Our links to the community must not be lost

Posted By TEU on Aug 10, 2018 |

Helen Stewart MacKenzie, a teacher educator at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT), shares her thoughts on what’s currently working well at the institution as part of the Tertiary Education Commission’s (TEC) ITP Roadmap Project.

One of the most important successes we can point to at EIT is the work we have done to build  partnerships with the local community and the stakeholders that rely on us to ensure graduates have the skills we all need. Staff here at EIT work really hard to build and maintain these strong relationships, and as a result there is a deep trust between the institution and its stakeholders in the local community.

Our academic staff also have a great deal of expertise – and very impressive backgrounds – that help them to develop strong links with local industry and professions. EIT’s academic staff are not only incredible
teachers in their own right, but they are also expert in their particular fields. Of course, they bring this extensive expertise to their teaching, which our students benefit from enormously. Whatever recommendations the ITP Roadmap project makes, it is essential that we are able to maintain these links with our communities.

It is also important we maintain the fantastic working relationships we have between academic and support staff. For academics, it makes a big difference when, for example, we have an IT problem, that we can get that resolved by speaking with a colleague here at the institution – not by having to contact a remote call centre. One of the obvious benefits of being able to speak to someone within the institution is that they usually know exactly what needs to be done and they are familiar with our systems.

Our administrative staff here at EIT are amazing, as I am sure they are at most institutions. We have secretaries and technicians who are dedicated to each of our programmes and they know the students. In so many cases these committed colleagues are the face of our programmes and they help ensure students feel a sense of belonging during their time here.

EIT’s librarians and learning support team also make a really important contribution to the success of our students. It is really important the ITP Roadmap project recognises the vital role these support staff play in the success of our institution. It would be a shame if these people, our support staff, who have given so much, were to face an uncertain future as a result of any potential reorganisation of the sector.

EIT’s commitment to vocational training makes such a big difference to people’s lives. What shows up time and time again is the willingness of staff to go above and beyond the call of duty. No one becomes a great teacher if they don’t have a passion and enthusiasm – and we have many great teachers at EIT. Again, the ITP Roadmap must recognise the lengths all staff go to ensure students get the best possible learning experience.

Not only do we have good links with the local community, but we are also responsive to local need. Of course, we meet national standards and the requirements of professional organisations but our programmes are bespoke, and that brings meaning and value to what we do and to what our students
experience. Ensuring academics have the power to decide what works best for their local community is essential. It simply will not work if are going to start offering ‘off-the-shelf’ qualifications that have little regard for the unique needs of local communities.

Lastly, the ITP Roadmap must emphasise the strong connection institutions like ours has to its students. Speaking to staff from many areas, disciplines and programmes over the time I have been here I have seen and heard the same thing. It doesn’t matter how tired or disillusioned or frustrated we are, the reason we keep coming back is for the students and the amazing successes we see.

It’s obvious to think of student success as sitting firmly with graduation, but sometimes the biggest successes we see – the ones we relish most – are just having a student turn up regularly in class, or to pass their first assessment ever. For some, this is life changing and such successes can set them on a path that will bring huge benefits for them and their families. That’s success… and the knowledge we had a small role to play in them seeing themselves as worthy and someone who has something to contribute to our wider community… that’s priceless.

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