Making Use? Views on the use and usefulness of the Tertiary Education Strategy 2002-2007

Publication Details

This report presented results of interviews with key people in tertiary education organisations and stakeholder groups on the use and usefulness of the Tertiary Education Strategy 2002/07. The information in this report contributes towards the evaluation of the Strategy.

The research was undertaken by Miles Shepheard, Synergia Limited, under contract to the Ministry of Education.

Author(s): Miles Shepheard, Synergia Limited.

Date Published: August 2006

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Executive Summary

The Tertiary Education Strategy 2002/07 (TES) was well regarded as a position paper – it is high level, unobjectionable and hard to argue with.

The TES is generally seen as giving little sense of priorities. This limits its usefulness in decision making.

There were few comments that suggested an appreciation of an urgent imperative for system change. Instead there were numerous comments about the need for specific changes, often expressed instrumentally as the need for more skilled people in the workforce.

The Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities (STEP) was seen as the driver of change, largely through profiles and funding. The government's emphasis on the STEP and profiles as the levers of change has clearly been universally recognised and responded to.

Established organisations tend to use the TES to check that their existing policies comply and to retrofit their programmes and profiles to the funding and other requirements, rather than their substantive decision making being driven by the TES. They look to their own strategic and other plans for the rationale for decisions.

A number of organisations which were undergoing changes found the TES particularly useful in plotting new directions, in redirecting activities and in speeding up processes of change which had been initiated under other circumstances.

Some organisations which have previously felt that their efforts were marginalised now feel that their work is recognised. Chief amongst these are the organisations offering foundation skills.

Māori and Pasifika interviewees had distinctive views. They strongly support the TES because they see it as greatly assisting Māori and Pasifika capacity and capability building and they believe that the TES shows the direction for New Zealand's future. However, they expressed considerable frustration about what they see as poor implementation.

The universities, and at least one ITP, would prefer the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) to be a positive partner and less of an adversary, and want to successfully engage, but there needs to be a way to do so consistently. 

There were many specific changes suggested for the content of future documents and for the processes involved.

A conclusion reached is that, if the next strategy is to have real effect in creating system change it will need to:

  1. articulate a vision of the desired end state in which organisations can see their ends identified with the ends of the strategy
  2. articulate a change imperative and change logic, by which organisations understand what is to be done and why, and can plan their own actions
  3. have a process of implementation that sends clear signals by which behaviour is moderated.

One comment implies an alternative view – that the TES should be more clearly a government strategy, not a sectoral one: "The fact that the TES exists is possibly all that needs to occur".