The essence of change is speed

There was always a problem in thinking that tertiary institutions could behave like oil companies and in the endless pursuit of selling their wares take each other on in the market place. On one side of the road there will a Shell service station, opposite that a Caltex and a little further down the road a BPO one. Market share is all.

The huge number of tertiary providers in Auckland – all the big players from throughout New Zealand seem to have a building in Queen St – seems to be evidence that something has gone well awry. The dollars spent marketing tertiary education as if it were a commodity raises doubts about the common sense of the directio in which things have gone. Perhaps the educations review had got rid of what the Treasury papers for the incoming Labour government in 1987 called “the slack in tertiary education” and simply replaced it with wastage of another kind. So it was inevitable that at some point someone had to take a look at tertiatry education and raise questions about much that was happening.

I should perhaps have said at the start of this post that I wrote the above in 2001 (NZ Education Review, “Last Page” Column). It was at that time that the Tertiary Education Advisory Group (TEAC) was busily reshaping the tertiary sector and were writing visionary reports – never mind the detail, sense the excitement. The reports, as I wrote at the time “were to tertiary education what Basil Spence’s table napkin was to public architecture!”

We were going to have “steering mechanisms,” and “improved policy instruments.” Institutions were to have “profiles” – an interesting word used in construction to mean the boundaries of a structure and to ensure all was fair and square. In general use it was akin perhaps to a “side-on view with not much detail” and “dark silhouettes, see the shape but not the detail. TEAC’s fourth report held for me the most important message.

Entitled “The Distictive Contributions of Tertiary Education Organisations” it spelt out out a range of options for Universities, Institutions of Technology and Polytechnics, Colleges of Education, Wananga, Private Tertiary Entities, Industry Training Organisations and Other Tertiary Proividers. Each was to have its place, contributing in a unique and complementary way to a rich and strong tertiary sector.

There need not be any surprise in the fact we in 2019 we are still trying to complete the design of the tertiary sector with the cutrent VET Sector review which grapples with the respective roles of the ITOs and ITPs made clear in 2004. Back then the role of ITOs was detailed as in the following way “ITOs set standards for, and fund, workplace-oriented industry training and development. They must not provide training themselves or through subsidiaries and joint ventures, but rather manage and fund the delivery for their industries by others and have responsibility for the monitoring of trainees.” TEC (2004), The Distinctive Contributions of Tertiary Organisations. Wellington, TEC.)

It is the underlined statement that seems to be the target of the proposals. This is another example of how difficult education when, faced with implementation of a reform, fails to complete the job. Tomorrow’s Schools was a flawed implementation with key elements. Service Centres and Community Education Forums were two of the clear examples of elements of reform simply ignored. The Tertiary Education Advisory Committee reforms of 200-2004 ended up being flawed in terms of both the distinctive contributions of different types of Tertiary Institutions and the funding system that failed quickly but limped along for another fifteen years or so.

Why does this happen? Over the years various theories have been put forward that have included the vast power of educational institutions to resist change. Charles Payne was led to lament in a book title – “So much reform, so little change.” Another commentator conluded that “it is not what reform does to educational institutions but rather what educational institutions do to reform.” And slow implementation is the enemy of change. The capacity of educators to socialise new ways of working into previous and comfortable old ways of doing things is robust and proven to have worked for them innumerable times.

2 comments

  1. Ian Hall says:

    A nice trip down Memory Lane, Stuart. My contention is that the government has always had the necessary mechanism through TEC and NZQA to better “regulate” the system. Why that hasn’t happened is another story, of course. Going further back, perhaps the big opportunity missed was Jonathan Hunt’s notion of regional community colleges, based on the US model, with two-year colleges articulating into degree-granting institutions. It was Bill Renwick and Denny Garrett who turned this policy commitment of the Kirk government into community colleges as “polytechnics with an orchestra” as Alaric Wilson memorably described Hawkes Bay Community College et al. My view of the current proposals is that Minister Hipkins is being rather ambitious when some better delineation of functions (yes, again!!) would be backed up by effective oversight.

    • Stuart Middleton says:

      Thanks Ian. And thanks for the reminder about the HB Community College being a polytechnic with an orchestra.”

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