Public tertiary education

Posted By TEU on Nov 15, 2010 |

Tertiary education is part of our public/social infrastructure. It provides opportunities and education for all who are no longer in compulsory education. It also provides skills and education to support our economy and our communities. By investing in tertiary education we give our whole country opportunities, not just those who study. Tertiary education also provides opportunities for research development and critical thinking that contribute to our understanding of current issues and to finding solutions to future challenges.

As the Tertiary Education Strategy 2010-2015 notes, higher education levels have been linked to better general well-being, better health and greater social mobility. Tertiary-educated people are more involved in the community and are more likely to vote and stand for public office. Tertiary education promotes debate, democracy, culture and expression.

For Māori the opportunity to access tertiary education through a well-funded and accessible public system is one way by which individuals and their whānau, hapū and iwi can realise their development aspirations, as well as contribute to their communities, society and the economy.

1. Background

1.1. Our public tertiary education system has a long history in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is often something we cherish and respect, but also, due to its longevity, something we take for granted. However, public tertiary is not immune from pressures to undermine it. Government underfunding which shifts the cost of education from the public to those individuals who can afford it, competition with private education companies trying to deliver similar qualifications for a lower cost, institutions compartmentalising and commercialising individual parts of their work, all represent “rust around the edges” of a public tertiary education system that has served and continues to serve all New Zealanders well.

2. Introduction

2.1. Public tertiary education is a democratic tool that exposes us to new ideas, new people and new chances. Public tertiary education gives us hope and opportunities.

2.2. The TEU believes in a high quality accessible public tertiary education system that gives everyone a chance to learn and helps make our communities and economy strong.

2.3. Public tertiary education is a crucial pillar of our egalitarian democracy. It gives citizens opportunities. It helps bring social justice to our communities. It gives our economy real, sustainable economic strength. Through research and learning it expands our horizons and it connects our history to our future.

2.4. Historically Māori have been disproportionately negatively affected on a range of social and economic indicators. The public tertiary education system has demonstrated that it can respond to Māori aspirations, particularly through the growth of wānanga and an increased focus by public institutions on positive education outcomes for Māori learners. Maintaining a strong public tertiary education system provides a powerful vehicle for Māori social, cultural and economic development.

2.5. The TEU believes there are four key principles about tertiary education as a public good service:

i. We believe public tertiary education should provide opportunities for all people – especially those that may not otherwise access education.

ii. We believe public tertiary education should support community involvement, local democracy and public ownership of education providers.

iii. We believe public education should support all research, not just that in which businesses see short-term benefit.

iv. We believe there is a social good to public education. Education should not respond to market signals alone but also to the needs of communities, the environment and different cultures. Good public tertiary education should therefore allow for reflection and debate with others in a shared community of learning.

3. Four pillars of a good public tertiary education

3.1. Participation in tertiary education: If we are going to give ordinary New Zealanders a fair chance to learn the skills and attain the knowledge they need, we need to ensure that tertiary education in all our regions is accessible, affordable, and supportive. That means lower fees, more investment in our public tertiary education institutions, transparent, equitable admission and selection criteria and processes, and supportive grants that help families to get by while individuals take the chance to study.

3.2. Collaboration, not competition: Our public education system is something we all own and should care for together. We look after it for our children and future generations. That means we should invest in its longevity, not its short term profits. TEU believes we need a unified public tertiary education system that cooperates to help ordinary people get the education they need, rather than institutions competing to make a profit off students and their families. A commitment to public education means our tertiary education institutions should not have to battle over students, looking to grow profits, or privatising their public investments. Public tertiary education should be about learning, not running a business.

3.3. Research for all not for profit: The research that public tertiary institutions do opens new doors and challenges us to see the world from new perspectives. While research to support business and the economy is important it cannot be the only type of research we support publicly. We have a duty also to support researchers working in non-commercially applicable areas, in “blue skies” research, or even in research that might affect individual businesses negatively. Our research community also needs to reflect the diversity of our population, with strategies to improve the participation of under-represented groups working in a broad range of research fields.

3.4. Support for student learning: To meet the demand of increased student enrolments in our tertiary institutions, we need more staff to support them. Teachers need workloads that allow them to focus on quality student learning, not just getting by. As well, the professionalism of general staff needs to be supported through good career progression and remuneration structures.

As passed by Conference 9th November 2010

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