Submission on the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2010-2015

Posted By TEU on Nov 11, 2009 |


Submission of theTertiary Education Union (TEU) Te HautūKahurangi o Aotearoa on the

“Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2010-2015”

6th November 2009

Introduction

The New Zealand Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te HautūKahurangi o Aotearoa is the largest tertiary sector union in this country.”  Our membership currently sits at approximately 11,000 members, covering all types of TEOs in the sector.”  The union’s membership includes general and academic staff who work in polytechnics and institutes of technology, wānanga, universities, private training establishments, rural education activities programmes (REAPs), and other tertiary education providers (OTEPs) such as Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa – the New Zealand Childcare Association.”  The union supports and advocates on behalf of members on both industrial and professional issues, and as such has a direct interest in the strategic direction for the sector.”  We therefore welcome the opportunity to submit on the draft proposal for the Tertiary Education Strategy 2010 – 2015.

General comments on the draft strategy

The draft Tertiary Education Strategy outlines a broad vision for tertiary education with four broad areas of focus that the TEU is supportive of:

  • provide New Zealanders of all backgrounds with opportunities to gain world-class skills and knowledge;
  • raise the skills and knowledge of the current and future workforce to meet labour market demand”  and social needs;
  • produce high quality research to build on New Zealand’s knowledge base, respond to the needs of the economy and address social and environmental challenges; and
  • enable Māori to achieve educational success as Māori.

There are also a number of areas within the strategy where the union would be supportive of the direction being taken – for example lower-level qualifications having clear pathways to opportunities to attain higher-level qualifications; reducing the proliferation of provider qualifications and strengthening the role of national qualifications; embedding literacy and numeracy; and monitoring progress towards the goals for tertiary education.

However whilst the overarching vision would be hard to argue with, as is often the case “the devil is in the detail”, the detail in this instance seemingly being a return to a narrow definition of education as simply a means to employment.”  The focus of the strategy is firmly on the sector being able to demonstrate beneficial economic outcomes resulting from tertiary education, with an emphasis on industry and business links and skills for work.”  This is a necessary and important focus for tertiary education, however the strategy needs to go beyond such a utilitarian view of education to encompass broader social and community goals that contribute to a just and civil society.”  This proposed emphasis in our view will make it difficult for the sector to achieve some of the goals outlined in the vision statement, and rather than safeguarding access to tertiary education, is likely to see a return to an era of tertiary education for the privileged few.

The tone of the draft strategy also presents something of a ‘deficit’ approach to the sector – the underlying assumption for the strategy appears to be that the sector as a whole is underperforming, lacks quality and has been ineffective in addressing complex social issues that are represented in the student demographic.”  The strategy also fails to acknowledge that funding levels for the sector (which are at a lower level per capita than Australia and other international counterparts) have any impact on how the sector performs, or on financial difficulties of individual institutions.

This somewhat negative approach is not borne out in the latest performance data for the sector (ref. “Profile and Trends 2008: New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Sector”, recently released by the Ministry of Education).”  Certainly there are areas within tertiary education that remain challenging for the sector; to imply however that overall it is operating ineffectively does not reflect what is shown in the latest figures

Specific concerns about the draft strategy

Our major concern is that to a great degree there is a disconnect between the broad vision statements for the strategy and the priorities identified as the means to achieve these.”  In general it is not the priorities themselves, but rather the detail of how they ought to be achieved, or in some cases, the lack of detail.”  Additionally there are statements within the priorities that give the TEU cause for concern, particularly those that suggest a return to a competitive, market-driven model, and reference to allowing greater ‘flexibility’ for providers to raise revenue – this statement suggests to us a return to uncapped tutition fees.

Additionally we are concerned that given there is not a specific Māori tertiary education strategy, the document overall has little detail about expectations for the sector in regards to Māori learners, and Māori education aspirations and achievement.”  Given that there a particular challenges facing the sector in regards to Māori education, we would expect greater focus on this in the strategy.

The TEU notes also that very little detail appears in the strategy that considers the contribution different providers may make to the system.”  For example no reference is made of REAPs or OTEPs; both these types of provider currently make significant contributions to the sector for their respective learner demographics.”  In the case of REAPs, they have an important role as part of the network of provision in isolated, rural areas, and are particularly well-placed to deliver literacy and numeracy programmes in such areas.

Along with wānanga, REAPs also have a significant role to play in contributing to Māori educational aspirations and achievements, having proactively worked on taking a leading role in meeting educational needs for rural Māori whānau, hapūand iwi.

Another noticeable gap in the proposed strategy is the absence of any detail about how the continued development of skills and knowledge of current and future members of the workforce will be achieved.”  The strategy does speak of the need to support school leavers into tertiary education and higher-level qualifications, as well as prioritising literacy and numeracy for adult learners.”  However it ” provides no detail on how those already in the workforce, who do not require additional literacy and numeracy provision, will be supported to gain skills and qualifications.”  If as a society we are genuinely committed to achieving a high skills, high knowledge workforce that can meet current and future social and economic demands, there must be a sustained and well-resourced commitment to life-long learning.

Related to this issue is the very real problem of how the sector will be supported and encouraged to ensure the replenishment of its own workforce.”  The sector as a whole faces the prospect of serious staffing shortages amongst academics, as our own workforce ages and the gap in pay and conditions for staff in the sector widens in comparison to their counterparts in Australia and other OECD countries.”  Within the university sector, planning is underway with the inception of the “Academic workforce planning – towards 2020” collaborative project, involving all eight universities.”  However the issue is not just confined to the university sector, and we urge government and the relevant agencies and ministries to engage with this issue as a matter of priority.

Our specific concerns relating to how the priorities identified in the draft strategy will be achieved include:

1. Targeting priority groups – younger learners

Will a focus on moving young people into tertiary education be at the expense of access for other demographics groups and funding associated with these groups? ” (Ref. “…may require government to re-examine the level of assistance for those people who have already been supported to undertake tertiary education.””  Pg 5). New Zealand still has a significant skills gap in many industries and professions, and lower levels of enrolment and achievement for some demographics at undergraduate degree level and above.”  We recognise the need to prioritise expenditure, and of course support a focus on younger learners, both entering tertiary education and attaining higher level qualifications.”  However we need to retain a focus on ensuring access for a broad cross-section of the population.”  Our concern is that in a capped enrolment environment, so-called ‘second-chance learners’ or those entering tertiary education as a mature student will have to compete for places with the priority group (i.e. young learners).”  This is likely to be particularly disadvantageous for women, Māori, and pacific people, potentially exacerbating gender and ethnic disparities already identified.

2. Targeting priority groups – adult learners

The following statement on page 6 of the draft strategy needs to be examined “For tertiary study to be effective for second-chance learners, the quality of teaching and learning needs to improve to raise completion rates.” Firstly we need to consider why the tertiary sector is still expected to take responsibility for poor educational outcomes that existed prior to the learner entering the tertiary sector – that is, why is the sector still being expected to address literacy and numeracy issues that should have been resolved in the compulsory sector?”  We also question what evidence exists in the tertiary sector that indicates teaching quality is an issue?

Furthermore, this statement presupposes that teaching quality is the primary factor in completion rates – certainly it is a critical element, however the issue is much more complex than one variable.”  Issues such as the individual learner’s life outside of the TEO, learner motivation, and the intention of the learner on enrolling (i.e. do they intend to complete a qualification or have they enrolled to complete specific papers/modules?) also impact on completion rates. ” A January 2008 summary paper on the Education Counts website notes that “…it should be recognised that there are many factors outside of the tertiary education system that will impact on outcomes, and that concepts of retention and completion are not always good markers of quality, and need to be read in the context of other indicators.”[1]

3. Improving system performance – quality assurance

The TEU supports systems that ensure accountability for funding and quality systems and programmes.”  We have concerns however about the publishing of what appear to be ‘league tables as described on pg 6-7 of the draft strategy (Ref “…the assessment of its educational performance and capability will be published…””  Pg 7). Our experience of the negative impact of this type of reporting in relation to research funding and assessment, and the experiences of the compulsory sector, lead us to conclude that little benefit is gained from publicising performance data.”  We also fear that if implemented such an approach would undermine the network of national and regional provision that has been established for the sector, and which needs to be maintained if we are to ensure coherent national tertiary education provision.

4. Improving system performance – responding to student and market signals

The TEU has concerns about making retention and completion rates available to the general public – as we noted above, the factors that contribute to positive outcomes in this area often go far beyond what TEOs have influence over.

Statements about linking funding and performance also raise concerns for the TEU.”  The problems associated with the PBRF model as a means of allocating research funding are myriad, and the lack of detail in this area of the strategy concerns us.

5. Improving system performance – support and encourage student performance

The draft strategy notes that government wishes to continue to encourage students to study full-time.”  However this commitment has yet to be supported by funding increases to student allowances; in many cases the major barrier to studying, either full-time or part-time is the lack of adequate financial support.”  No matter how much TEOs improve their pastoral and support processes, students still need the certainty of an adequate living allowance to make tertiary study a viable option for anyone other than the most advantaged groups.

Of course the TEU supports appropriate learning environments; how providers are expected to make further enhancements in a constrained funding environment is however unclear.”  This priority must be supported by appropriate levels of funding and support to staff in the form of professional development and fair and equitable workloads.

We wonder also at what point a provider is deemed to have satisfactory support systems in place, or are they expected to ‘continuously improve’ striving to attain an unspecified penultimate goal?

6. Continue to build international links

The TEU agrees that strong international linkages can improve the quality of teaching and research in this country, and that international student enrolments contribute to the diversity of the tertiary education environment.”  We would be concerned however if a focus on international student enrolments is at the expense of domestic student enrolments.”  (Ref “…review policy settings to ensure that international education can maximise its contribution to New Zealand’s economic performance.” Pg 8). We would also be concerned about a”  return to the practices of the recent past, where providers were permitted unfettered enrolments of international students as a revenue-collecting strategy, with consequent negative impacts on both international and domestic students.

7. Quality research/innovation

The PBRF model has been shown to have significant flaws which in our view outweigh any positive impacts it may have had on research outcomes.”  Our expectation is that this strategy will support a complete review of the PBRF post-2012.

The TEU of course supports public investment in high quality research that aids economic growth.”  We are concerned however that the emphasis in this part of the strategy is so strongly focused on linkages to industry.”  Research outcomes also have a direct impact on addressing social need, as well as having a critical role in advancing knowledge more generally, and in supporting quality teaching and learning.

8. Expectations of providers/students

The TEU is particularly concerned about the tenor of the statement in the strategy “To encourage efficient and high-quality provision, we propose to allow more competition within each sub-sector to enable successful providers to deliver to more students”.”  (Pg 9). There is no good evidence in the tertiary sector that an increase in competitiveness between institutions has enhanced outcomes.”  In fact there is much evidence to the contrary that rather than enhancing quality, such an approach leads to wastage of resources, fragmentation of the sector, and a lack of cohesion in educational delivery, as providers fight to obtain additional funding.

In regards to specific expectations of providers, in the university sector, we would like to see the role of teaching also emphasised.”  Teaching and research very much go ‘hand-in-hand’ and whilst this is implied in the statement “..enable a wide range of students to successfully complete degree and post-graduate qualifications…” explicitly highlighting it ensures a focus remains on this important part of a university’s role.

In the ITP sector, we would expect the strategy to be more explicit on the need for this part of the sector to not only work with industry, but to also retain its focus on provision that meets the needs of the regional community.”  This is after all a key point of differentiation from other providers in the sector.”  Additionally this section needs to highlight the core role of ITPs as providers of not only vocational and applied certificate and diploma-level programmes, but also undergraduate and post-graduate degrees.”  Many ITPs already provide high-quality and well respected undergraduate and post-graduate programmes, that are strongly linked to industry and communities.”  This important element of their provision must be retained if we are serious about addressing skills and qualification levels in this country.

For wānanga, we question why government is not expecting these institutions to also focus on research, as is indicated in their core roles.”  Expanding indigenous knowledge and research capacity must remain a focus for all TEOs, but in particular for wānanga, as insitutions set up to support mātauranga Māori and āhuatanga Māori.

We note that PTEs are expected to focus on providing specialised qualifications and training – does this mean the provision of their own qualifications?”  The strategy needs to be clearer about this, given the current focus on reducing the number of provider qualifications in favour of national qualifications.

Unless previous funding levels for adult and community education are restored, the TEU is unclear how this part of the sector will be able to meet government expectations.”  The case for retaining ACE funding has been well-publicised in a number of fora, however we would reiterate the importance of informal education settings as a means of providing entry to ongoing education, and of building skills in literacy and numeracy.

Conclusion

As we noted at the beginning of this submisison, the draft Tertiary Education Strategy has an overarching vision that the TEU is supportive of.”  However there are a number of other areas where detail is lacking, or where the direction indicated is of concern.”  Recent initiatives or policy decisions in relation to tertiary education give further weight to some of our concerns with the proposed strategy, such as government decisions around the Training Incentive Allowance, cuts to adult and community education, and to pathways programmes.

These actions seem to contradict the overall vision in this strategy – to get people into work by gaining qualifications, to ensure ongoing skills development so that individuals benefit from better employment opportunities and society benefits from a skilled and productive workforce, and to have a vibrant research culture contributing to social, environmental and economic challenges.

The TEU supports a well-funded, quality tertiary education sector that is able to effectively meet the diverse learning needs of our population.”  Our response to the current global financial crisis should be to prioritise greater investment in teaching, learning and research.”  Doing so will give New Zealand’s economy and society a ‘fighting chance’ to ride out the recession.”  It will also ensure that we have appropriately skilled and qualified people to meet current and future social and economic demands.”  Whilst we recognise that this draft strategy has been developed in a challenging economic environment, we urge government to reflect carefully on the degree to which we can afford to narrow the focus of tertiary education priorities, and where some of the methods for achieving these may lead us.


[1] www.educationcounts.govt.nz/indicators/education_and_learning_outcomes/qualifications/1895

Print Friendly