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Tag: tertiary education

“…For the loser now will be later to win…”

Just back from Australia and it is interesting how such a visit brings perspective to issues and topics of interest.

I have been feeling for some time now that things are about to change, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries which for 50 years have by and large got a lot wrong in education.

Three connected themes are emerging:

·         earlier access to quality career and technical education which brings about improvements in educational outcomes;

 ·         the questioning of the absolute dominance of the university-bound “academic” pathway both for its appropriateness for many students and for its insatiable appetite to absorb funding;

 ·         the need for reconsideration of current sector organization models of the education systems which are increasingly seen as a troubling block to lifting achievement.

Each of the Anglo-Saxon educations systems is now seeing an increase in the numbers of students gaining earlier access to career and technical education. The pathways schools in Canada, the university technical colleges in the UK, many academy / charter schools in the USA, initiatives in Australia and, of course, the youth guarantee stable of secondary/tertiary programmes in New Zealand are each examples of how the integration of sound and continuing academic preparation can not only be combined with but is in fact enhanced by a closer focus on postsecondary qualifications in career and technical areas at a younger age.

The Anglo-Saxons simply have to come clean – the experiment of comprehensive high schools proved to be neither comprehensive nor very successful. The result was a set of educational and employment outcomes that were inferior to those achieved by the schools they replaced. I think I want to reject the view that the development of the comprehensive high schools were essentially based on snobbery – Germany had a dual system of both academic and technical tracks, we beat them in the war, so the American Dream was born – college for all, equity of access to top universities and so on. Well it never happened. Schools lost their variety, pathways disappeared and the so-called academic university-bound track became dominant. Good for those it suited and always had, disastrous for the rest.

But it is not simply a return to what used to be offered to students in a diverse set of schooling options – academic, general, technical, commercial and other tracks which defined outcomes at the outset of secondary education. The new and refreshed approach is one of multiple pathways that are both academic and vocational, which have flexibility, which provide a clear direction with different people delivering programmes in different places and with multiple purposes for learning. So talking the old industrial arts facilities and programmes and organisation out of mothballs won’t be sufficient.

This development in no way undervalues the university-bound pathway – this pathway is also both academic and vocational for many. There is though likely to be a competition for resources as the performance of the education system encourages funders to see that a more equitable spread of funding is a good and necessary investment. This emerged a little in Australia last week. In working to “real identifiable work” the schools will be required to find a new level of flexibility.

“Our kids need to know trades and training are first class career options just like university – they shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re playing on the ‘B Team’ “ says Aussie Federal Asst Minister for Education Sussan Ley. She also sees the need for schools to be more flexible in programme delivery allowing for “real work experience” – the challenge as to what constitutes “being at school” and the “school day” are in the wings and yet to come.

That leads to the third issue – the challenges to the sector organization of schooling. The Catholic education system in Australia is getting ready to shift Year 7 (the equivalent of our Year 8) up to secondary schools in order to provide for a transition that comes at a better spot in the students’ pathway, allowing for a more coherent “junior” high school and therefore opening the way for increased flexibility in the “senior” secondary school.

It is still my view that New Zealand should be seriously discussing the benefits and issues of placing the senior high school (i.e. Years 11-13) into the tertiary sector – now there’s a big topic. Such a shift would allow New Zealand to consider the features of education systems that we admire and give to them a New Zealand flavor.

Are the times a’changin’? If they are then lets hope for more than hugs and bean bags this time round.


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Pathways-ED: Change is in the Australian Air

Stuart Middleton
9 August 2012


From Australia – the lucky country where even the sunset last night was silver – the new gold!

On the same day that a national seminar on inter-sector relationships was cancelled the press reported considerable activity in relationships between sectors to address the issue that is arising from the cuts being made, especially in Victoria, to TAFE activity.

The University of Ballarat is extending an agreement with regional TAFE institutions that secures some pathways from the vocational providers into the university. The new agreement will extend this notion to create certain pathways between the university and the six TAFE providers. This initiative is cutely dubbed the “Menzies Affiliation” after Sir Robert Menzies, the former Australian PM who apparently came from this area.

The cut to funding for vocational education and training in Victoria was almost $300m and the federal government is now coming in with a grant to the state of $435m by way of compensation. This is an example of the the sort of byplay that occurs in a bicameral government set-up and the “cuts” made in Victoria might in fact be aimed at securing such an intervention will, to me seems, that additional funding will be available to the VET sector.

Another interesting report details the introduction of the “vertical” double degree that allows students undertaking what we know as conjoint degrees to make a head start on a masters degree and in the process save six months.

I have long thought that a lot of our programmes could be shorter whether by extending the year to something more like “normal” working years or by arrangements such as this. If the outcomes of degree study include the general development of intellectual capability then this can be achieved with much more flexibility between programmes rather than the walled cities that are characteristic of so many programmes.

Interestingly, a further report raises the issue of whether a university course should focus on breadth or depth. Apparently opinion among students is divided between those who value the opportunity to study outside their field and those who do not.

The writer argues that simply having breadth and depth won’t be sufficient and students hoping the move through to higher level postgraduate study will also need height. And so the two ideas come together – the notion of breadth / depth / height and the “vertical double degree combing undergraduate and postgraduate study.

So what seems to be emerging is a challenging of the traditional transition points and a softening of some of the boundaries. First, the VET / University boundaries are becoming more porous and the vertical pathways up through the university seem willing to become more adaptable.

If these can happen one way they can happen in the other direction – clearer pathways for university graduates to proceed on to the more utilitarian qualification of the ITP sector with RPAA (Recognition of Prior Academic Activity) allowing for a telescoped programme. – the  New Zealand equivalent of the vertical double degree.

With evidence from both New Zealand and Australia that the benefits of a university degree vis a vis a polytechnic degree have been somewhat exaggerated, the outcome of such a collaborative pathways could well benefit students and, if they are achievable  through shortened study programmes, others as well.

I sense that the world of postsecondary study is starting those seismic rumblings that could lead to bigger things – well at least in Australia. But then again they have usually always been a little ahead.

As I finish this a filler on the Aussie TV is playing a song called “You can’t always get what you want…”  accompanied by a picture of Valerie Adams in the moments after her final throw. The lucky country notion seems significantly to be premised on the view that all others are by definition unlucky!

A Note:


I am grateful to David Guerin for helping me out with thew number of LATs in New Zealand. He calculated that the Teachers Council report of income from LATs ($56K) came from 1,050 persons with such a designation. But he also tells me that the Teachers Council has 98,000 registered teachers. There is something in the order of 56,000 teachers in schools so I wonder about this. When I get back I shall make further enquiries – suffice to say that the number of LATs in schools is somewhere been 1% and 2%. I also wonder about this. But thanks, David.


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Talk-ED: O what a glorious thought, Warm-reekin', rich!

Stuart Middleton
2 April 2012

I travelled south to Dunedin for a family wedding, it was crisply warm, the weather that is, and the whole event was greatly enjoyable. But another thing I look forward to each time I head south is the Otago Daily Times, a newspaper that still keeps its regional flavour and at times can even be inclined to be the parish pump.

But tucked away in Saturday’s edition was an interesting piece[1] commenting on a discussion at a meeting of the Otago Polytechnic Council. Under a heading of ‘Exciting’ times for polytechs, Chief Executive Phil Ker was reported as leading an exciting brainstorming session clearly stimulated by “lively remarks” he had made.

In a scenario for 2021 the vision was for a large 50% reduction in the number of polytechnics in New Zealand. Ker suggested that there would be perhaps only eight polytechnics in New Zealand which seems to return to the TEAC suggestions of the hub and spoke model proposed back then. (Do we hold our breaths and wait for the creation of one national university?)

We probably should be giving very serious thought to this idea. Distances in New Zealand are not great and with the growth and development of internet technologies (see below), access takes on a different scale and perspective. The reduction in the number of polytechnics would perhaps even lead to the phrase “distinctive contributions” being thought about in a new way within a “network of provision” that was national. This was the direction started back in the TEAC but as always the recommendations got socialised into the existing framework and the sector by and large carried on.

The ODT also reports on the prediction that the sector would become fiercely competitive with the new competition from Asia adding to the presence of what the report calls “a national polytechnic” operating in Dunedin. There are two thrusts here – a national polytechnic and the competition from Asia.

We already have examples of quasi-national institutions; Te Wananga o Aotearoa, The Open Polytechnic, Massey University (to a degree so to speak), and at the school level, Te Kura – The Correspondence School. Each reflects a different model and it is hard to be certain just how a national polytechnic might work. It could of course simply be the connection through a new brand of a set of existing polytechnics or it might go the whole hog and be genuinely one institution with one governance body, a single administrative structure and a nationally integrated portfolio of programmes. I know of no such development but deem to see it as a possibility.

Asia as a polytechnic competitor is interesting. It seems to me that polytechnic sectors don’t travel too well beyond the level of single programmes. The training approach, the qualification structures, the professional regulatory systems and the differences in labour market needs all conspire to make it difficult to translate technical and applied education from one setting to another. But it is an interesting warning and one made perhaps more credible by the growth of internet technology and its role in tertiary education.

There have been predictions about all this for a long time but the indicators do seem to suggest that the momentum in the engagement with on-line learning has started to gather speed. Rate of on-line learning at the tertiary level in the USA is ten times that of the general tertiary growth rate and while the general rate shows flatness (2%), the on-line rate continues to grow (10%).

More importantly, it seems to be the trend that says that the on-line / face-to-face issue is not a choice between the two. In the USA, one third of higher education students take an on-line course. And satisfaction rates between the traditional face-to-face and on-line are about the same (see It is reaching the point where institutions that do not pay serious attention to offering on-line learning opportunities even if only to their existing students, will be somewhat left behind .

And this is where a national institution, such as that mentioned in the Otago story, could have both a role and an advantage. Ironically, distance becomes an irrelevance in technology-based education.

Och aye, there’s some interesting discussions being held in the south about education with more than a mickle and perhaps even a muckle of good sense.