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Tertiary sector deserves consistent commitment

It has been an amazing year for Private Training Establishments (PTEs).

In Budget 2013, the Government announced that it will move to equalise funding rates across the tertiary sector, meaning that from 2014, PTEs will receive the same funding rates as other Tertiary Education Institutions (Universities, Polytechnics and Wananga) for comparable courses.

Since my last article, the PTE market has continued to consolidate due to numerous factors, including voluntary closures, forced closures by NZQA due to providers’ poor performance and loss of funding streams such as Foundation Focused Training Opportunities (FFTO).

Quo Vadis?

Where is our sector heading, with the New Zealand economy now growing comparatively strongly and predictions of 4% growth by the last quarter of 2014?

For many PTE’s owners, it may be a challenge to see precisely which direction they should steer their institution.

In my view, owners must define a clear strategy and plan for the next five years. Quality will increasingly become the key driver which in turn will attract incentives and, when justified, sanctions. These incentives and sanctions are generally based on a providers rating in NZQA’s External Evaluation and Review (EER) process.

The Ministers of Tertiary Education and Immigration recently announced several exciting incentives for EER Category One providers.

They are as follows: 1. Extending work rights to all international students studying at high quality providers in the English Language sector (enrolled in courses of at least 14 weeks’ duration) 2. Providing full-time work rights to all tertiary international students undertaking study of one academic year or more during scheduled holidays 3. Giving international PhD and Masters by research students unlimited work rights 4. Piloting a partnership initiative that will give trusted providers more say in visa decisions for their students.

Visa restrictions

The Ministers also announced that no new visas will be issued to students seeking to enrol with the lowest performing education providers (Category 4). That is admirable but frankly most Category 4 providers should be heading towards deregistration by NZQA unless they dramatically lift their game in a very short period of time.

I think meaningful incentives like these are important. Clearly, they will encourage Category One providers to diversify their revenue streams towards export education, supporting the Government’s goal to double New Zealand’s export education earnings from the current $2.6 billion.

Lifting standards

They will also encourage Category Two and Three providers to lift their EER ranking in order to access high-end incentives. We need to look to grow individual institutions but must also ensure providers deliver high quality learning environments and outcomes to students. The Category One rating should be highly sought after by every PTE, which in my opinion is an excellent way to improve the sector over time.

There is no doubt that some Category 1 providers will enjoy an advantage over some Category 2 providers after this decision. The overall policy intent of incentives and sanctions is to do exactly that in some situations.

Consistency needed

If incentives and sanctions are to be effective, there must be some differences between Category 1 and Category 2. If there are no differences, then there will be no practical reason for Category 2 providers to aspire for Category 1.

At the same time, NZQA should be more consistent in EER assessments and evaluations. Their crucial challenge is to ensure that every provider gets a fair EER process and receives the appropriate Category rating.

Educational Performance and Self-Assessment must be at the forefront of all institutions and be considered a key strategic goal.

For this to happen, owners must have competencies and skills to understand the broader tertiary environment, industry need, student demographics and institutional governance.

Duty to students

No matter what financial rewards may be attached to incentives, our passion and commitment should be directed at providing students with a great learning experience and robust outcomes.

A very good friend once told me, “Many in our field teach everyone but learn from a few. Education management leaders and owners should also become professional learners. In doing so, you take the best that the broad concept of education has to offer, blend it, refine it and make it better.”

We are educators but we should never forget that ours is also an outcome-based service industry with the heavy responsibility of positively affecting the careers and the lives of our learners every year.

I have written the above as the owner of New Zealand Career College and as an industry professional who would like to see better education management and governance in the private tertiary education sector.

Feroz Ali is Managing Director, New Zealand Career College, Sponsor of the Business Excellence in Export to India Category of the Indian Newslink Indian Business Awards 2013. The Awards Ceremony will be held on Monday, November 18, 2013 from 5 pm at Sky City Convention Centre. Tickets for the event, priced at $150 plus GST (Tables seating ten persons at $1500 plus GST) are available. Please call (09) 5336377 or 021-836528. Email: editor@indiannewslink.co.nz

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