TEU submission on the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-2019

Posted By TEU on Nov 22, 2013 |


Submission of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa on the “Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-2019”

 15 November 2013

For further information please contact:

  • Jo Scott
  • Policy Analyst
  • Tertiary Education Union
  • Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa
  • Ph: 04-801-4796
  • Cell: 021-844-526
  • Email: jo.scott@teu.ac.nz

Introduction

The New Zealand Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa is the largest tertiary education 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, and rural education activities programmes (REAPs).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 Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-2019.

General comments on the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy

The TEU recognises that the purpose of the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-2019 is to set broad strategic priorities for the sector, and as such assumes ‘business as usual’ for many parts of the sector not directly referred to in the document.  However, the language within the strategy sends a strong message to the sector – that economic outcomes take priority over any other outcomes for the sector, that global competitiveness takes priority over meeting local needs, and that the primary purpose of research is to benefit business and industry.  It is a strategy that emphasises the individual – there is little recognition of the broader social contract to which the tertiary education sector is party to:

It is a passport to success for individuals in our society, and supports wider economic growth and prosperity as skilled people are essential to the success of businesses and other organisations.

Indeed, reading this draft strategy, one would think that the tertiary education sector belonged to the Government and business/industry, rather than to the public who fund it.

It would be naïve to think that the messages and language used in the draft strategy would not affect decisions such as what programmes will be taught, especially given the overriding emphasis on economic returns for the sector, economic outcomes for learning, and the need to maintain a competitive edge – both locally and internationally.  This focus on economic outcomes is increasingly affecting the range and diversity of provision in the sector.  The TEU sees this impact on a daily basis, with constant reviews and restructuring of qualifications, courses and programmes, programme closures, and staff redundancies.

We are also concerned about the emphasis placed on certain disciplines within the sector.  Without careful analysis and balancing of priorities, this is likely to lead to over-supply – as previous experience has demonstrated.  The sector needs to be able to respond to unexpected events such as the Canterbury rebuild.  However we achieve the ability to respond to social, economic and environmental needs best by retaining broad and diverse provision, rather than attempting to predict which industries and professions will be in demand at any one time.

This draft strategy transforms universities – from their legislated role as critic and conscience, to ‘knowledge factories’ tightly aligned with industry, producing workers and research for industry.  Their role in producing graduates who can critique, innovate and creatively explore current and future issues will be further limited by this strategy, because it proposes a direction for the sector and for universities that will significantly impact on all these important functions.

The draft strategy has little in the way of new directions or initiatives.  Overall, is very light on detail, and leaves significant gaps in terms of priorities for the sector.  For example, we are concerned about the absence of any strategic priority in relation to women’s participation, both in the priority areas the draft strategy identifies, and more broadly across the sector.

Access and participation for Māori is well-articulated, and the draft strategy refers the sector to key documents such as Ka Hikitia and Tau Mai te Reo.  However when these strategies are placed in the context of the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy as a whole, and policy and funding decisions recently implemented, it becomes more difficult to see how the strategy will work effectively with other strategies, with iwi and Māori organisations , and for individual Māori learners.

Improving the skills and knowledge of those participating in or entering the workforce is of course an important focus for tertiary education.  However, this draft strategy also seeks to entrench the belief that government can and should set the direction for research priorities, can and should decide course and programme priorities for the sector, and can and should have control of governance for the sector.  All of these assumptions ignore the taxpayer and community contribution to and ownership of the tertiary education sector.  Tertiary education institutions exist for their communities – business and industry are part of these communities – but there are many more parts that also need the skills, knowledge and contributions of tertiary-educated citizens.

Response to consultation questions

  1. Do you agree with the proposed long-term focus areas of the tertiary education system?

Build international relationships that contribute to improved competitiveness

The TEU supports building international relationships in the tertiary education sector, for the purpose of strengthening collegiality and collaboration, sharing knowledge and understanding and providing opportunities for staff and students from around the globe to participate in and contribute to tertiary education in a New Zealand context.  However we are concerned that the major emphasis for this focus area is developing international relationships for the sole purpose of revenue generation.

We recognise that the inclusion of staff from the international community is a valuable means of ensuring that tertiary education in this country remains connected to the global community and relevant to both the New Zealand and international contexts.  While we acknowledge that the participation of international students in our tertiary education sector enriches our institutions and those who participate in them, we are unclear in what way international student enrolments directly improves teaching, learning and research.  Our members report that while there is no doubt that the presence of international students is of benefit to the community of teaching and learning, within classrooms the additional demands (such as English as a second language and pastoral support) place pressure on staff, and are often unrecognised in workload allocations and funding to support teaching and learning.  This workload impact needs much greater recognition, with the provision of additional funding and support to staff and students, and to address increased staff: student ratios.

While the Education Act 1989 refers to international competitiveness as one objective for tertiary education, it is a small part of a much more comprehensive list.  This list includes: fostering high quality learning and research outcomes; equity of access, and innovation; contributing to the intellectual and cultural life of New Zealand; responding to the needs of learners, stakeholders and the nation to ensure a skilled and knowledgeable population; contributing to the sustainable economic and social development of the nation; strengthening our knowledge base and research capability; and providing a diversity of teaching and research ((Education Act 1989 Sec.159.  Retrieved from  http://legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1989/0080/latest/DLM182902.html)).

Our tertiary education sector is the place where we share and expand upon knowledge – through teaching, learning, research and other activities.  We do not believe it is necessary to join the global race to compete for rankings, for prestige, and for students.  The kind of competitiveness implicit in this focus area is not the quest for new knowledge and a deeper understanding of the myriad of issues that face us as a nation and planet, for the sake of bettering the lot for humanity and for our environment.  Rather it is a model of competitiveness that risks pushing our society and economy deeper into the kind of decision-making that led us as a global community to catastrophes such as the Global Financial Crisis.

A better long-term focus for the sector would be “Build international relationships that contribute to social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing.”

Support business and innovation through development of relevant skills and research

Tertiary education should support business and innovation through relevant skills and research.  Ensuring current and future participants in the workforce are able to contribute their skills, knowledge and expertise is a vital part of the work of the tertiary education sector.

However missing from this focus area is recognition of the needs of the many other parts of New Zealand society that also require skilled, knowledgeable and innovative workers.  Social services, health, education, community organisations, iwi and hapū have an equal if not greater need to have confidence that the tertiary education sector is able to respond to their needs.

We would propose re-writing this focus area as follows: “Support communities, business and innovation through development of relevant skills and research.”

Improve outcomes for all

Our tertiary education sector has responsibility for providing a range of teaching and learning environments by offering qualifications across the spectrum of subjects and disciplines.  The Education Act 1989 also requires that the sector ensure equity of access for those wishing to participate in the sector.

Whilst the focus area is laudable, it is difficult to see how we will achieve equity of access and improved outcomes, given recent policy decisions limiting financial support and access for some members of our society.  The levels of student financial support currently available raise questions about the extent to which (for example) students whose family background is one of generational unemployment and low incomes would be able to access tertiary education without incurring a very significant debt.  Therefore success in this focus area is limited from the outset because of the mismatch between it and policies such as those relating to student financial support.

As a country we have seen a steady increase in overall levels of qualification (although disparity still exists between Māori and Pasifika compared to the rest of the population), but no corresponding increases in productivity.  This is a complex issue to address, but a significant means towards doing so would be the development of a strong leadership framework that includes government, unions, industry and social organisations (we find examples of such tripartite arrangements in Germany and other countries).

Continue to improve the quality and relevance of tertiary education and research

The TEU supports goals of improving teaching and research quality, however as the Ministry of Education will be vey aware, we have consistently questioned the appropriateness of performance models such as the Performance Based Research Fund as the mechanism for achieving this ((Tertiary Education Union. October 2013. ‘Why the PBRF needs to go’. Position paper.)).

The broader issue of relevance is much more complex.  This focus area suggests that there may be some mechanism for identifying accurately and consistently what society may need at any one time, in terms of provision of courses, programmes and research.  While there may be occasions where clearly identifiable needs arise that we must address (such as skills requirements for the Christchurch rebuild), we must maintain a broad base of provision in the sector.  Attempting to predict need or identify relevance runs the risk of short-term responses, skills shortages in other areas, and a level of government ‘steering’ of the tertiary education system that runs counter to the principles of academic freedom and autonomy described in legislation.  An increased focus on the economic or commercialisable means we risk ignoring important social, cultural, and environmental requirements for knowledge generation and scholarship ((Bhaskaran, N., W. Smart, and Roger Smyth (2007) ‘How Does Investment in Tertiary Education Improve Outcomes for New Zealanders?’, Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 31(July):195-217.)).

In order to respond to our increasingly complex society and economy, it is vital that our tertiary education institutions and staff retain the autonomy to make decisions about what courses and programmes they will offer and what research they will undertake.  Of course, such decision-making needs to take place in the context of community, industry, national and international need, but those that have expertise in education and educational decision-making must be trusted to set the appropriate course for their institution and their communities.

  1. Do you think tertiary education should have any additional or different focus areas?

We are concerned at the increasingly narrow economic focus for the tertiary education sector.  This affects every part of the sector and every level of institutions.  Tertiary education has an important role to play in economic transformation – for individuals and for society.  However the message this draft strategy conveys is that this is the primary focus for the sector, ignoring the many other roles and functions for the sector.  The draft strategy also lacks detail regarding how other strategies – both in tertiary education, and beyond (compulsory education, social development and so forth) will interact with it.

Some of the obvious gaps in focus areas include:

  1. The need to have an identifiable strategy for addressing access and participation for low socio-economic groups.
  1. The role of communities and organisations other than business and industry in providing input into the shape of the sector.
  1. Detail about how we will address women’s participation in sectors and industries where their participation is low
  1. An articulated strategy emphasising the importance of lifelong learning.

We need to address these areas, to ensure the strategy addresses all roles and responsibilities for tertiary education.

  1. The draft TES proposes six priorities.  Please indicate whether you agree with having these as priorities and indicate if you believe these will effectively drive change.  Please comment on how these priorities could be improved.

Delivering skills for industry

The TEU supports the need to ensure that the tertiary education sector is working to ensure its graduates can contribute to economic stability and development.  However, we could strengthen this focus area recognising that ‘industry’ is much broader than simply meeting employer needs.  The concept of ‘industry’ should include those working within businesses and industry, unions and of course institutions and ITOs.

The focus area also notes an indicator of success that ‘There are better employment outcomes for graduates’.  This touches on but does not solve a widespread problem in our economy – low wages coupled with low-level qualifications and low productivity.  Unfortunately, proposed changes to employment legislation are likely to exacerbate the problem of low wages, even if the tertiary education sector is able to continue lifting achievement levels among graduates.

In this focus area, we should highlight the importance of ensuring a broad base to skill and knowledge development, and the value of lifelong learning.  Doing so ensures that those working within industry have the flexibility to adapt to changing need, leading to a stronger and more responsive workforce.

This focus area makes no mention of skills leadership and lifelong learning in the sector.  The work that was undertaken on a Skills Strategy some years ago was a good start – we need to resume this.

Getting at-risk young people into a career

There is no doubt that addressing low-wage, and low-skill among young people must continue to be a priority for tertiary education.  However, this focus area lacks any detail on new initiatives that might contribute to the goal.  Outside the sector, there appears to be no legislative or government will to address important factors such as lifting the minimum wage, by accepting the Living Wage campaign premises.  Diminishing levels of student financial support also create a huge barrier to participation for these young people.  Also lacking in this focus area is any detail on how this priority links to the compulsory sector.

Boosting achievement of Māori and Pasifika

We note that Ka Hikitia and Tau Mai te Reo provide more detail regarding the steps to supporting Māori participation and achievement.  However, we believe this priority area should emphasise the need to support all staff to ensure they have the capacity to respond to Māori learner needs.  The priority area would also benefit from recognition of the need to focus on employment of Māori staff in all spheres of the sector as an important element in Māori learner participation and achievement.

We are pleased that the draft strategy has highlighted the responsibilities of the sector in terms of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (page 20).  We could enmhance this point with a clear statement that emphasises tertiary education institutions’ responsibilities in relation to governance, and the appointment of Māori staff at all levels of institutions.

We note the conflation of Māori and Pasifika achievement into one focus area.  Given the position of Māori as tangata whenua, we would ask that this focus area be separated, recognising the unique positions of each within the sector and in our society.

Improving adult literacy and numeracy

We assume that the bullet points at the end of this section signal new initiatives for adult literacy and numeracy, which we welcome.

We note the success of the CTU Learning Representatives programme in supporting workplace learning overall and workplace literacy and numeracy specifically.  We suggest that funding be restored to this very successful programme as an additional mechanism for supporting workplace adult literacy and numeracy.  The loss of funding to Adult and Community Education needs to be noted here also – this sector plays an important role in supporting adult literacy and numeracy, and restoration of funding would enable ACE to conitnue this work.

Strengthening research-based institutions

This priority loses sight of the legislated role of critic and conscience of universities and other tertiary education institutions involved in research.  It also appears to override principles of academic freedom also contained in the Education Act 1989.  For example:

The Government is reshaping science and innovation funding to focus more on business-led research and areas of priority (page 15).

Our public tertiary education system must preserve a broad base of research, inquiry, investigation, and scholarship, as well as the capacity to investigate and challenge the decisions and actions of all sectors of our society (including those who generate knowledge, as well as business and political leaders).  It must allow for research opportunities and development, as well as critical thinking which reflects the diversity of our society. It must address current issues by allowing imaginative explorations of our whole society and our global community. A world fraught with problems needs the collaborative intellect of all to find solutions. Therefore, we should not permit government and/or industry to decide where research priorities for the tertiary education sector lie.  This draft strategy proposes a level of government, business and industry involvement in setting the direction of research that risks academic freedom and the exercising of the role of critic and conscience, which is so crucial to research, inquiry and scholarship.

Growing international linkages

We think that a clearer and more honest description of this focus area would be “Growing international revenue”.

This focus area is not about enhancing the community of tertiary education through strategic relationships that will support quality teaching, learning and research.  Rather it highlights the increasing attempts to re-shape the tertiary education sector into a business, with international students seen primarily as revenue for the sector.  The increased focus on generating revenue from international student enrolments also allows the Government over time to move away from its responsibilities to allocate an adequate amount of taxpayer money to publicly-owned institutions in the sector.

This focus area makes no mention of the importance of growing international linkages for reasons such as social cohesion, and cultural and environmental benefit.  We do not support this as a major focus area for the tertiary education sector, unless it is re-framed with a primary focus on developing strategic relationships for the purposes of enhancing and sharing knowledge.

  1. Do you think tertiary education should have any additional or different priorities?

Section 159 AA (2) of the Education Act (describing the elements required in the Tertiary Education Strategy) states that the strategy must address the following: economic goals; social goals; environmental goals; and the development aspirations of Māori and other population groups.

The draft strategy has comprehensively addressed the first requirement, but largely ignored the other requirements.  As we noted previously in this submission, we recognise that the strategy outlines a broad statement of priorities, and that there are many other areas that will continue the work already begun.  However when priorities are identifed in a strategy such as this, it generally also affects funding decisions.  The narrow economic focus and narrowing of priorities for the sector will inevitably mean parts of the sector that do not fall neatly within an ‘economic outcomes’ model will end up pushed to the edges when the time comes for funding decisions to be made.

The tertiary education sector is more than an economic unit delivering skills and knowledge for business and industry.  It must respond to the needs and aspirations of the communities, businesses and organisations within which institutions reside; it must forge international connections that strengthen teaching, learning and research, and it must contribute to social and civil life, by supporting individuals and communities to reach their potential.

The draft strategy needs to address comprehensively the other requirements of the legislation, and include additional priorities that focus on the sector’s responsibilities to our communities and environment, that ensure we retain a broad base for teaching, learning and research, and that we prioritise lifelong learning.  In addition, the strategy needs to make clear connections with other strategies, such as those relating to gender equity, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, low-income whānau/families and so forth.  A greater focus on social goals other than purely economic ones will enhance the effectiveness of the strategy and the sector.

In the system expectation’s section, the TES outlines roles/expectations for tertiary education organisations, providers, industry and students.  Are these correct?  If not, in your opinion, how could these roles and expectations be defined?

The three areas that the Government is seeking further improvements from – access, achievement and participation – are fundamental measures for assessing the contribution the tertiary education sector makes to our society, communities, and economy.  However, as we have noted in other parts of this submission, a number of the focus areas and priorities are likely to inhibit this progress.  We need to address these if the strategy and the sector are to meet the full range of requirements and expectations for tertiary education.

Do you have any other comments on the draft TES?

A vibrant tertiary education system serves all individuals, equipping them for active participation in society, and allowing society to benefit from the strength and vitality of this involvement.  In the words of the Tertiary Education Commission, in the Briefing to the Incoming Minister of Education, education must be ‘…positive for the learner and meet the needs of the relevant part of the wider community’ ((Tertiary Education Commission (2005) ‘Briefing to the Incoming Minister: Post Election 2005’, National Office, Wellington, October.)).

Our tertiary education system must be able to deliver the appropriate range of tertiary education opportunities building on the skill, aptitude and knowledge levels of students in all regions and communities. It must provide a vibrant network of institutions to ensure that all individuals can participate in tertiary education. During the course of their study, students must be able to see, understand and experience their culture and world-view, reflected through a range of modes of learning, research and practice.

This draft strategy has focused too much on economic outcomes for the sector, at the expense of the many other important outcomes to which tertiary education contributes.  We must addressed these if we are to have a Tertiary Education Strategy that is truly inclusive, and that is able to support all parts of our society and economy.

References

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