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Maherey Speech: Setting priorities for Tertiary Ed

Steve Maherey Speech: Setting priorities for Tertiary Education: Leading change in New Zealand economy and society

Speech to the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education 2004 Conference, Leading change in tertiary education - Kökiri te hurihanga, Brentwood Hotel, Kilbirnie, Wellington.


Thank you for your invitation. I welcome the opportunity to make this speech because ASTE audiences, more than most, see the inclusive sweep of today’s tertiary education system and share a strong interest in the system’s development and inter-relationships.

Thank you again for ASTE’s constructive involvement in the reforms of New Zealand’s tertiary education system.

It is therefore also an excellent opportunity for me to officially launch a publication articulating our proposed priorities for the next few years. That is, the Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities discussion document, which we are publishing today. I will talk more about this in a moment, but would like to begin by talking more broadly about tertiary education and what it means to all of us.

I saw the system, like you, from the inside for many years, and now I’m excited to see tertiary education evolving in response to the new directions and imperatives that began with TEAC just four years ago.


Let’s look at where we’re at in tertiary education and where we are going.

First, some fundamentals. The tertiary education system is indeed the heart, pumping out the skills and knowledge for a thriving economy and society. The competencies people develop through tertiary study contribute to healthy communities, a vibrant democracy and a growing, knowledge-based economy. There’s general agreement that for us to compete in global markets we must create and apply new knowledge; we must resource and enable New Zealanders to be the best they can be and to think in new, creative, optimistic and innovative ways.

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We’re after new knowledge and the skills to apply it. That way we can have a high-skilled, high-wage economy to sustain high living standards.

Of course we’re a small nation and that’s good. It means that we can: adapt more nimbly, achieve high quality more consistently, and stay up with the play more readily.

Over the last 10-15 years, tertiary education policy has focussed on increasing participation and more New Zealanders than ever before are undertaking tertiary study. As recently as 1990, tertiary enrolments totalled 90,000 compared with around four times that number enrolled now.


But since 2000, we have new imperatives. We now see a tertiary system oriented towards:

building quality rather than quantity;

strength and innovation through collaboration, rather than fragmentation and fruitless competition.

Clarence Beeby’s vision of a broad and generous education for all New Zealanders is as valid now as it was in the mid-20th century. But we must push on beyond that vision and ensure that we contribute to the achievement of the overall goals of our ambitious little country.

If it’s going to do all that, the tertiary system must have a clear sense of shared purpose; must be better connected within itself and to its external stakeholders; and must be aligned to where this country is resolved to go.

It pleases me hugely to be able to come here and confirm that all those imperatives we agreed on through the years of TEAC consultation are actually becoming the reality. The sense of shared purpose is catching on; the connections and alignments are being made; the contributions to the national social and economic goals are becoming real.

On the physical side, yes, the new systems and structures are in place too, with the Tertiary Education Commission building strength, and the first round of charters and interim profiles completed.

Even more importantly, the energy within the sector has created momentum for positive change and here are just three examples that I think demonstrate this:

many tertiary providers are leading new collaborative ventures in highly strategic areas of research and teaching;

Māori, Pasifika peoples, and small businesses, all of whom were generally marginalised before, now have priority in tertiary planning, with significant advances already made in areas such as industry training;

students now have more choices, information and advice and a smaller financial burden.


I would now like to turn to the discussion document that I am releasing today. The discussion document outlines what we propose should be the priorities for the next Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities, which is due to be released before the end of the year. It provides organisations such as yours with an opportunity to have a say on our priorities for tertiary education for the next couple of years, and I am now going to discuss the key themes and priorities outlined in this document. What then do the next two or three years hold? There are three major themes around the priorities for 2005 to 2007:

building skills and knowledge;

working to national goals; and

enhancing capability and quality.

You’ll have recognised the wording of the Tertiary Education Strategy in those three themes, so let me remind you briefly about that document.

It’s there to guide all of us more decisively than we ever have been in the past so that tertiary education is aligned to the national goals of New Zealand; and so is the Tertiary Education Commission with its charter, profiles, and funding mechanisms.

The government will continue to be explicit about tertiary directions, needs and goals. New Zealand will not achieve its goals unless tertiary education is indeed at the heart of what we do as a nation.


So, to the first theme covered in the discussion document, Building skills and knowledge.


While the purpose of the tertiary system extends beyond merely providing skills for the economy, that connection is a central concern and we have to ensure that it functions well. Tertiary education is part of the answer (and in some instances the major part of the answer) to a range of issues around creating and deploying skills and knowledge. For example, where there are recognised skills shortages and skill matching issues, the tertiary system can be an important player in addressing them. The question is how best to work with an industry to assist in identifying where pressure on skills is likely to arise, and how to address it. An example of the kind of response the government is looking for is the new role for industry training organisations, who we want to see working with industry and tertiary providers to determine future skill needs for the industries they represent and developing strategic plans to meet these needs. In saying this, in the skills area and elsewhere, I hope to see tertiary education providers concentrating their efforts and resources on meeting the needs of NZ, their region, their community, and their students.

While there are areas throughout the economy which have skill and knowledge needs (and we will be looking for tertiary organisations to engage across these), the discussion document also focuses on areas that the government is particularly keen on responding to. These are:

the Growth and Innovation themes,

providing the technical and trades skills vital for New Zealand’s economic success,

addressing education and health workforce needs, and

whole of government responses to areas of the economy such as food and beverages.


As well as these specific areas of the economy, we need a workforce that has both the specific skills and the broader competencies needed to thrive in a complex world and in a labour market characterised by frequent change and new demands on workers.

New Zealand’s tradition of liberal education is an important part of all this. Students studying the arts develop competencies and knowledge that are highly valued, both by employers and by a New Zealand society that is perhaps more intellectually and culturally alive than it’s ever been.


Foundation learning is an especially critical area for the next few years.

We need top technical and professional skills of course but it’s the average skill-level of the working-age population that drives economic success, according to OECD reports. Quality foundation education will therefore pay off both for those that participate, and for New Zealand as a whole. It also matters that skills are transferable to other contexts and that there is balance across the sector, so that skills and knowledge are delivered where and when they are needed.

To facilitate this we need to develop a ‘shared language’ about competencies amongst educators, learners and employers. We need to be able to talk about both generic and specialist competencies.

This shift will involve explanations of the literacy, numeracy and language demands of specific tasks, through to the design of programmes for teaching high-level specialist competencies. A discussion document on these issues is due to be released shortly, and I’ll look forward to ASTE’s contributions.

In any event, the most effective approach to raising foundation competencies will be to ensure that language, literacy and numeracy skills can be taught, not just out at the margins, but in any tertiary education setting where a learner needs it, whether vocational, academic, work-based or community/family based.

It would have been unheard of a few decades ago but now foundation studies programme sit comfortably within most New Zealand tertiary campuses and that’s exactly as it should be.


It is also important that tertiary education providers play a role in improving youth transitions in New Zealand. The government has adopted a goal that would see all young people engaged in work or education throughout their passage from adolescence into adulthood. For most this is not a major challenge, but there is a part of each cohort who are at risk due to lack of achievement at secondary school. How we create pathways for this group, and how we keep them on the pathway, are important issues to be addressed. ADDRESSING THE KNOWLEDGE NEEDS IN SOCIETY AND ECONOMY

Alongside the tertiary system’s contribution to the skills of the workforce is its contribution to the knowledge base of the economy. What the ‘knowledge economy’ signals is that countries that succeed will be those that can generate new knowledge and turn it into successful commercial ventures. For that reason, the discussion paper on the next Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities will address a number of issues around the interface between tertiary education, the research that is carried out in tertiary providers, and the sectors of the economy that make use of new technology and turn it to commercial advantage. The Performance Based Research Fund has gone some way towards putting tertiary research quality issues into better focus. However, there is a further set of issues around the relevance and application of research that need attention. These issues include: how we set the focus for research programmes in the first place (for example, what mix there is of applied research and more exploratory research);

how we build the capability of researchers in the tertiary system; and

how we the transmission of research results into commercial applications either through new ventures or improvements to existing ones.


The second section of the discussion document focuses on strengthening connections between the tertiary system and national goals.

The wording of the Tertiary Education Strategy is as relevant as ever:

New Zealand now needs a tertiary education system that makes a strong contribution to the achievement of national goals. It needs to be dynamic, outward-looking and strongly linked with the communities of interest it serves.


We are committed to maintaining New Zealand’s strong tradition of liberal education. Active involvement by tertiary providers in social and economic debates and the fostering of the values of a ‘liberal education’ are an essential component of building a society that functions well and can achieve economic growth. The tertiary reforms provide a way to reflect the value of this education as the government moves towards a system based on more explicitly strategic investment in tertiary education.

Indeed we look to tertiary providers to provide intellectual leadership in identifying opportunities for social and economic development and providing new tools to grasp such opportunities.


But it’s equally essential that tertiary providers increase the strategic relevance of their activities to be more aligned to our economic and social priorities.

We’re building a system that: responds to our needs as learners, communities, industry and enterprise;

demonstrates the quality, performance, effectiveness, efficiency and transparency that the TES calls for; and

replaces wasteful competition, overlap and duplication of courses with collaboration and rationalisation.

Let me remind you of some of the steps we’re taking towards ensuring relevance and alignment. As an initial step, tertiary providers have been asked to assess the strategic relevance of their provision as part of the profiles round for 2005-07. Future profiles will build on this. Through future profiles, both tertiary providers and the Tertiary Education Commission will work to ensure that funding is shifted from areas of low strategic relevance to areas that are highly aligned with our economic and social priorities.

We’ve are acting to restrict funding to certain types of courses, in particular to some non-formal and non-assessed community-level education where the quality and strategic relevance is unclear.


Successful participation in tertiary education brings immense benefits to many New Zealanders and to the whole mood of the New Zealand nation. Managing the learning process to improve retention and completion is of major importance across the tertiary system and across the country.

One of the key reasons for the tertiary reforms was concern that the system had become too focused on increasing enrolments, and that a significant number of learners were not meeting their goals.

Stronger ‘learning pathways’ are needed, which connect with those (such as teachers, families and employers) who shape and support learners’ tertiary education goals. This means:

connecting with the rest of the education system. (For example did you all know that this year, in over 70 secondary schools, all the year 10 students are receiving professional help to map out their career and learning pathways?);

ensuring that learners make informed choices, based on accurate factual information about course options and career paths;

assisting learners at key transition points during the educational process, involvement of other stakeholders such as employers and industry who can contribute to the process of shaping programmes of study to ensure relevance.

I hope your thinking includes how you support students during their study, including identifying a student’s particular learning needs, such as literacy and numeracy, and addressing these; how you recognise the diversity of students so that people of many cultures and age groups feel welcome.


The Tertiary Education Strategy is explicit about some of the essential issues of access and nation building. It is even more important now that tertiary educators meet the development aspirations of Māori.

Many Māori communities are well advanced in articulating their development strategies, particularly in relation to managing and developing traditional assets such as land holdings and fisheries. Given that growing the skills and strengths of people is an essential component of Māori communities’ strategies, tertiary education providers need to work with Māori whānau, hapu and iwi towards these goals.

Strong partnerships between Māori communities and tertiary education providers focused in particular on contributing to the achievement of economic aspirations will be critical. Nurturing and delivering comprehensive, high quality Māori language and content provision must also continue to be a focus.


For Pasifika communities to thrive, it is important that participation and achievement for Pasifika learners continue to increase. In other words, it’s essential that providers develop effective models of tertiary education provision that address the key retention and achievement issues for Pasifika learners.

Providing a learning environment and pathways that reflect the needs and circumstances of Pasifika learners is therefore something that providers in areas with Pasifika communities need to focus on. This includes recognition of the different Pacific ethnic communities.

Given the high concentration of Pasifika communities in the region, it is essential to build a strong network of Auckland providers with effective models of tertiary education provision that address the key retention and achievement issues for Pasifika learners, and that these are well integrated into parallel initiatives in the secondary school system.


Enhancing Capability, Performance and Quality is the final theme of the discussion document


Strengthening the tertiary sector is a major priority. I concede that a shift towards greater differentiation and specialisation creates some difficult choices for tertiary providers. Providers have to decide whether to concentrate on a small number of ‘niche’ specialties or to maintain a broader portfolio of courses and research activities.

But it’s equally clear to I think all of us that more collaboration is needed between tertiary providers and partners such as research institutes, industry training organisations and major industries. There has to be more evidence of tertiary education functioning as a single internally consistent system rather than as disaggregated parts.


It’s heartening to see sector leaders working with officials on the Enhancing Quality Project. The project is considering how teaching and learning in tertiary education can be improved through building a culture of quality, to go with the quality assurance system.

A shift in emphasis away from participation towards course completion and stronger learning pathways will demonstrate providers’ commitment to quality education. So will the development of stronger, more focused research programmes; and so will the building and maintenance of two-way relationships with those who have a stake in tertiary education.

Promoting excellence in teaching has been one of the key objectives of the reforms. One way of recognising excellence in teaching is the annual Tertiary Teaching Awards, rewarding excellent teachers since 2001.

Making sure our tertiary system delivers quality requires a holistic approach. Capable teachers and researchers are important alongside other factors, such as course design, relevance, and pastoral care.


As part of providing a quality learning experience, it is important that tertiary teachers are up to date with developments in their field, and this includes knowledge of recent research. While it is a legislative requirement that degrees are taught mainly by people actively engaged in research, there are questions around whether this is appropriate in all circumstances, as the nature of degrees has become broader.


Learners, stakeholders and government are increasingly looking for real, demonstrable, evidence of educational quality. This means consistent measuring of outcomes across the sector.

Significant progress has already been made in this regard, but we need to keep working to provide high-quality overview information and analysis in a form that enables employers, learners and other stakeholders to work more effectively with tertiary providers to achieve their long-term goals.


The outcomes we’re all seeking from the reforms are also holistic in every sense and it’s timely to reflect back on what the Prime Minister said at the launch of the TEC in February 2003:

“I stand strongly for the role of education in producing well-rounded, highly literate, well informed New Zealanders who are aware of the world around us, of history, of cultural heritage, and of the great ideas and philosophies that have driven mankind. Education can never be reduced to a mere economic output. It has the potential to transform the lives of individuals and whole communities. Its focus must be broad and empowering, not narrow and confining”.

I hope you agree that the goals of the tertiary system are now clear; the strategy is in place, and the discussion document helps us to focus on the details of these goals. We have good momentum, and now we need to build on that, accept the challenge and build our nation through tertiary education.

So please take a copy of the discussion document, take it back to your organisations, read it carefully, and have a say on what you think are the priorities for tertiary education for the next couple of years. (Submissions close on the 19th November) I look forward to your feedback.

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