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Tag: tertiary

Nifty Shades of Pay

It’s official – the Labour Party has got its first piece of education policy out there for all to see.

Progressively from some distant point in my lifetime, students will not have to pay fees to go into tertiary education. It has a good sound to it – student debt is ballooning, many leave the country to avoid it, others are stopped at the borders because they did forget it. Nostalgia sweeps across the community for the good old days when we went to university for free. Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end…..

But like a lot of things they did. Someone decided to introduce student fees and student loans. Did the Labour Party have a hand in this at any point? If not at the beginning then certainly many opportunities and elections have come and gone and they have remained somewhat silent. But now it is centre stage.

It really is an exercise in stuffing the genie back in the bottle. How do you introduce this policy without creating a new level of injustice for the generation that gritted their teeth and paid for the excellent education that they have had. Parents helped out in some cases. But a lot of young people simply had to go into debt.

I have written that we would have to pay a price for teaching a generation to be comfortable with and live with debt and perhaps that has turned out to be true. But there are other issues to be confronted in trying to recapture the good old days.

Is it to be a free-for-all by being free for all? Or will Labour have to learn to live with targeting the resource – something that has not been a favoured approach in the past. Well not in recent times – way back there was an element of “those-who-can-pay-should-pay” in the welfare state. The much vaunted 20 Free Hours of Child Care was a more recent example of a badly targeted resource. It didn’t increase access but simply enabled the middle classes to extend the number of hours they could put their young ones in day care etc and get on with the resumption of their careers.  Well, they had to, that’s the economics of being a family and having a house and a car these days.

You see, there seems not to be a lot of evidence that those who can go to university by being well-prepared academically don’t get there. Throw open the gates and the numbers will not increase without a dramatic increase in the success and level of preparation among those in communities not well served. And that is where the money should be targeted.

A few ideas for those developing policy

Put the money into the things that will bring about a more equitable spread of ability to access tertiary education.

Put the money into quality early childhood education that is characterised by programmes that prepare young ones for the task of becoming educated. Make it culturally empowering, create a multilingual setting complete with other services in health and support. Make it possible to have intergenerational learning so that families are given the tools to have success. In short spend the money where it’s needed and not throw it into what is essentially a subsidy for the commercial providers who build multimillion dollar castles on major commuter routes, placed for the convenience of middle class commuters rather than the communities.

Put the money into supporting “first-in-family-to-go-into-tertiary-education” scholarships for the pioneers in a family who change the world for all who follow. This could be perhaps the most radical and transformational thing to do. Families in which a member successfully completes a tertiary education is one which sets up tradition of going to university or into other forms of tertiary education. Look at the pakeha community – is that not true?

Take note of the developments currently happening in tertiary education. Youth Guarantee places are available for 16 – 19 year olds to continue their education in an ITP rather than a school without paying fees and with a little help with transport. This puts right a long established inequity which gave to young people the right to stay at school until they were 19 years old and fail as much as they liked (or didn’t like). Now they can leave school at age 16 years which the law says is OK and get on with an education that leads to employment and a fulfilling future without the burden of debt.

The Maori and Pasifika Trades Training goes a step further and provides not only fees-free opportunities but also the support to develop personal and cultural skills and be assisted through the process of entering employment. This is a good investment and trainees will look back on this, just as those who went thorough the old Maori Trades Training Programme do now, and give thanks for the money spent well.

Spreading money around tertiary education as if it were some kind of aerial fiscal fertiliser simply won’t do it.

And will communities tolerate the targeted spending of money to get additional people into tertiary education? Of course they will if they can see an improved community generally, one in which inequity is lessened and skills are developed. Most would say that it is a nifty way to pay!





Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

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Pathways-ED: Relationships up against a wall

Stuart Middleton
1 August 2012


It was not done lightly when they named the parts of Berlin after the Second World War that had come to be considered as exclusive property of this super power or that super power, “sectors”. The Americans had the American Sector and the Russians theirs. Movement between the two was restricted by that ghastly wall and Checkpoint Charlie became synonymous with freedom of access.

They had, after all, the lessons to be learnt from education where sectors had similarly become territory won and territory to be defended. The No-man’s Land was territory to dispute and little consideration was given to what is best for the citizen / students.

I was astounded that recently a one-day seminar on relationships between sectors with top presenters was offered by a reputable Australian organisation, ATEM, but was able to attract only 7 registrations from throughout Australia – well, it might have been six because I had registered.

Issues related to educational sectors and to relationships between them in Australia seemed to me to be an issue that demands attention. Especially in the tertiary area where chickens hatched in the late 1980s have all the appearance of coming home to roost. In New Zealand they also demand attention.

Relationships between higher education, further education, vocational education, academic education are simply beyond resolution by considering them each to belong to a “tertiary sector”. And just as the spoils of war are commemorated and held to be holy long after the fighting stops, much of the sector debate in education is based on the spoils of past wars and the now somewhat jingoist slogans of the factions – We are academic, protect the standard!  We are vocational , they need us to dig for victory! We are primary, we teach people! We are secondary, we teach subjects to people!

It is all nostalgia for a past age when education systems had the appearance of working. Let’s face the realities of peacetime.

The transitions between sectors has become dysfunctional with too many students successfully navigating through the checkpoints which have become chokepoints. The old academic / vocation distinction no longer applies. Education systems in Anglophone countries are characterised by unprecedented rates of failure and dropouts – casualties of this war. These countries all share the dilemma of skill shortages and increasing youth unemployment.

Lets calmly look at these sectors. Early childhood education is critical to later success in education and while we boast of pretty good national levels of access, the disparity of access between certain groups in the community is a less happy picture. A solution would be to subsume the ECE sector into the primary sector thus increasing the ease of access without increasing the need to escalate governance and capital works costs. Australia in ahead of New Zealand in halving the K Level entry group but this seems to be more of a Level 0 for primary than a dedicated pre-school effort. And one year is too short.

All systems know the importance of the primary, elementary part of the education system. The issue with this sector is that it is not encouraged other than through mechanisms of name and shame to have a successful but more narrow focus on the teaching of basic skills. I am not suggesting that we return to the old inspection when an Inspector of Schools would arrive at a school to hear the students read to ascertain whether Standard 4 or 5 or 6 had been achieved. But clear statements about exit levels would help with the critical platform that is primary education.

Where the primary sector has identity issues is at the upper end when it seems to grapple with the dilemma of being like a primary school but wanting to be like a secondary school. The solution is clear, create a new sector, Years 7-10, and let them get on with the job of making a successful transition from primary into the discipline-based secondary style programme. Introductory work on real pathways would replace the current work that is reduced to dabbling by the lack of clear pathways with continuity into post-primary education and training.

This would mean taking the senior secondary school out of the “school” sector and placing it in the “tertiary” sector. Having reached Year 11 students would have multiple pathways for further education and training which would be both, and simultaneously, academic and vocational. The different institutions of the senior secondary school, the university, the ITPs, Wanānga, PTEs ITOs and so on would then have a distinctive contribution to make to providing appropriate pathways, rich in their diversity, rewarding in their outcomes and  connected to the real world of family sustaining incomes, of employment and of continued learning.

A brief flypast over the battlefield cannot do justice to a complex issue but the general point is clear. Our current sectors have developed by accident not design, they have resulted in the development of distinctive features (unions, qualifications, sites etc) that are more intended to distinguish territory than they are based on what we know about learning and young people.

I would love to have got together with those six people who shared my enthusiasm for starting the conversation about sectors and the relationships between them. Who knows, it might have led to change somewhere ahead of us. One day the public will want to push the walls over. How much better it would be if we could do it before contempt for institutionalised education reaches that level?



Pathway-ED: It takes more than a village; it takes a country

Stuart Middleton
30 June 2011

In both Australia and New Zealand currently there is increased discussion about the need to engage young people especially but more people generally in  vocational and technical education.

In New Zealand the Government is pursuing a policy it calls Youth Guarantee which is an umbrella under which a variety of initiative aimed at keeping students in education and directing increased numbers into vocation and technical courses are being encouraged. In Australia, a recent report[1] makes explicit the valuable role that VET is playing in Australia in a wide range of programmes. It also makes clear the role VET is playing in bringing a semblance of equity into the Australian postsecondary provision.

The performance of education systems in both countries would look pretty sad if only the contribution of the universities was the measure of equitable access to qualifications and the benefits that come with them. A critical mass of students from traditionally under-represented groups find positive pathways through programmes offered at a sub-degree level and which lead them to those highly valued technical and middle level qualifications of which both countries are very short.

There is no evidence that there is a shortage of degree graduates in either country and when there are such shortages it is often in areas that have declared the need for a degree level qualification despite the proven worth of diploma qualification over many years – I think of various levels of teaching, nursing, town planning and so on. In New Zealand IPENZ the professional body for engineers has recently completed a survey that shows that the pressures in that sector come not from a shortage of degree-qualified people but from a serious shortage of those qualified with middle level and technical qualifications.

Therefore the setting of targets related to proportions of the population who should have degrees is simply a silly exercise. Australia and the UK with their 40% targets are ignoring the importance of having a spread of qualifications across levels to maintain industry and commerce. Even the credibility of such targets has been attacked in Britain where, it is claimed, the government would be stretched beyond their limit by the capital expenditure if this were to be the goal and even if they could, where would the teachers come from? It simply wouldn’t happen.

In the US, the even higher targets mean even less when so many of their indicators are headed to the frozen south at a great speed. Of course the broadening of the goal that every one should go to “college” was achieved through the development of community colleges in the US – this adding of opportunity underneath the conventional “higher education” happened also in New Zealand.

New Zealand used to have a clear “higher education” sector which required the University Entrance qualification and generally five years at secondary school. This was a track favoured by about 10% of each cohort. Others left earlier to enter employment or vocational education and often both. But the removal of pathways through the mid-1970s to thje mid-1990s saw many young people stranded with nowhere to go – the only choice was to remain at schools in which the curriculum had become comprehensive and markedly academic.

But we are seeing our way out of that now and a renewed focus on pathways and linked learning that both sets students in a direction but with options is likely to see a reversal in the worrying trends of disengagement, low qualification, poor preparation and the other facts that weight so heavily in terms of equitable access to further and higher education and the rewards that go with it. Who knows, one day our system might even develop some of the flexibility of the Scandinavians and other and students with credible middle level qualifications gained in a vocational area will be able to transfer with ease into higher level qualifications should they wish to.

But if New Zealand and Australia want to make real, the professed commitments to equitable access to further and higher education and to meaningful qualifications it will require changes in policy settings (that is happening), investment of resources where it will make an impact (that must be at the senior secondary / lower tertiary levels) and a different level of parity of esteem between those meeting the needs of the countries through different pathways by different provision with different sets of people.

[1] Wheelahan, Leesa; & Moodie, Gavin (2010) The quality of teaching in VET: Final report and recommendations produced for the Quality of Teaching in VET project, Australian College of Educators

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Pathway-Ed: Giving meaning to the mantra

Stuart Middleton
17 February 2011

The mantra for education and especially senior secondary education and post-secondary education has to be “Get them in, keep them there and get them through.” Each part of the mantra has force and yet we concentrate significantly on the first part – getting them in.

This is on my mind at this time of the year as many students are starting tertiary programmes for the first time and part of the process will be their setting out to see if it fits. Can I manage this programme? Am I prepared for it academically? Does it seem to fit?

They will also ask rather more subtle but critical questions such as: Is this the area in which I really want to work? Do I want to go where this course is taking me? Do I want to spend part of my life doing this? Do I have the requisite level of comfort about what I am doing to really commit to it?

Our tertiary institutions are much too inflexible and rigid on the matter of changing programmes. If a student makes a choice that turns out to be a wrong fit then they wear the consequences of that decision on their own. Once they reach the point where it is apparent they are in the wrong programme they are usually past the point where institutions tolerate transfers laterally into another programme. All we can offer to student is to suggest that they get off the bus and wait for another one which will be along at the beginning of next semester or next year with no refund on the ticket.

Even after a year in longer programmes, tertiary providers are niggardly in giving credit that can be taken across to another programme. It is a case of Return to Go, Pay $200 (if only) and start again.

Both these behaviours do not reflect well on our commitment to the mantra. Do we teach little or nothing that is usefully transferred to a new programme? If we do then transfer should not be an issue provided that we can be articulate and explicit about the skills and knowledge that is transferable. If we can’t then it puts paid to all that talk we hear about creating lifelong learners and preparing students for the future, for jobs that haven’t been yet been invented and other such claims. If our teaching has been effective then with a little bit of help, a student should be able to transfer and get into a work of another programme.

There is also the force of the point at which students have the ability to withdraw (not transfer) without financial penalty. This has always been an official point at which students who have made their minds up about not wanting to continue or perhaps are starting to harbour doubts abandon their studies. Statistically this is a significant withdrawal point in the year in terms of students dropping out of tertiary education and training and yet it is entire an artificial creation of institutions.

It is ironic that the only money-back guarantee we offer in tertiary education is the short period trial, full refund on withdrawal. This is more typical of the El Cheapo Infomercial world than it is of those selling quality products where customer guarantees are based on quality, length of durability and the sellers’ willingness to back their product.

It might be better if students were not in this position and that is where issues of career guidance, course counselling and intensive student support are so important.

In light of the patterns of disengagement from education and levels of failure in tertiary education, I am starting to be persuaded that the whole process of career guidance needs a shake up. Looking at education systems that enjoy higher levels of engagement and of success than we do, there seems to be a greater emphasis on students’ making some decisions about vocational direction by about the age of 12 years and having a clear direction established and acted on by about the age of 14 years. This does not mean the return of the 11+ examination or boys up chimneys at the age of 12 years; nor does it mean that employment becomes the sole focus of schooling.

What this requires is an understanding and recognition that the subjects chosen and the levels of academic application demonstrated will have an impact on later choices. Life chances might in fact be reduced or increased by decisions being made from about that age. The flippant and informal choice of subjects on the basis of what friends are doing, which teacher is taking which class and perceptions of what seem to be easy options that will lead to effortless credit harvesting are an inadequate basis on which to build a platform for later success.

But all this requires accurate information being delivered to students. There is growing evidence especially in the USA that students simply so not have access to enough information, to information that is accurate, or to information delivered at the right time and in forms that are able to be grasped by them. Surely this is easy to fix.

As for student support in tertiary programmes, all the evidence says that support that is delivered before the need for it becomes an issue is more effective that that made available after the need is apparent. Support that is delivered at the start of a programme will lead to increased numbers of students staying in programmes and enjoying success.

“Flexible pathways” is a notion that will increasingly drive us in the education of 15 – 19 year olds. It doesn’t just mean that there are multiple pathways into tertiary education, there must also be multiple pathways within tertiary education. Institutions are proud of concepts such as stair-casing but as my uncle used to say – “a ladder isn’t much use if it is up against the wrong wall.” Multiple pathways must operate not only vertically into institutions but also horizontally within them. This will be central to “keeping them there.”

The challenge for tertiary education is to see that those who start the programme stay the course.

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