View from the conference floor

Posted By TEU on May 10, 2018 |


Fresh from a busy TEU conference last weekend, Lexie Matheson, an Academic Equity Leader and Senior Lecturer in Event Management at the Auckland University of Technology, shares her experience of what members got up to.

Everyone should go to Conference because there’s so much smiling. Well, there was this year. There’s more than smiling, of course, much more, but for me, this year, the smiling was very special.

There were highlights too, and lots of them. I’m hardly an old hand at TEU Conferences – this was my fourth – but I’ve been an active unionist since I joined NZEI Te Riu Roa as a student member in 1963 and I’ve been to plenty of others, but TEU 2018 has been the best by far.

There are a number of reasons for this but the overarching one for me was the sense of hope everyone seemed to have. It was as though we were emerging from a scary hole out into the light. TEU revealed that there is an emerging $6 billion underfunding hole that has left the sector reeling and many of us in doubt about just where tertiary education in Aotearoa is heading.

Engagement was at a standstill and the noble belief our public institutions fulfil a critic and conscience role to society seemed seriously under threat, if not gone altogether. We’d begun to feel powerless as the last National Government eviscerated everything many of us hold dear.

That context has changed. As Yeats would say, ‘utterly’, and yes, ‘a terrible beauty’ has been born. Hope can be just as frightening as the darkness.

Of course, we still have the Tertiary Education Commission. Chief Executive Tim Fowler made a visit to conference to speak to members from institutes of technology and polytechnics. I saw him but from a distance so didn’t have the opportunity to ask whether he saw the TEC as truly reflecting the diversity of the society that they have such influence over. I’d like to hope that the TEU makes this point loud and often until we see representative demographic change in the leadership of our public bodies.

In my view, nothing in contemporary Aotearoa can ever progress in a healthy way unless it is underpinned by the values of tika, pono and aroha, and the TEU seems to have got this right – at least for now.

The release of the Te Koeke Tiriti Framework aims to advance our Tiriti relationship and embedded in the framework are the ethical concepts and practical applications of ngā piki, ngā heke’, ‘awhi atu, awhi mai’ and ‘tātou tātou e’. I am immensely proud to belong to an organisation with these values because they are more than just aspirational. Words are cheap, this framework is not. Tihei Mauri Ora!

Over the decades I’ve seen some interesting Industrial Strategy documents but never one as unified and as powerfully significant as the one presented to delegates on day one of the conference. It’s an extraordinary work and will guide the organisation in the right direction for the foreseeable future.

The sense of Te Koeke Tiriti Framework and the Industrial Strategy working together has opened my heart and empowered me to keep going – and that’s no small thing.

The dinner was great – in fact the venue and services at the Brentwood were uniformly excellent – but the highlight was the speech by Education Minister Chris Hipkins. It feels as though he might do great things. He took responsibility for calling us inflexible. I went away happy feeling this minister will listen. Let’s hope he can whisk up some loot to plug the hole left by National.

Over breakfast on day two, Paul Eagle MP – who was there to represent Kelvin Davis – was great. I made the mistake of going to the men’s breakfast and, when I advertised my stupidity on my Facebook page, there was an interesting response that I hadn’t anticipated. ‘Why’, asked my friends, ‘was the TEU having gendered breakfasts?’ I now ask the same question. Isn’t this something we can do away with? Why not have two breakfasts and two speakers and we, as grownups, can choose which one we want to attend. Or maybe have only one?

A plug also for us queers. It feels time to include us in, and to facilitate the presentation of a Te Kahukura Report from the top table. It’s probable that we make up 15 per cent of the membership so maybe it’s time to get really real about our visibility. Maybe then that good old ‘ladies and gentlemen’ binary stuff can be put out to pasture and we gender diverse individuals can feel a bit more included.

So, I had a ball, on every level and I can’t wait to earn the right to do it again next year.

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