Government seeks grand conversation on education reform

The government has announced its three-year education work programme for the first major reform of the entire education system since 1989.

It will include developing strategies to support strong research, changing the institute of technology and polytechnic subsector, and a long-term approach to fee-free tertiary education.

It will also involve work on the tertiary education strategy for 2019-24 and the international education strategy, which is being launched in June.

The latter will aim to ensure international education is based on “high-quality education provision, robust immigration settings, and good outcomes for students, providers and New Zealand”.

The programme will include a full review of the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) and continuing support for tertiary education research collaboration through the ‘Centres of Research Excellence’ and encouragement of closer association between business and university commercialisation centres so that the benefits of research are shared.

Chris Hipkins, minister of education, says the programme is designed to change the education system to meet the needs of the 21st century and will “champion a high-quality public education system for all New Zealanders”.

The aim of the Labour and New Zealand First Coalition Agreement is to develop an enduring 30-year approach to education via “broad engagement and shared ownership”.

It will therefore include an education summit as the “key vehicle to refine and enable shared ownership of the government’s vision”, Hipkins said.

Clear objectives will be set out by the end of 2018.

Adapting to the modern world

The emphasis is on developing an inclusive system and one that can adapt to the needs of the modern world.

“Educators can often be heard asking how they can prepare learners today for a world we can’t yet imagine. The answer lies at least in part in equipping them with the attributes of resilience and adaptability,” Hipkins said in the programme’s vision statement.

“They will need to grow and change, be self-starting, innovative and creative, have great communication and interpersonal skills, and be prepared to work collaboratively as well as independently.

“This means not just ensuring people learn what they need but also ensuring they ‘learn to learn’ so they can have a secure future. While the specific skills they may require to perform particular employment tasks may change, those basic attributes will not.

“A focus on teaching people to learn from early childhood education through to tertiary is crucial for ensuring they are resilient and adaptable to changes in the future workforce.”

The statement acknowledges that in tertiary education there is a need for significant improvement to ensure that learners of all social, economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds or with disabilities are benefiting.

Hipkins envisages the education summit kicking off with a broad system strategic conversation about the value of education and the future challenges and opportunities in the education system. The conversations will act as “blue skies” thinking. The conversation will be extended through other channels, including online and via social media.

Universities New Zealand said the release of the details of the work programme comes at an important time “for a system under pressure from long-term decline in real per-student funding”.

Universities New Zealand Chair, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, said: “We agree with the government that the system isn’t currently serving students and New Zealand as a whole as well as it could be and doesn’t provide clear guidance and career planning for young people as they transition to adulthood.

“However, we are looking forward to working with the government to improve our education system, particularly around improving outcomes for Maori and Pasifika learners, improving the transition from school to the workforce, and the review of research funding and the PBRF system.

“If the government’s plan is to succeed, it must also commit to increased investment in the quality of teaching and research. Raising quality is the key to unlocking the potential of the whole system.”

The Tertiary Education Union welcomed the new programme and said it offers an opportunity to “end the crisis facing tertiary education”.

It said: “reforms introduced by the previous national government have wreaked havoc on the sector, forcing courses to close, jobs to be lost and essential campus services to be shut down”.

“The new work programme gives future students hope that they can develop skills, learn trades and create knowledge in a truly public tertiary education system that will empower them to fulfil their potential and lead good lives.”

Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, said there is a strong consensus on the major issues of importance for tertiary education and come the next election politicians “will be judged on whether this three-year plan has delivered genuine change for education”.

Universities underfunded

Universities New Zealand Executive Director Chris Whelan said for the country’s eight universities the most important issue continues to be that they are underfunded for the tuition they provide to students. New Zealand’s funding for universities lags behind the OECD average, and is on a par with countries such as Slovenia, Spain and Estonia.

“It is a tribute to our universities that they are all still ranked within the world’s top 500, delivering teaching and research that competes with countries like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, which all receive 30%-90% more funding per student."

He said in addition to the work programme, the government must increase its investment in New Zealand’s universities if it is to truly achieve the goals it has set for itself and avoid further erosion of a system that is stretched to its limit.

“We need this work programme to produce real action for the university sector and for New Zealand.”


They are going to need some pretty radical overhauls to be any good.

Christopher MacHurambe on the University World News Facebook page