APNZ CONFERENCE - Making A Difference

  • Max Bradford
Enterprise and Commerce

War Memorial Centre Napier

Good morning.

In the coming weeks you are going to hear a lot about the issue of moving forwards or backward as the election date approaches.

But before the campaign formally begins in Auckland later today, I thought I¹d take this opportunity to briefly review where the polytechnic sector has come from and what lies ahead.

I know that some of you have regarded the last decade and the last two years in particular as a period of uncertainty.

I have read some of your members expect to look back on the 1990s as halcyon days.

In one respect I agree.

Yes, the polytechnic sector has faced tremendous change since 1990.

And yes, you have handled the challenges well.

But, I cannot agree with those of you who believe that polytechnics will not thrive.

Tackling the challenges of the future such as fluctuating enrolments will not be easy.

The last few years have shown that in the knowledge age the rate of change is increasing.

And will increase further.

In the global economy no-one country controls the rules of how the environment operates.

But what we can do is control how we respond and anticipate.

The National Party has a vision of a Bright Future for your sector, just as we do for New Zealand.

Indeed, the tertiary sector plays a crucial part in our Bright Future strategy for the foreseeable future.

This vision is grounded on a strong awareness of the way polytechnics have responded so far and the role you are playing in contributing to New Zealand¹s economic development.

But polytechnics must continue to innovate to ensure our tertiary education system is at the cutting edge of a number of key elements of the country's success:

It must continue to develop more productive and effective relationships with the enterprise and research sectors;

It must work even harder to ensure our people are equipped with the skills they and enterprises need to prosper with key emphasis on making a difference through excellence in standards and outcomes at all levels.

History shows you have already risen to many challenges in the changing environment.

During the 1990s the Government has moved to dramatically increase participation in tertiary education.

The cap on the funding of student places has been lifted.

More recently the Government has moved quickly to put in place policies that foster innovation and flexibility to ensure we can compete with our neighbours who are already ahead in building knowledge economies.

Polytechnics have responded on both fronts.

Student participation has more than doubled this decade and is now relatively high compared to OECD countries.

Approximately 70% of the increase in tertiary student numbers since 1990 has been women.

There has been a 60% growth in mature students (over 24 year olds), reflecting this improved access and the growing requirement for life-long learning.

In the year to August actual tertiary student enrolments are up 7% and government-funded tertiary student enrolments are up 12.6%.

Actual student enrolments at Wananga increased by nearly 45% in the year.

Colleges of education enrolments are up 9.1% and polytechnics up 4.5%.

Many new courses and qualifications have developed as polytechnics have adapted to the new conditions.

Increasingly polytechnics have focused on higher-level qualifications, leaving some 800 private providers to provide most of the targeted training programmes in New Zealand.

Along with colleges of education and wananga, your organizations are undertaking research and offering research-based programmes.

Those with growing roles are reaping the reward of an increase in funding.

The result is that students can now move more easily across sectors, with less rigid and artificial barriers and boundaries than in many other countries.

In the last year one polytechnic has successfully sought university status.

Another has merged with a university and a number of colleges of education have merged with universities.

Alliances are occurring between institutions in different sectors (e.g. Auckland University and Manakau Institute of Technology) and over some geographic distance.

Strategic alliances are taking a number of forms, including:

- different institutions combining to offer joint programmes;

- establishment of new entities, for example the Bay of PlentyPolytechnic and the University of Waikato establishing the Tauranga University College;

- partnerships - Aoraki Polytechnic with Ngai Tahu and Massey University with the NZ Rugby Football Union;

- joint ventures in research - Central Institute of Technology with Midland Health, Massey University with the NZ Dairy Board and NZ Dairy Research Institute;

- arrangements are also being made with international tertiaryproviders to offer programmes on their behalf, for example the Open Polytechnic and the Open University of Britain.

These developments have been a testament to your sector' ability to meet the challenges of the future head on.

But other countries are moving as fast or faster than we are.

There are huge opportunities for tertiary providers to develop even better programmes and stronger relationships with enterprise.

The key challenge now facing New Zealand as we approach the new millennium is to be able to adapt even more to meet future educational, economic and social needs.

The $223 million Bright Future package announced in August will help to prepare New Zealand to excel in the globalised world.

Very soon, I will be announcing the draft terms of reference for the Higher Learning Sector Taskforce and the Enterprise Education Taskforce for comment by the tertiary sector.

These taskforces will not only study the best structure of our tertiary sector for the knowledge age, but will also set the framework for our future educational success.

I urge you to make detailed submissions on how you believe the tertiary sector can best meet the needs of employers, employees and New Zealand as a whole.

In the new Century we need tertiary institutions that generate and better the best educational standards in the world.

Our success will be based on the skill of our people, co-operation, competition and excellence.

The Government will provide the framework, but it is largely up to you to determine your role for the future, with funding from the Government and the resources students are providing through their fees.

Greater accountability to your customers - your students - will be an important issue for the tertiary sector to manage.

The old trick of blaming the Government for under funding will not work in future, in part because funding from Government has been rising in recent years, but also because students are becoming increasingly aware of their contribution to the finances of universities and polytechs.

Change will continue and accelerate.

We cannot go forward by driving with our eyes fixed on the rear view mirror.

The polytechnic sector must be flexible as other sectors must.

Yes, there may need to be more mergers.

But that is up to your organisations and the communities of interest that you serve and -- may serve in future -- to decide.

Given the current diversity between polytechnics and the wide and diverse needs of their communities, it is almost going to be short-sighted to think there will be a single role for polytechnics in the new millennium.

I wish you well for an exciting, if uncertain future. But one advantage of uncertainty is that you can shape your own destinies much more than you could ever do in the past.

That is the challenge for you.

It is the challenge for all of us in New Zealand.