February 9th 2010 at 3:10pm, By Dave Guerin
The PM gave his statement to Parliament just after 2pm and there are some big announcements for tertiary education (it wasn’t all about property investors’ tax breaks!). The overall sentiments are pretty universal, but the question is whether the detailed policies will match them – at this stage we can’t be certain, but a lot more detail will be needed. This post provides the main excerpts and some initial thoughts.
We must ensure that our young people have the skills that employers demand and that will lead to productive well-paying jobs. New Zealand simply can’t afford a future where 20 percent of our workforce does not have the skills necessary for modern jobs.
Nor can we afford to get anything less than maximum value for the hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars that we invest in our schools and tertiary institutions.
This year National will progress the education reforms that are necessary to address underachievement in our schools, improve young New Zealanders’ job opportunities and drive improved educational performance across the board.
We will implement a range of reforms to lift the performance of these schools, and ensure that where children need extra help they get it. This will include improving the training of our teachers, both in our training institutions and in professional development programmes; refocusing the tens of millions currently aimed at struggling students; and intervening more aggressively in schools which are consistently failing their students.
Trades training in schools gets a mention. It looks like teacher registration and/or salary rules might be adjusted to enable tradespeople to get into the classroom – that’s a good chnage as there are some silly rules there that have more to do with industrial negotiations than education.
The Government’s reforms in education will extend well beyond our primary schools.
In particular, we will be stepping up our push to ensure secondary-aged pupils have greater opportunities to learn trades and practical skills in schools and training centres. We don’t accept that a university education is a prerequisite for a good job, and we don’t think our school system should function as if it is.
So we are determined to ensure our secondary schools provide more students with the practical and trades skills that will empower them to enter further training or employment once they leave school.
This year we will make legislative and funding changes to modernise our secondary schools. These changes will ensure that schools can access the trades and technology expertise they need; give them greater flexibility over their timetables; and ensure they can access the classrooms, equipment and expertise of other training providers.
We will also be continuing the reforms necessary to support our Youth Guarantee policy of providing 16- and 17-year-olds with the option of pursuing their education in the setting which best suits their needs, be it a school, polytechnic, workplace or other training provider.
And tertiary education hasn’t been forgotten – there are “increasingly urgent problems”! The greater focus on courses with high dropout rates is good, but the implementation of such policies has been weak in the past – Steve Maharey announced a seemingly tough scheme in 2002 or 2003 but it had no real effect. At a time when TEC is sending providers 30 page summaries of performance data, it will be hard to get a laser-like focus on poor performing courses. Using hundreds of variables to measure performance just doesn’t work and is too easy to fudge (“well, I know we didn’t perform on items 42-57, but look how well we did on 62-78…”)
Finally, the Government will be addressing the increasingly urgent problems in our tertiary education sector.
We are concerned that as a consequence of previous ad-hoc policy changes, there are a large number of tertiary programmes, particularly below degree-level, that have drop-out rates as high as 50 percent, and that some of these programmes fail to properly equip students for the jobs they seek.
We simply must improve the value we get from our tertiary education investment, both on behalf of taxpayers and employers, and on behalf of the students who take these courses.
So this year the Government will be progressing the policy changes needed to ensure that tertiary education providers provide courses that are relevant to the modern job market and that are of a consistently high quality.
Universities will apparently get some freedom from regulation, which is probably good as they seem to operate within a good incentive framework – no big problems and some excellent performance.
We are also concerned that our universities, thanks to an inflexible and bureaucratic funding and policy framework, are finding it increasingly difficult to produce the world-class graduates New Zealand’s economy demands. We will be working with the universities to ensure Government policies support their drive for excellence and equip our best and brightest with the skills for New Zealand’s future.
Finally, it seems that poorly performing students might find it hard to access student support – this mirrors the growing university practice of not reenrolling poor-performing students, as they have better qualified applicants to choose from.
We will also take a careful look at the policy settings around student support to ensure that taxpayers’ generosity is not being exploited by those who refuse to take their tertiary studies seriously, or who show little inclination to transition from tertiary training into work.