Speak // 13.06.2016 // Curated by Ed.

Tertiary Education in NZ: Time for Change

Tertiary education plays a key role in enabling our learners and young people to be everything they can be. This, in turn, powers our economy, reduces burdens on the State and makes this great country of ours generally a better place to live. Yes, the system and its institutions have served us all well for a long time.

However, the world has changed around us. Learners across the country are facing mounting debt, increased cost of living, challenging housing prospects, uncertain employment outcomes and even less certain employment futures in the face of technological advancements. The pace of change is accelerating – the recent employment of the first artificially intelligent lawyer being just one example of disruption that may alter the employment landscape for a profession previously perceived as untouchable by technology.

The Productivity Commission’s inquiry into new models of tertiary education is not before its time. The proud history of our institutions, their staff and their service to the nation should not stop us from asking hard questions about the future and whether what was great in the past is still great, and whether it will remain so.

Ed. Collective believes that a talented and connected New Zealand is one characterised by outstanding learning experiences and strong learner communities. We also believe that our communities of learners (in all their diversity) need to be engaged in shaping the future of higher education in this country. Along with others committed to learner voice, we have made a start.

As part of informing our submission, we tested some ideas for change by surveying nearly 2000 learners and interviewing students and employers. This work will continue as we seek to gather as many views as we can.

The ideas we have tested include:

  • Opening tertiary institutions year-round;
  • Integrating accreditation across institutions;
  • Recognising different types of learning;
  • Professional apprenticeships; and
  • Efficiencies and collaborative opportunities.

We have found learners and employers eager to discuss ideas for change and recommend further work is done on this.

We have also addressed many of the questions set out by the Commission in the Issues Paper for the inquiry. Some of what we have to say and share is quite critical of the status quo. We believe that a lot of the system is designed for the system, rather than learners.

This inquiry is an opportunity for the system to embrace the change and disruption occurring in education around the world. It can either choose to be part of that change and help shape it, or watch it happen. That may sound alarmist, but there are organisations with proud histories of dominating markets worldwide which no longer exist today because of a failure to evolve and adapt to modern realities.

While some of what is contained in this submission might come across as harsh, it is said out of respect and a desire to see our education system honour and continue that proud legacy of teaching, achievement and contribution to society. The way things are going, that is far from certain. It may be that changing what is in place is too hard and that something new will need to be established.

Either way, we think this is a useful conversation to be having.  Our full submission can be found here.