The momentum and need for a change in direction in tertiary education is felt every day in our community providers, polytechnics, universities, and wānanga.
Felt when we struggle to find a counsellor to help a suicidal student.
Felt when we see courses being cut at MIT, Whitireia, and WelTec.
Felt when general and professional staff at the University of Auckland are pushed to do more and more work, but not provided with fair and transparent pay scales. Our conditions of work are our students’ conditions of learning.
Felt when those running laboratories, workshops, lectures, tutorials, library services, and so much more, say their voices are ignored and marginalised, even though they are the specialists in tertiary education provision.
So we are breathing a sigh of relief (though only a little one) when we see the government’s draft Tertiary Education Strategy (TES).
TEU members have spent decades arguing for accessible, inclusive, and culturally appropriate tertiary education. And their lobbying, conversations with MPs and public servants, and actions on the streets have paid off. In the TES they are promising just this for students, whanau, iwi, and communities.
In short there are five system-wide changes proposed in the TES:
• The whole system will need to make learning spaces safe for all students as we put learners at the centre.
• Together as a country we’ll have to work out ways to make sure all financial and physical barriers to education are removed.
• At last there is recognition that more is needed from the system to let staff learn, grow, share best practice, and keep connected to our disciplines, professions, trades, and vocations.
• There’s the importance of ensuring learning approaches mean New Zealanders can face the challenges of an ever changing world of work.
• And, a system that recognises Māori learners and communities, and makes sure that we can respond to the needs of all learners.
So five system-wide changes. So why only a small sigh of relief rather than a celebratory cry without hesitation?
As Julie Douglas points out in her contribution to this special edition, ‘safe spaces’ are needed (racism, sexism, and homophobia do exist on all our campuses) and yet in this aspirational TES LGBTIQ+ communities are invisible. And they’re not the only ones who seem to be pushed a little to the margins.
We are with NZUSA, it’s time for ‘free education’. We must first acknowledge that our lack of commitment to invest in tertiary education properly as taxpayers means our family members, our communities, our iwi are missing out on transformational opportunities. The government is running a surplus, and in tertiary education courses are being cut and learners are missing out on the very thing that will change their lives – a good tertiary education. This must be turned around, and you’ll see that in Caitlin Barlow’s contribution to this edition.
Underfunding and poor management decisions have meant there has been a decade of actions focused on ‘improving efficiency’. This means getting all staff to do more with less. Once strong connections to communities, networks, and employers have been seen as ‘nice-to-haves’ and as a result squeezed into the spare time of staff. Dr. Heather Purdie reflects on quality teaching and leadership and the importance of well-resourced and supported staff and students, while the contributions from George Tongariro and Jill Milburn show you the importance of those local innovations and connections.
The fourth objective of the government must be much, much wider. Yes we want our learners to get what they need to move into the world of work and navigate around it. But we want them to contribute to solving the problems of our age; to debating and engaging in community and national political activities; and, to being great whanau members who encourage life-long learning in all around them. We want this reflected in the aspirations of the TES.
And we do have a world-class tertiary education system. Our universities rank in the top two percent of universities worldwide; our polytechnic students consistently win world skills games; and, our wānanga are the envy of many nations. Of course we want to always get better and better. But we need to start by ensuring that we stabilise our world class education system and then working together to improve the system for all learners and communities.
Oh and on the final point, where’s the research, scholarship, and innovation stream in the TES. I’ll leave John Egan to run through what’s needed on this score.
So Minister Chris Hipkins has been listening to the learners, communities, and staff and his team has delivered a TES that if adopted by all will do so much more. It’s just needing a little more strengthening to deliver a public good for all.
We can make sure it’s stronger. We can do this by speaking up once again. It is us, the tertiary education staff living in communities from Kaitaia to Invercargill and every place in between, that are connected to what our whanau, communities, and local industry and business needs to thrive.
Don’t sit back and watch others set the direction of tertiary education. Have your say!
Also in this update: