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Maharey Speech: Designing Your Own Polytechnics

Steve Maharey Speech: Designing Your Own Place: Polytechnics taking skills leadership

Address to the ‘Designing our Place’ Association of Polytechnics in New Zealand National Conference 2003. Copthorne Solway Park, Masterton.


Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

Now that the tertiary education reforms are unfolding, this conference provides a useful and timely opportunity to take stock of progress and to share issues and insights with others in the field.

Certainly, if we are to maximise the contribution from the different parts of the sector and achieve a more collaborative and connected tertiary education system then we must understand more clearly the particular role different parts of the sector play, their areas of intersection, and potential areas of growth, development and innovation.

We need increased differentiation and specialisation across the system. The success of the Tertiary Education Strategy will, ultimately, depend on our ability to maintain a vibrant mix of high quality provision that caters to the differing needs of New Zealand learners.


And so I must commend the APNZ on the theme of this Conference – “Designing our Place”. This gives me a strong message about the commitment of your organisation, and members, to establish pro-actively and clearly the role of institutes of technology and polytechnics within the emerging New Zealand tertiary education landscape.

There is a great deal of variety within the ITP sector with considerable differentiation between institutions. However, as your work to date underlines, this does not mean that we cannot define a distinctive role for the ITP sector as a whole, which clearly differentiates it from other parts of the tertiary education system.

The ITP/officials working group, which I will return to a bit later, has established that the distinctive role of polytechnics and institutes of technology is based upon:

the focus and purpose of your programmes and activities: relevance and access your style and approach: based on “learning to do” and applied research, development and applications; the investments and capabilities that underpin your performance, and the combination and interaction between these features.

Your distinctive features resonate with the national character. New Zealanders on the whole like to be thought of as pragmatic people. We take a national pride in our international reputation as practical and creative problem solvers. The ITP sector of New Zealand has actively nurtured and supported these aptitudes with its focus on providing learning environments that combine academic learning with practical skills-based learning.

Your sector occupies a critical and unique position within the tertiary education system. New Zealand needs your institutions to work collectively and with others to build on your significant strengths, and cement your distinct place within a more excellent, relevant and accessible tertiary education environment.


This process got off to a fine start earlier in the year with the launch of your sector Charter and Brand. I am pleased to see that this Conference seeks to move your sector forward in line with the mission statement and strategies identified at that time.

I mentioned at the Charter launch that Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand are “on the right track” and I would like this general message to underscore my speech to you this morning.

I also want to emphasis the extent to which your work has highlighted that your sector and the government share very much the same vision with regard to tertiary education. As this slide shows, the strategic goals you’ve chosen mirror very much the sort of goals and values that we’ve been talking about.


I’d like to say a few words about the two ITP Charter strategies – Relevance and Co-operation – that you have selected as your key themes for the conference. These are both important themes in the tertiary reforms and are found throughout the Tertiary Education Strategy 2002-07

Cooperation is part of Key Change # 7 and is the focus of Objective 3:

Greater collaboration with the research sector, the creative sectors, industry, iwi and communities

I am aware that strategic collaboration is increasingly evident within your sector. A number of alliances and networks are emerging around the country and the success experienced by these partnerships is testimony to the benefits of cooperation. Relevance is one of the main aims of Strategy 4 and can be seen in particular in:

Objective 18: Accurate and timely skills forecasting. Objective 19: Industries are supported in meeting their self-identified skill needs. Objective 24: Promotion of specialist skills that contribute to New Zealand’s development

ITPs have a unique role and responsibility within the system as agents of regional development. Your strong regional presence ensures that tertiary level skills and knowledge are available to many individuals throughout New Zealand. This sort of reach is invaluable – not only for the learners concerned but also for the local businesses and regional economies.

In addition, much of the education you offer manages to successfully straddle the worlds of education and work. Your ability to engage and collaborate with industry, particularly at the local level, means that you have been able to offer programmes directly linked with local business and industry and the skill need of those industries. Matching skills with the increasing specialisation of industry is a vital element in our growth strategy.


I have emphasised many times the importance of the challenge in front of you – to ‘skill the nation’; be the ‘engine-room of the knowledge economy’. Today I want to stress the important of the ITP sector taking a leadership role in meeting that challenge. As you have said yourselves, the ability to anticipate, embrace and lead change is critical to the responsiveness of your sector.

I also welcome the extent to which ITPs have begun, individually and collectively, to work much more closely and effectively with the Industry Training sector. The two sectors are very much partners in this endeavour.

I am very clear that the process of defining and developing the different parts of the tertiary education sector must be owned by the relevant sector groups themselves. It is important that representative bodies such as APNZ take the lead in terms of shaping the contribution your individual organisations make.


This is very much the intent of the reforms and always has been. The Tertiary Education Advisory Commission (TEAC) was very consistently clear that the aim of the reforms was to balance national responsiveness with local responsiveness.

This would entail more active steerage by government, hence the need for Tertiary Education Commission to act as intermediary.

But it would also require more active and effective engagement between individual TEOs and their stakeholders. And this is the more fundamental requirement.

TEC will ‘manage by exceptions’ and its actual interventions will not be frequent; it will also facilitate relationships. TEO/stakeholder engagement, on the other hand, needs to permeate the daily life of the organisation.

This set of relationships has been illustrated by the Secretary for Education, Howard Fancy, as a sort of ‘virtuous triangle’ depicting three sets of two-way relationships, TEO-TEC, TEO-stakeholder and stakeholder-TEC. All three of these two-way lines need to be thickened but the really strong line needs to be the one connecting tertiary education organisations with their stakeholders.


That doesn’t mean that the Tertiary Education Commission is consigned to the sidelines. TEAC emphasised ‘national responsiveness’ as well and sometimes the various desires of different stakeholders will need to be mediated by the interests of the nation as a whole. But it is by no means a ‘command-and-control’ relationship.

So how ought it to work?

The first thing is that we all need to be ‘singing from the same song-sheet’. In this sector, that means the Tertiary Education Strategy (TES).

Your ‘sector profile’ makes the commitment that “each ITP will develop its own strategy aligned with the six national strategies for tertiary education identified by the government” in the TES. I welcome your willingness to take on our goals, developed through an extended process of consultation, as your own. It is only in this way that the Strategy can be successful.

But let me go further and stress that we need for each of you, and the ‘academic heartlands’ of each of your institutions, to embrace not just the words of the Strategy but the spirit and intent that lies behind them.

We all know that is quite possible to rationalise any initiative that your institution might wish to undertake on the basis of selective use of that document. Equally, it’s easy enough to pledge allegiance to concepts like cooperation when it suits, and ignore them when it doesn’t.

That sort of approach is not in any of our interests, and it’s certainly not in the interest of the nation.

If the institute of technology / polytechnic sector is serious about the Strategy – as I believe you are – then that provides the basis for a genuine partnership between yourselves (individually and collectively) and the TEC. If we all believe in the same goals, we can work constructively together to determine the best way to achieve them.

The alternative is not attractive. Imagine if the sector were to indulge in game-playing to maximise their bottom-line; inevitably officials would be drawn towards resorting to low-trust, compliance-heavy bureaucratic mechanisms in response. That’s not what the sector wants and it would not be an effective way of accomplishing the government’s goals.

But I don’t see that emerging.

Already ITPs and other organisations have put in a lot of effort into their charters and profiles. Inevitably, though, some of these will be more successful than others, and most will need some further work. I encourage you to engage constructively with the Commission staff as you enter the dialogue phase of the Charter and Profile process.

Charters and Profiles are the principal means of you as individual providers to articulate your distinct contribution to the new system and for TEC to enable a strategic national picture to develop.

I understand that the introduction of new requirements can be challenging. It is a developmental and iterative process for all of us. As our understanding and experience grows we may need to adjust the process.


Similarly, we will need to all work constructively together to ensure we’re getting the ‘bang for our buck’, in terms of educational outcomes, that we need as a nation. This is going to involve organisations making some changes to their course offerings. That will work best if you undertake the changes yourselves, proactively.

It’s worth emphasising the huge increase in government expenditure on tertiary education over the last few years. There has been a 50% increase in tertiary funding since 1999/00. The pure demand-driven phase led to a phenomenal increase in volumes.

But has this meant a commensurate revolution in learning outcomes?

This has not just been PTEs and wananga. Polytechnics have been growing significantly too in the last few years. The latest estimate for 2003 puts ITP growth in this year alone at around 20%.

Does this mean that ITPs are addressing 20% more of our economy and society’s skills and learning needs?

Tertiary education has been entrusted with a huge sum of public funding. We need to be good stewards of that money. Otherwise, we run the risk of entering a ‘boom-bust’ cycle. We do not want enrolment growth to ‘overheat’ in a way that forces the government into further measures along the lines of the ‘Managing Growth’ cap.

The Tertiary Education Commission is going to need your cooperation over the next little while. It will need to ensure that increases in the Student Component are well-signalled and well-aligned, and some providers might wish to think about re-phasing their growth plans.


But cooperation is a two-way street. The government and the Commission arealso working to ensure that ITPs have the resources and incentives they need to fulfil their designated mission.

The government’s commitment to supporting your focus on relevance was clearly signalled last year with the introduction of the Polytechnic Regional Development Fund. This fund is designed to strengthen partnerships between ITPs, local industry, regional economic development organisations and iwi. It was developed as a tangible means of supporting your role as agents of regional development. I am encouraged by the projects supported by the fund to date and hope to see more innovative regional development initiatives emerge over the next year.

I am expecting to see more examples of collaboration within the current applications to the E-learning Collaborative Development Fund and the Innovation and Development Fund. As you know these Funds have been introduced to help develop the capability of TEOs and the tertiary education system. The applications are currently being considered in conjunction with the Polytechnic Regional Development Fund (PRDF) applications to ensure consistent decisions.

And today I’d like to take the opportunity to announce a new fund, part of the government’s commitment of $21.55 million over four years to establish two tertiary education pilot initiatives in response to the reports of the Growth and Innovation Framework Taskforces.

I will mention the Entrepreneurship and Knowledge Transfer initiative just in passing, as its focus is more strongly upon the research side of things. SLIDE 10 ENTERPRISE TRAINING FOR EMERGING INDUSTRIES

Today I want to focus on the other initiative, Enterprise Training for Emerging Industries. This pilot will be trialled in the Biotechnology, Information & Communication Technology and Design sectors, and will aim to assist the development of stronger relationships between the emerging GIF sectors and the tertiary education sector.

Around half the Growth & Innovation Pilot Initiatives money (around $11 million over four years) will be available for this initiative, to assist Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs) to engage with and deliver on the future skills and talent needs of these sectors. Funding through this initiative will be available to:

Support the development of mechanisms by which TEOs and industry can engage to identify and advance future skills and talent requirements; and

Develop the capability of TEOs to respond to these GIF focus sectors. The TEC will be talking to the sector and the GIF taskforces about the best way make use of the funding. They intend to float two models of application for discussion: Learning Consortia – in this model, a number of companies across a particular GIF sector, perhaps within a region or cluster, would work together and ideally with appropriate tertiary education organisations to identify common future skill needs. Under this model, the application would be predominantly application-based (i.e. assessed on the basis of a proposition put forward by the consortia). Enterprise Outreach – in this model, tertiary education organisations would be incentivised to connect with GIF sector companies and develop appropriate educational delivery approaches. Participating tertiary education organisations would be monitored and supported by a performance system based around the quantity and quality of the connections made.

Applications will be called for in the first half of next year.


These are not the only developments the Commission has been working on. Many of you will also know that a working group comprising APNZ, the Tertiary Education Commission and the Ministry of Education has been considering the particular role of ITPs within the new tertiary education framework. The focus of this work has been on defining more clearly the ITP role, assessing the degree to which current funding arrangements support this role and identifying potential options to fill any gaps.

Although the work is not yet complete, I believe that the project itself highlights this government’s commitment to ensuring that your sector is able to enhance its contribution to the tertiary education landscape.


I am pleased to say that from where I stand, significant progress has been made by your sector on a number of fronts. A couple of years back I issued the challenge to your sector: to pull together and operate in a more collaborative and cooperative fashion. There is now a great deal of evidence showing just how much ground you have made in this respect.

The government has introduced processes and incentives designed to assist these shifts but the responsibility for the success of your sector within the new tertiary education environment is in your hands.

I commend you as individual organisations and as a sector for the efforts you have made and I urge you to keep working constructively with government to maintain momentum and move our nation forward.

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