Graduation Ceremony

  • Bill English


E nga mana, e nga reo, tauira ma, rau rangatira ma, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

I would like to welcome you all here today - Dr Peter Rutland Chief Executive, Rotorua Mayor Grahame Hall, the graduates and your families.

It is a privilege to be here today - to congratulate you all for completing your degrees, diplomas or certificates. And I congratulate the Institute for its commitment to tertiary education. Last year 120 people graduated from Waiariki and I am pleased to see that there are 54 more graduating this year.

As I look at you I am encouraged at the how New Zealanders are embracing tertiary study. The future of tertiary education will determine the future of New Zealand. The country's ability to grow faster will come from increasing our intellectual knowledge base and to make it world class.

After all it has often been said "for knowledge itself is power." - a prophecy I too believe.

As you enter today's world there is only one thing that is certain - it is constantly changing. This century has seen more changes than any other. Take for example:

In 1876, it may seem unbelievable that, it was said: "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."

In 1943 IBM's chairman Thomas Watson said: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - an incredible statement considering IBM is now a leading international computer company.

And in 1977, Ken Olsen, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp, said: "There is no reason for any individuals to have a computer in home."

We need to take heed of these examples, think ahead and not be scared of change. If we don't New Zealand will lose its place in this rapidly changing world. The latest technology, medicine, teaching, art and design, forestry and every other area of education need to be embraced.

But I wish to point out to you that we are not about focusing only on people who can provide for the economy. That would make a very boring society. We are also about people being enriched by learning art or philosophy. Last weekend's Lakeside 99 is living testament to the richness of having a broad education system. Further more some of the key people in society are in the social and humanitarian areas, such as nursing, where this year we are celebrating the first nursing degree graduates to come out of Waiariki.

But we need to have a very clear focus on what our economic needs are while ensuring we don't lose sight of the things that contribute to the rich society that we live in.

This is why the Tertiary White Paper released last year emphasises the importance of the sector in improving New Zealand's competitive edge, economic growth, employment opportunities, productivity and, what we call 'social cohesion.'

I have two daughters about to go into tertiary education, so I have a real vested interest in it! I would hope that they can get quality education so they can get a job anywhere they want to live, be that here at in Rotorua, or elsewhere in New Zealand or overseas.

New Zealand standards in most cases are high. Our graduates have a good reputation overseas. This is encouraging but what is disturbing is how many of our highly educated people are being attracted forced overseas because there is little relevant work for them here. This is a huge waste of precious resources that could go a long way to help New Zealand's growth.

So what we need is a focus and a vision that will result in this country being a formidable force globally. How do we achieve this goal?

One way is through the Government's recently announced five-point plan, designed to help promote innovation in business and create internationally competitive products and services.

Point 1 of the plan specifically talks about lifting the skills of people, people like yourselves graduating today, in order to improve the country's intellectual knowledge base.

An example of how we may do this is by activating the link between the business sector, education sector and Research and Development. It is vital that Tertiary Institutions and Researchers know what to offer students so they can get jobs and help build New Zealand's skill base. The business sector shouldn't move on a parallel track to the education sector. Their paths need to cross so we train the people in the skills that we need.

Point 2 of the plan talks about the Government's effort in research and development needing better focus and direction.

To work towards this the Government has already initiated the Foresight Project to review the priorities for research, science and technology. The project looks at how the future should work so we can keep ahead of the game.

Also the Government has invested $100 million to Universities to help them carry out research. Overall $602 million is spent each year on Science research.

Some of research may be useful but not economically viable, but some research may result in the invention of the Century.

The returns from research may also take years. New technologies may require a long time to research and build up, but will eventually provide good pay back. Just look at Forest Research in Rotorua. It has a huge body of knowledge about the uses of radiata pine that has taken years to build up. But it can now be capitalised on quickly - showing the worth of a solid knowledge base.

The other points of the Government's five point plan aim towards cutting red tape, improving the way overseas companies can invest in our business capital and actively supporting successful businesses or sectors and promoting their success New Zealand can reach its potential.

Why should we settle for 2-3% economic growth when, I believe New Zealand's economy can grow 4-5%.

The Government's investment of an extra $155 million for tertiary tuition subsidies over the next 3 years is a significant boost to the sector and goes a long way to help this country reach such a goal.

The question is whether we are for example producing too many lawyers and accountants. In any case, the skills and professions that we are producing aren't weighted enough towards science and technology when our needs are knowledge based.

If 87% of the growth in the US economy this century can come from knowledge and technological change, then we should learn from that.

One of the leading technology institutes in the world, the MIT in the United States has the sort of focus I believe New Zealand's tertiary institutions need. MIT, based on key research recently completed has revealed the startling conclusion that "80 per cent of the systems, processes, services and products that today's five-year-olds will experience and use as adults have not yet been thought of."

This is a daunting challenge to prepare for it, for a future that will change at an even faster rate than we have been used to in the last 2 decades.

Again I congratulate you today on the completion of this leg of your lives. It takes tenacity and commitment to achieve a tertiary qualification.

And for my part as the new Minister for Tertiary Education I am strongly committed to the vision to make New Zealand the best place in the world to do business, and the best place in the world to live and prosper.