Following publication of the agreed statement from the Voices from Tertiary Education forum on the future of universities, Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, looks at the commonalities with the statement recently agreed by the vocational education and training sector.
Two forums, two sub-sectors, 150 education leaders, and one clear message – the way we share out the public’s money to tertiary education institutions isn’t working.
Pretending education is a market and knowledge is a commodity that people sell and buy, has failed students, communities, iwi, business, and staff according to leaders who participated in the Voices of the Sector Forums held this month.
It is easy to show the funding and regulatory model is not working, but can we find an alternative?
When it was proposed at a gathering of university students, staff, and senior leaders, that the leaders of the tertiary education sector sit around a table together to decide how to divide up the funds set aside for public tertiary education there was an audible gasp.
Such a simple idea, but we struggled with that simplicity.
Why? For a start we are so used to competing with each other for the scraps from the table, that we can’t imagine a world where truly working together is possible.
Working together means putting aside self-interest. It’s worth thinking about that a bit deeper.
My first year social policy class spends time discussing models of redistribution – how to cut up and share a cake fairly.
Drawing on John Rawls’ Theory of Justice we talk about that fact that if you don’t know which piece of the cake you are getting you would divide it evenly. If I do know what piece of cake I’m getting (and I really like cake) I’ll make sure my piece is bigger?
Is it possible in real terms to push past self-interest and work out a fair division of the cake?
We may even decide that the fairest outcome is to cut the cake unevenly because some students and communities need more than others.
This type of decision will never happen if we leave it to the market. We will need to work together to design it. And there are many examples around the world of groups working together to share resources more fairly.
In Europe and the USA, communities are using participatory budgeting to identify community needs, working with elected officials to craft budget proposals, and to vote on where and how to spend public funds.
If whole communities with diverse and complex needs can work together to work out what they want delivered, surely we can work out a funding model for tertiary education that enables the sector to meet the needs of students, whanau, communities, iwi, and business.
Perhaps it’s about developing an investment strategy not for an individual tertiary education institution but for the sector as a whole. One that lasts say three years. One that looks at how we collectively meet the needs of the community, after all no single university, polytechnic, or wānanga is going to meet all of our needs.
We showed through the Voices from the Sector Forums that students, staff, chief executives, and vice-chancellors work well together, and come up with creative ideas for how to make sure our first class education system keeps delivering for all New Zealanders.
We will have to do this collaborative work over and over again. It’s not a single conversation, if what we have to deliver as an education sector is what participants in the forums wanted – socially adept, thinking, creative, skilled citizens and workers. It will take a whole village to deliver that.