Preparing Tertiary Education For The Future

Nick Smith Education

The Government will set up the Higher Learning Sector Taskforce to map a strategic vision for our tertiary education sector, Minister for Tertiary Education Max Bradford said today.

He also announced a second Enterprise Education Taskforce would be established to determine ways to increase industry training and build closer links between employers and teriary education providers.

Mr Bradford said the Higher Learning Sector Taskforce would revisit aspects of the Tertiary White Paper and develop a widely accepted strategic vision for the future of the tertiary sector.

The quality assurance and governance proposals in the white paper would proceed as planned, but feedback from the 5 Steps Ahead forums held around the country had highlighted the need to place tertiary education decisions into a wider context, he said.

"For example, the forums highlighted the need for a more strategic approach to research in the tertiary sector, Crown Research Institutes and the business sector.

"Questions were raised as to how the relationships between tertiary providers and employers could be strengthened and how students could be encouraged to undertake study in areas that are important to the future economic and social development of New Zealand.

"Secondly, feedback in response to the White Paper raised broader questions about the nature of the relationship between the Crown and tertiary providers. The Government thinks these should be addressed," Mr Bradford said.

The Higher Learning Sector Taskforce will consist of 5-6 highly capable individuals, supported by the Ministry of Education and other Government departments.

It will consult widely and consider issues relating to:

  • Tertiary sector responsiveness,
  • The appropriate structure of universities and polytechnics needed to get a world class tertiary sector, including the role of research and teaching universities,
  • The appropriate research funding structures for the tertiary sector,
  • The role and relationship between institutions and the Government,
  • Current funding and ownership structures,
  • Relationships with key sectors and stakeholders, e.g Maori.

The Taskforce will report to the Government by June 30, 2000.

Mr Bradford said the Enterprise Education Taskforce would also report to the Government by June 30, 2000.

"The Government aims to build the capability of our workforce. We will refocus enterprise education to make sure it meets the needs of industry.

"In future, New Zealanders will need to constantly upgrade their skills. And while the responsibility for skills development rests with both employers and employees, the Taskforce will consider the best way for the Government to assist," he said.

The Taskforce will determine the most effective and efficient way of:

  • Building a learning culture across all New Zealand business enterprises,
  • Improving the responsiveness of all tertiary education providers to enterprise education needs,
  • Ensuring employers and employees have access to the training they need,
  • Encouraging employers to invest in staff training.

Mr Bradford indicated that he would be consulting on the draft terms of reference and membership of the Taskforces and secretariats before the Government made final decisions and announcements.


Q. Why were the decisions on the White Paper put on hold?

    Two reasons:
    • First, the feedback from the twenty-five 5 Steps Ahead forums conducted by the Ministerial Enterprise and Innovation team highlighted the need to place the tertiary education decisions into a wider context.

      For example, the business forums highlighted the need for a more strategic approach to the Government funded and supported research efforts across the tertiary sector, Crown Research Institutes and the business sector.

      They raised questions as to how the relationships between tertiary providers and employers could be strengthened in order to encourage students to undertake study or research in areas that are important to the future economic and social development of New Zealand.

    • Second, feedback from the sector in response to the White Paper raised a number of broader questions about the nature of the relationship between the Crown and tertiary providers that the Government thinks should be addressed.

      For example, as an alternative to introducing a capital charge and Statements of Intent, a number of people in the sector - notably from Universities - have suggested a need to settle the ownership relationship that should exist between tertiary education institutions and the Government.

Q. What does the Government intend to do now in terms of tertiary policy?

    In terms of quality assurance the Government remains comfortable with the proposals in the White Paper. The Government still intends to proceed with the establishment of the Quality Assurance Authority of New Zealand, but is willing to have this considered by the Taskforce. It is important to have a small Crown agency tasked with providing overall assurance about quality standards and practices across all the tertiary providers who access student subsidies. The Qualifications White Paper will be released in September/October.

    In terms of governance, the Government is also comfortable with the proposals in the White Paper. The Government sees it as important that Councils have a range of skills and focus that gives priority to their key role in setting strategic direction, monitoring performance and ensuring that education quality and financial management meets the highest standards possible. It is important that legislation makes clear that the primary duty of a council member is to the long-term educational and financial performance of the institution.

    In terms of research, the Government intends to undertake a wider review that not only looks at the allocation of Vote: Education funded research, but also that provided through Vote: Research Science & Technology and the work of Crown Research Institutes. The intention of this review is to ensure that New Zealand as a whole gets the best value from this funding.

Q. When will the legislation supporting the Tertiary Education Review policies be introduced into Parliament?

    The Education (Tertiary Reform) Amendment Bill will not be introduced this term of Parliament. A decision on the timing of introduction will be made early next year once the Taskforce is under way and has completed its initial scoping. It is intended that the majority of legislation will be in place for implementation by 1 January 2001.

Q. What is the main purpose of the Taskforce?

    It is about finding the best way to manage the future evolution of a sector that is absolutely vital to the future of this country and to clarify what the relative responsibilities of the Government and providers are in doing this.

    The tertiary sector faces a number of complex challenges.

    Government wants the tertiary sector to develop stronger relationships and alliances with key sectors and groups within New Zealand and internationally. The Government is looking for a range of providers to develop centres of excellence in different disciplines rather than dilute expertise through excessive competition with each other.

    The Government wants to see high quality relationships develop between tertiary providers, enterprise and Crown Research Institutes, between tertiary providers and Maori, and between tertiary providers and other sectors of New Zealand so that new ideas and knowledge can best be used to increase the economic wealth and social wellbeing of New Zealand.

    Individual providers will need to make complex decisions about their future research capability. Many will look to forge new relationships with overseas providers, with CRIs and with enterprises. A number are already developing commercial arms focused on turning research results into business opportunities. As a whole, the sector faces the potentially huge, but uncertain impact of technology and growing internationalisation.

    The Government at the present time influences the decisions of providers through its powers under the Education Act and its funding arrangements and the requirements it attaches to those arrangements.

    With so much at stake we cannot afford to go into the future uncertain as to the role and the relationship between individual providers and the Government.

    The Taskforce will have a key role in advising the Government on the most appropriate relationship in the light of the wider structural future of the tertiary sectors.

Q. You talk of a more sharply focussed and specialised tertiary sector in the future. How do you see this being brought about?

    Essentially, we face two broad choices.
    • We continue with many of the present arrangements and let the decisions of individual providers and students determine that future. The Government can shape those decisions by using its powers under the Education Act to allow or prevent mergers or to disestablish institutions. It can also use its funding and regulatory powers to influence those decisions, for example by deciding to fund some courses more generously than others, or by using the Public Good Science Fund to develop research capability in one provider but not another; OR

    • We can bring about change in a more managed, explicit and orderly way by working directly with all the providers.

      This is one of the reasons why it is so important to resolve the role and relationship between the Government and individual providers.

Q. Is this a move towards privatisation?

    No. The purpose is to clarify the role/relationship issues and to find ways in which the sector can be reshaped over time to best meet the long-term needs of institutions, government, students and the New Zealand public.

Q. Would you expect the Taskforce to recommend that all tertiary education institutions should conform to the same role and relationship with the Crown?

    No. A range of different options could be possible depending on the nature and preferences of individual institutions.

    What is important is that there is very clear accountability regarding the responsibilities for determining and approving strategic direction and major investment decisions; that there is the highest level assurance possible regarding both educational performance and financial accountability.

Q. How can this high-powered group of people be expected to resolve these issues?

    The Taskforce will be supported by a secretariat. This group will consist of individuals with a broad overview of educational, social, economic, and labour trends. They will be expected to develop a sound strategic vision for the sector rather than specific policy options.

    It is anticipated that more specialised groups may need to be formed to deal with issues that could arise out of the Taskforce's work. For example, work on changes to funding arrangements, or on alternative organisational forms (as suggested in the Tertiary Education Review White Paper) could be pursued through a Reference Group that reported back to the Taskforce.

Q. Who will the Taskforce consult?

    The Taskforce will be asked to take into account the range of views within the tertiary education sector and will have access to the responses from the general public to the Tertiary Education Review.

    The role of the Taskforce is to identify key elements of a broad strategy for managing the future of the tertiary sector and to identify the relative roles and responsibilities of Government and providers in achieving that strategy.

Q. What more will the Taskforce achieve when issues such as capital charge and improvements to governance and accountability arrangements have been researched and commented on since 1991?

    The Taskforce is not primarily about detailed arrangements for a capital charge or governance and accountability requirements. The focus is on the "big picture" for the tertiary sector and the strategic direction that will be required to ensure that the sector can fully respond to the dynamically changing drivers and pressures on it over the medium to long term. The capital charge may not have any place in the future, though this will depend on the nature of the ownership relationship between the Government and particular tertiary institutions.


Q. Does this mean that the industry training strategy is up for grabs?

    No, not necessarily. The industry training strategy seems to be working well. Since the passage of the Industry Training Act in 1992 the industry training sector has been characterised by rapid growth: from 15,000 trainees to almost 50,000. There are 52 Industry Training Organisations (ITOs), formal systematic training is occurring in a wider range of industries, occupations and skills, and is being delivered in a more diverse range of trainees.

    However, concern was expressed at the 5 Steps Ahead forums that there was room for improvement to meet longer term needs. Present industry training funding arrangements are complex and costly to administer, and employers need to be encouraged to invest in the human capability development of all their staff. Forum attendees were unsure whether enterprises were adequately investing in education, and whether the quality of that investment was of a sufficient standard. The Government needs to address any gaps in the coverage of enterprise education and to encourage ITOs to be more responsive to employer and trainee needs.

Q. Does this mean that the Government will be spending more money on enterprise education?

    The Government wants to be sure that it is using taxpayers' resources wisely by putting its effort in the right places, and in the right ways, to maximise the effectiveness of enterprise education. The review will provide advice to Government on how its resources can be allocated most efficiently. The Government currently spends around $60 million a year on industry training.

Q. How does this Taskforce relate to the Higher Learning Sector Taskforce on the structure of the sector?

    The structure of the sector review will be examining the formal provision of tertiary education. It aims to achieve a strategic vision for the structure and shape of the tertiary sector. Because the Enterprise Education Review is looking at the interface between formal and informal tertiary education, and the relationships between tertiary education institutions, employers and employees, the reviews are complementary. It is intended to have a degree of cross-membership on the Taskforces.

Q. How will the review of industry training benefit ordinary New Zealanders?

    Enterprise education is designed to benefit and be accessible to all New Zealanders engaged in paid work. Because of the rapid change in our working and living environments (for example, in computing and information technology), and because we are in an ever-changing international environment, we will need to update our skills and build on our learning throughout our lives.

    Government wants to make sure that the enterprise education system can meet the demands placed upon it, and the needs of a diverse range of all working New Zealanders.

Q. How will this review benefit Industry Training Organisations?

    The review intends to examine how the enterprise education policy and funding arrangements can be improved. This will benefit all those involved in the current industry training system. While the Government recognises the strengths of present arrangements, it is also aware of some weaknesses. Much has been learnt from the experiences of ITOs and Government expects to consult with them widely during the review process.