The TEU welcomes the final statement of National Education Learning Priorities (NELP) and the Tertiary Education Strategy, 2020-2025 (TES) released by the Government last Friday, 13 November.

Over the course of the consultation period, through workshops, council and national committee meetings and discussion documents, TEU pushed for a strategy that recognises the transformative power of tertiary education. This transformative power requires a strategy that is focused on the system as a whole and its interrelationship with all parts of society, the environment, and the economy.

With the release of the TES, TEU members will be pleased to see that the basic shift in direction that was evident in the draft statement has been embedded in the final iteration. This shift sees a move away from a narrow focus on commercial objectives, and toward a broader understanding of the wider societal impact of quality public tertiary education.

According to TEU Tumu Whakarae National President Michael Gilchrist,

‘It is important to recognise how far we have come from the strategy put in place by the previous government. That was focussed on making education - especially tertiary education - a tool for creating economic growth and supplying the needs of the labour market. Such a narrow, commercial view of education was never going to succeed, even on its own impoverished terms’. Gilchrist continued,

‘We now have a set of overall priorities and a strategy focussed on building a society in which all can flourish through access to the life-changing opportunities of education and in which social, economic and environmental well-being are all recognised and promoted’.

TEU is particularly pleased to see continued recognition of the importance of tikanga, mātauranga and te reo Māori in this final version, and the inclusion of a new element specifically addressing climate change – something the TEU has argued must be included, especially in the wake of the Government’s Zero Carbon Amendment Act in November last year. Tertiary education organisations are now required in the TES to ‘support relevant skills for New Zealand’s shift to a carbon neutral economy.’

Gilchrist says it’s important to note, however, that all of these commendable, high-level objectives included in the Strategy will mean nothing unless the Government is prepared to appropriately invest in tertiary education,

‘The Government must provide the funding needed to meet these objectives amidst changing demand and changing conditions in tertiary education. That is something that so far has been conspicuous by its absence. An appropriate funding response to the loss of international students, for example, is currently missing in action - and that is becoming an increasingly destructive factor in our tertiary education system’.