University objectives: An analysis of university annual reports 2002 to 2006

Publication Details

This report examines changes in the priorities of New Zealand universities over the period since the first Tertiary Education Strategy was introduced. It looks at the objectives set out in the universities’ annual reports from 2002 to 2006 and analyses the extent to which the characteristics of universities influences their declared strategic focus.

Author(s): David Earle, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis and Reporting, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: March 2008

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Key findings

Areas of focus

Between 2002 and 2006, there was a steady focus in annual report objectives on universities developing their teaching practice. However, there was a switch from a focus on raising student achievement to improving the quality of research. This is likely to be a response to the introduction of the Performance-Based Research Fund. At the same time, mention of the role of critic and conscience of society diminished.

Size and financial status make a difference

There were differences in priorities for different size universities, in terms of both student and research size. Large universities were more likely to have a focus on student achievement and support, on research quality and utilisation and on relationships with other tertiary education organisations, research institutes and alumni. Small universities were more likely to be focused on developing research support, capability and infrastructure, supporting postgraduate research students, developing relationships with schools and improving their financial status.

Financial status also made a difference to the mix of priorities. When universities had a sound financial status, they were more likely to focus on the quality of teaching and learning, research plans and strategies, developing research institutes and centres and developing organisational plans, processes and policies. When they had a low surplus, they were more likely to focus on teaching practice, student achievement, research funding and income, as well as quality and collaboration and relationships with schools, business and industry, and alumni. Universities with low liquidity were more likely to be developing relationships with research institutions and developing their financial status.

Population and interest groups most often referenced in terms of students and staff

Universities were most likely to include references to Māori and iwi in objectives relating to recruitment of students and relationships with Māori and iwi as stakeholders. Universities were most likely to include references to Pasifika in objectives relating to recruitment of students and staff; there was increased recognition of Pasifika communities as stakeholders. The most common areas for reference to internationalisation in objectives were recruitment of students and international relationships with other universities. People with disabilities were only referenced in two areas – student access and equal employment opportunities for staff.

Responding to the Tertiary Education Strategies

Universities responded to varying degrees in their objectives to the key messages of the first Tertiary Education Strategy.

They had a steady focus on student access, recruitment and support, but the focus on increasing student achievement has declined. There has been continued focus on working with other tertiary organisations, and an increased focus on research quality.

There was initial increased attention to relationships with business and industry, complemented by increased attention to commercial utilisation of research. There was also an increase in recognition of Pasifika communities as stakeholders. Universities continued to develop relationships with iwi and Māori in a range of areas and to have an international focus, especially with regard to students and relationships with international universities.

Contributing to broader goals was mentioned by most universities, including utilisation of research and development of stakeholder relationships.

There are some areas where universities may need to give particular attention to respond to the second Tertiary Education Strategy. These include:

  • increasing their focus on student achievement and teaching practice – as well as relationships with schools to support successful transitions to higher levels of study
  • continuing to develop research collaboration and utilisation, both commercial and non-commercial
  • giving further attention to developing relationships with business and industry and improving the quality of relationships with all stakeholder groups to better inform the relevance of education and knowledge and contribute to economic, social and cultural outcomes.