form of Profiles and Charters, and the funding system will be taken.

The “establishment board’ for the TEC is up and running. As well as overseeing the establishment of the permanent TEC, this Transition TEC will act as an “advisory board’ to work on the further development of the Tertiary Education Strategy and on the enhanced system of Charters and Profiles.

At this point I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Chris Hipkins, the President of the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association, for his contribution to the Charters and Profiles Working Party as the NZUSA representative. The Working Party faces the challenge of developing the ideas of Charters and Profiles, as part of providing the new TEC with ways to achieve national tertiary priorities.


Work is underway on the Centres of Research Excellence Fund, which will encourage a greater concentration of research resources (both intellectual and financial) in the tertiary education sector, as well as improving networking between researchers and across research organisations.

There is excellent research going on at universities all round the country. This is something we want to encourage. Researchers working together often raises research quality and output. The Centres of Research Excellence will mainly be inter-institutional networks, with researchers working together on a commonly agreed work programme.

We want the Centres of Research Excellence to be involved in knowledge transfer activities to ensure that valuable new knowledge feeds into New Zealand’s innovation system.

At the beginning of August the Ministry of Education announced its selection of the Royal Society of New Zealand as the purchase agent for managing the Centres of Research Excellence Fund. The Royal Society will be responsible for developing a selection framework for the centres, the selection and funding of the centres, and for their ongoing monitoring.

The final selection criteria and application process will be announced in early October. In the meantime, a list of indicative characteristics, outlined in the terms of reference for the Fund, provides a basis for tertiary education institutions to consider and prepare for the application process.


We appreciate that to achieve a more co-ordinated and coherent tertiary education sector in the post-TEAC environment, changes will need to be made. We have set in place a number of measures to help institutions to make those changes.

We are making both capital and operating funding available to public tertiary education institutions through the Strategic Change Fund. In the 2002/03 financial year, each institution, whose proposed use of the funding meets the agreed criteria for the Strategic Change Fund, will receive an allocation determined by their proportion of total government EFTS income for 2001.

We are also helping institutions to build their responsiveness to the Maori and Pacific communities. In March this year the Government provided each tertiary education institution with additional funding, in the form of a special supplementary grant, to increase the responsiveness of institutions to Maori and Pacific students. The grant was calculated on a per student basis and on the level of study of each Maori and Pacific student enrolled at our institutions.

These grants are focussing institutions’ minds on how best to extend and support access amongst these under-represented populations. Universities are picking up the special supplementary grant funding with some valuable initiatives.

Here at the Albany campus, for instance, there are a number of proposals for both Maori and Pacific peoples. One example is employing a Pacific Island liaison person for marketing, recruitment and relationship building with Pacific Island communities.

The Education Amendment Bill No 2, which has recently been reported back to Parliament, also contains some important provisions for safeguarding the significant public investment in the public tertiary sector in this time of change. The possibility for the Government to embark on a process of graduated intervention with an at-risk institution increases our ability to help before bad turns to worse.

This provision will clearly not affect the majority of institutions, which are well run. What it will do is improve the ability of governments to ensure quality education across the public tertiary sector.


I hope what I have said here today will have set you thinking about what you see as the priorities for New Zealand’s tertiary education system. I invite you to take part over September and October in the initial submission and consultation process for the development of the Tertiary Education Strategy. It is vital that students play their part in shaping the current process of change.

Just before I finish, I’m like you all, as student representatives, to think about: What do you see as the priorities for a successful tertiary education system?

Alongside the considerable amount of talk and thinking on knowledge matters these days, I can assure you that action is being taken. The needs of students must be considered alongside the needs of the system - of course they are different sides of the same coin, after all.

I wish you well for the remainder of your conference.

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