As part of the Voices from Tertiary Education project, Chris Whelan, Executive Director of Universities New Zealand, shares his views on what should be included in the Government’s 30 year strategy for education.
Voices from Tertiary Education was launched as a platform to share the perspectives of some of the thinkers participating in two forums the TEU is co-hosting in March.
Both the best and worst aspects of the current Tertiary Education Strategy (TES) are that it is very high level and not overly prescriptive. On the one hand it permits an appropriate level of innovation and differentiation by different tertiary education providers in response to changes in their operating environments.
On the other hand, it is very high level and doesn’t really say how the priorities can be achieved. It doesn’t systematically identify what is either currently impeding performance or what is likely to do so in future. It also doesn’t identify the funding and policy settings that would make the greatest difference in enabling the tertiary education to advance government objectives over the long-term.
A thirty-year strategy for education has potential to be beneficial – if it finds an appropriate path between being too high level or too prescriptive. My view is that it should encompass the following.
The strategy shouldn’t try to predict what either the world or New Zealand’s education system will look like in 10 or 30 years, but it should be built around a broad vision describing what New Zealand will need from our education system to maximise the likely benefits nationally, to individual learners, and their future employers.
The Labour Party’s Future of Work Commission provided some useful hooks and outlining the sort of benefits I would expect to see, including;
· Learners equipped for careers in industries and jobs facing continual change and disruption due to technological advances.
· An education system that ensures all young people receive the education, advice, and support necessary to fulfil their potential – particularly Māori and Pasifika.
· A university system that generates and transfers the knowledge that will help New Zealand and its people succeed in the face of global changes and challenges.
Under each strand, the strategy should consider what the system (government, education providers, students, employers, etc.) should be doing to best support the vision.
It should identify key impediments that exist to pursuing the vision and objectives in current legislation, funding, policy, organisational settings, and operational settings. For example, in the tertiary education system, the current student achievement component (SAC) funding system provides the same funding regardless of the quality or value added.
I hope there will be broad bi-partisan support for this long-term vision, to reduce the nagging concern of providers that it will be rolled back by some future government and to improve the odds that providers will get behind it and invest in it.
From there, the strategy should articulate a short and medium-term strategy around what government will do to systematically put in place all the elements to ensure the strategy will be implemented successfully. This should include any legislation, funding, policy, monitoring, measuring, and other operational settings.
It should also consider the current sub-sectors within the education system and what the vision and objectives mean for their ongoing role, mandate, and organization/configuration. For example, given the international nature of universities, New Zealand is unlikely to be successful in moving radically away from any model that doesn’t involve a focus on research and teaching, but there are opportunities to improve the quality and impact of research and the relevance and outcomes from teaching and qualifications. There are also opportunities to rethink how universities work with the school sector and other tertiary education sub-sectors to best support student success.
Three decades on from the 1988 Hawke Report and the last major reform of New Zealand’s education system, this thirty-year strategy is a great opportunity to really think about what New Zealand and New Zealanders need for the next three decades.