Monday, October 03, 2016

Productivity commission DRAFT report - New models of tertiary education

The draft report on New Models of Tertiary Learning was released last week. The report was commissioned by the NZ government to inform on a way forward.

The draft is 400 plus pages long and a call for submissions is on the draft due by end of November. The final publication is scheduled for February 2017.

Brief summary / overview of pertinent points, as per my own perspective / circumstances below:

The draft report finds the tertiary education system is not well-placed to respond to uncertain future trends and demands of diverse learners – page 2

Many complex reasons including high degree of central control stifling the ability of providers to innovate; fiscal pressure, political risks and quality concerns with prescriptive funding rules and regulatory requirements on providers. The current system is too supply-driven and providers respond to government rather than to student needs. Therefore reorientation required to be bring students back into the centre.

Some recommendations:

Competent institutions to self-accredit as cycles of review and accreditation are costly and focused on elements that are difficult to connect back to improving teaching / learning and enhancing innovation in the sector.
Break open the equivalent full time students (efts) funding model as it is too constrainted.
Allow unbundling of research and teaching – encouraging some institutes to be specialist teaching institutions
Performance linked funding discontinued - at the moment, there is an emphasis on course and qualification completions with emphasis on Maori / Pacifica completions.
More autonomy and responsibility to tertiary ed institutions - for those who have performed steadily without fiscal or academic challenges
Allow new entrants including - 
Offering internationally recognised ‘brand’ degrees eg Harvard etc
Aggregator models – already present TANZ, Metro etc
Promote student access and mobility i.e. pick and mix across providers
Better prepare students
Leading to empowered students and a more resilient system

Some implications:
Status of research at ITPs will require consideration. Many ITPs only do research to meet the degree requirements for staff teaching on degrees to be research active. Removing the requirement will see many ITPs elect to NOT do research. May lead to ITPs being seen as less 'academic' and more vocational - which they already are. Many ITPs are seen by students to be more student learning focused due to smaller class numbers and more emphasis on project-based learning.
Funding for modern apprenticeships as supported by ITPs may be discontinued as more funding did not equate to higher completion rates.

Overall, the media reported on the 'removal of interest for student loans' as the main feature and the Tertiary Teaching Union (TEU) felt the report did not go far enough

My 5 cents worth is in agreement with the TEU comments. I am not sure that the recommendations presented will actually lead to a shift towards a more innovative tertiary education sector. More autonomy and responsibility for institutions who are performing well is a good move. However, there are institutions (both public and private) who will still need some overview, in consideration of the institution's responsibilities to their students and the NZ tax payer. Parity of funding between formal and 'informal' post-school sectors is also something that requires discussion. Although there is always the 'who should pay for' argument as the outcomes of education are of benefit to individuals, employers / industries and the country / society at large. A 'voucher' system may work but in light of the 'future of work' requiring continued 're-training', the vouchers will need to be largish to cover the longer and more complex span of individual's work life. 

At the very least, the report does provide food for thought, focus conversations and provide a conduit for tertiary educators in NZ to contribute. The original report garnered a good range of submissions from across the sector. Due to the importance of the final report, similar activity to lodge submissions will now take place.

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