Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

The Tertiary Education Advisory Commission (TEAC) Reforms

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

The Tertiary Education Advisory Commission (TEAC) Reforms

Article excerpt

In this article Bill English, New Zealand's Shadow Minister for Education, tells the story of New Zealand's tertiary education policy development over the past several years. His perspective comes from time in government and from time in opposition. He concludes with the lessons to be learnt, and his prognosis of the main issues to be confronted by that tertiary sector, in the years to come. The lessons to be learnt are just as valuable for the Australian sector as they are for New Zealand academicians.

In this article, Polytechnics are the equivalent of the old Colleges of Advanced Education in Australia, or roughly between the TAPE and university sectors. MMP (mixed member proportional) is the proportional system of electing the New Zealand Parliament. This system is similar to the method by which Australians elect their federal Senate. A Wananga is a tertiary institution set up by statute to focus on the educational needs of Maori.

This article is important for Australia because the Australian federal government is in the process of implementing policy that has been mailed in New Zealand for several years. The challenges and learnings from New Zealand are just as relevant to Australia as they are to New Zealand.

The New Zealand Government is setting out to produce a new Tertiary Education Strategy for 2007-2012. It promises to be a vigorous and contested discussion after two years of political controversy over tertiary education spending. Particular tertiary courses, such as 'Twilight Golf', featured on political billboards and in election campaign advertising. Such popular profile is unusual for tertiary education policy, and almost by definition trivialises the complexity of public policy on intellectual and human capital. So something must have gone badly wrong with policy on tertiary education to attract the attention of the wider population in a close election campaign. This is the story of what went wrong and why. New Zealand's experience since 2000 shows the hazards of translating the rhetoric of directing the tertiary education sector in the national interest into reality.

My view is a necessarily partisan view. I was a participant in, and sometimes a catalyst for the controversy that made tertiary education an election issue. In that role, I chose to highlight aspects of tertiary education policy that caught public attention rather than explain the many complexities that lie behind tertiary education policy.

These political activities were, however, informed by 20 years' experience of working in public policy in New Zealand. I was an official in the Treasury when the government of the day introduced demand-driven tertiary education funding as part of a major economic reform programme. During the 1990s, I was Minister of Health and then Minister of Finance, implementing or fixing more public policy reform.

I have a particular interest in what is possible in public policy. That last 15 years are littered with examples of expectations of public policy that were not met and promises not delivered. New Zealand's attempt to reshape tertiary policy is among those examples.

This paper argues that governments can try too hard to control too much of tertiary education. New Zealand's recent experience shows tertiary education policy should aim first to meet fundamental responsibilities of government, fiscal accountability, and quality control. These responsibilities embody obligations to taxpayers on the one hand and students on the other. Any taxpayer should be able to trust the government to account for the money it has spent. Any student should be able to rely on the minimum standards implied by public funding and accreditation of any course.

I conclude with a simpler model of oversight of the tertiary sector, focussing on these responsibilities to the exclusion of more refined but more costly and potentially unmanageable control mechanisms.

BACKGROUND TO THE TEAC REFORMS

New Zealand governments through the late 1980s and early 1990s carried out sweeping reforms of the economy with now well-documented social dislocations and sufficient political pressure such that the country opted to change the electoral system from 'first past the post' to the MMP proportional system in 1996. …

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