Among the conclusions of the government's tertiary education advisory commission - charged with developing a strategic direction that will enable lifelong learning for a knowledge society - was that this may require new ways of organising and delivering tertiary education and learning. It will examine the adequacy of the current range of tertiary providers and the possible addition of new types, such as a university of technology or community college. Computerworld asked Steve Maharey, associate minister education (tertiary), and professor Gael McDonald, dean of the faculty of business at Auckland's Unitec Institute of Technology, for their thoughts on education and the knowledge economy.
Computerworld: Is the current system able to deliver the education needed for a knowledge-based economy?
Maharey: No, we need a more strategic direction. There has to be a link between our tertiary
institutions and our economy. Business people have to be able to talk to the tertiary institutes. Part of it is getting links up. Then it comes down to transfer of research and education knowledge into the business community. Thirdly, our teaching and research has to be better focused on new industries; for example, IT and how it's going to apply in this country.
McDonald: I believe the current educational system is, like all other areas, developing to meet the challenges for the knowledge economy. For example, at Unitec this year we introduced a Masters of Computing with streams in internet, multimedia and instructional technology. The Masters of Business in Innovation and Entrepreneurship is currently in its final stage of approval with NZQA, and Unitec's New Zealand Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship with an incubator facility is now established. We are also reviewing our undergraduate business degree with the likelihood of an e-commerce major. Naturally there are still many more developments which could be undertaken and I believe that educational institutions, or rather the more progressive ones, will step up to the plate.
Computerworld: You've been quoted saying, "We are not going to be able to compete with the US in information and communications technology, or even with Finland."
Maharey: Each country needs to figure out its comparative advantage. One of the mistakes we've made in the last 20 years is thinking everything to do with our natural resource-base is a sunset industry. The major comparative advantage of this country is still resource-based. We need to marry our resource base with technology to produce highly valued knowledge-based products.
Computerworld: Shouldn't we be encouraging more universities, as they did in Ireland?
Maharey: We have put a moratorium on the number of universities but not said no forever. We have eight universities in a country of 3.8 million people and you have to ask whether a small country can run more with the cost structures required. In December the tertiary education advisory commission will release a report on what shape the system is in. I'm keen on the university of technology idea. If we are going to have more we might think about their playing a different role in the system.
Computerworld: Should we shorten degrees and offer courses that can be taken on an ongoing basis throughout a person's life?
McDonald: Rather than shorter degrees what we have done is to be influenced by the concept of bite-size learning. To achieve this we have created exit qualifications, nested qualifications, short courses, customised training and online learning. For example, a student who has completed one year of our undergraduate degree in computing may wish to leave and get industry experience. They could therefore choose to exit the degree with a Certificate in Computing.
Computerworld: Should study in science and technology and areas in which skilled workers are in short supply be free?
Maharey: I don't think we'll see a system which doesn't have a fee attached to it, but we are keen to ensure that the cost of education comes down, particularly in areas of strategic importance and on the surface that suggests
science and technology. At the moment
the cost of doing science is higher than for a BA degree.
Computerworld: Do you think we should raise the school leaving age?
Maharey: No. I think it should stay at 16 but we are working on an education and training leaving age of 18. That means we don't think you should necessarily be in school but we think you should be in training. We're trying to put in options - alternative education, apprenticeships, a gateway programme whereby once you turn 16 you'll be at school but you also go into a workplace for a period. Two pilots are out for contract now and will be in place in the next academic year.