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Tertiary education on the move
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Tertiary education on the move
Skills to chart a way through life

Tertiary education on the move

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) is responsible for:

  • implementing the government’s Tertiary Education Strategy 2002/2007 and Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities (STEP)
  • allocating $1.9 billion to tertiary education organisations according to a new integrated funding framework
  • building the capability of tertiary education and training to contribute to national economic and social goals
  • advising government on policies, priorities and sectoral performance
  • negotiating a new system of charters and profiles to steer the tertiary education system.

The TEC took over the responsibilities and functions of the Skill New Zealand and Tertiary Resourcing from the Ministry of Education. It allocates funds to all post-secondary education and training offered by universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, wānanga, private training establishments, industry training organisations, and adult and community education providers.
The Tertiary Education Strategy is the government’s five-year blueprint for a more collaborative and cooperative tertiary system that contributes to New Zealand’s national goals and is closely connected to enterprise and local communities. The six strategies address the development of skilled and knowledgeable people, the creation of research and scholarship and the organisational capability needed to support these. Widespread consultation with system stakeholders has strongly endorsed these six specific strategies.

  1. Strengthen system capability and quality
  2. Te Rautaki Mātauranga Māori – contribute to the achievement of Māori development aspirations
  3. Raise foundation skills so that all people can participate in our knowledge society
  4. Develop the skills New Zealanders need for our knowledge society
  5. Educate for Pacific peoples’ development and success
  6. Strengthen research, knowledge creation and uptake for our knowledge society.

Each of these strategies is underpinned by specific objectives that will be monitored regularly.

The Tertiary Education Strategy identifies the key changes required of tertiary education in order to deliver the lift in knowledge, skills and innovation that New Zealand’s future requires:

  • greater alignment with national goals
  • stronger linkages with business and other external stakeholders
  • effective partnership arrangements with Māori communities
  • increased responsiveness to the needs of, and wider access for, learners
  • more future-focussed strategies
  • improved global linkages
  • greater collaboration and rationalisation within the system
  • increased quality, performance, effectiveness, efficiency and trans-parency
  • a culture of optimism and creativity.

Skills to chart a way through life

The Commission governance model
Strategic themes
Tackling hard issues
Devolved power

"The key focus for New Zealand’s new Tertiary Education Commission is to help produce the right skills in the right place at the right time,” says the TEC’s foundation chair, Dr Andrew West. Russell Marshall became chair in 2005. Earlier Dr West said of TEC's key focus “That’s not simply knowledge as determined by employment needs, it is the skills and knowledge an individual might need to chart their way through life,” he says. The central role for the TEC is to achieve the government’s tertiary education strategy. Its mission is to inspire excellence, demand relevance and improve access.

The Commission governance model

The TEC “is an unusual model becoming more common,” says Dr West. TEC, Commerce Commission and Family Commission have full-time commissioners. TEC started with a general manager, Ann Clark, and accountable commissioners. At the outset two of them were full time.

The formal role of the TEC’s minister is laid out in the legislation. Essentially, the minister hires and fires. “He sets our direction for the tertiary education strategy. He can direct us to do other things. He can’t direct us to fund individual organisations or people.” Conversations are held in Steve Maharey’s office on issues that should be progressed, and that his ministerial authority can help integrate.

Setting up the TEC involves significant change, something the Prime Minister has said she does not like unless it is absolutely necessary. This was the case, says Dr West. “The government wants to achieve a set of national goals, which requires contributions from a series of areas of government. One of those is obviously education. What the government sought to do was bring together all its funding for tertiary education – just under $2 billion a year. It put that all in one organisation. The decisions we will make about the allocation of money across the sector have to be decisions at arm’s length from the political firmament, yet made to further the achievement of national goals.”

This is a move away from atomised tertiary institutions to a group response, which Dr West describes as something of a rebalancing away from the desires of individual learners, towards a greater focus on national and regional needs. “That’s not to say the emphasis on individual learners has been abandoned. A large part of the money for tertiary education will go wherever the student chooses to study. But we will be asking ourselves if we have enough of a particular demographic across the country and in the regions. For example, do we have enough Māori studying and learning at higher levels of the national qualifications framework? Evidence would suggest not.

“ We also want to look at a portfolio of courses that this country should be offering in terms of education strategy, but perhaps is not.”

Dr West acknowledges that practical action is needed at the level of the individual institution. However, TEC will ensure that there is genuine dialogue between, for example, institutions and Māori stakeholders, or industries that employ Māori, or are owned by Māori. “We want to see the plans that those institutions themselves have developed to move Māori forward. So the rubber hits the road.”

Strategic themes

TEC is seeking greater strategic coherence around the six themes in the tertiary education strategy (listed on page 81). “This strategy is then translated into an annual statement of tertiary educational priorities. Cabinet signs off the priorities. Our instructions from government are to facilitate the achievement of these priorities,” says Dr West.


The Commission may negotiate with institutions for the courses it is willing to subsidise with government money. Institutions will be able to run other courses, but they will not receive government funding for them. Dr West sees this as setting strategic direction, rather than finely grained planning from the centre. Government has a major role here, he says, illustrating with the example of economic transformation. “The real challenge is we have to take our commodity industries and make them into value added, value capture industries. Industries that no longer take prices, but make prices. Which is not to say we shouldn’t be looking at biotechnology and ICT, etc, but we must not look at them at the expense of farming, forestry, tourism or whatever.” These are whole-of-government, whole-of-society issues. And it’s not just about economic transformation. “Major social issues, major environmental issues. They span departments. They span portfolios.”

Dr West believes that the Commission is helping to address the issues of necessary change.

Tackling hard issues

One issue the Commission must address is how education contributes to ensuring that Māori can participate equitably in the national, social, political and economic framework. Dr West insists that the first step is listening to Māori. One message he is hearing is that there are insufficient Māori participating in tertiary education’s higher levels. Part of the Commission’s response is funding the Māori Center of Research Excellence, Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (Horizons of Insight), and the National Institute of Research Excellence for Māori Development and Advancement.

Devolved power

Although strategic direction is national, Dr West says that regional needs will be met. Charters and profiles will be set with each institution, and will quite often have a regional focus.

Secondly, the bulk of money will still follow individual students, and their choices. “One would expect a lot of those choices to be made in a regional context. Students choose to study where they wish. They can be encouraged by institutions, whanau, hapu, iwi to go down certain career routes. "We hope the choices made by students, studying in the regions, would have some context of regional needs.” Thirdly, TEC has 14 offices, in different regions, and is able to work with a series of government and private organisations in those regions to better match skills supply and demand.

However, he warns, “Many industries have a national focus so we don’t want to be just driven by regional need. What an industry needs, and what a region needs, is a matter of balance.

Find out more!

Tertiary Education Commission
PO Box 27-048
Tel: 04 462 5200
Fax: 04 462 5400




Photo shows Steve Maharey speaking to an auditorium audience.

Steve Maharey, Minister for Tertiary Education, introduces TEC’s vision.

A businessman with his guide dog.

A guide dog and an informed institution open education to this man despite his visual impairment.

Photo shows group of university students in a lecture theatre.

Age is no barrier to learning.







Photo shows students at Victoria University.


Anthony Haas asked the Tertiary Education Commission chairman, Andrew West, what structural change could deliver – and his officials summarised the essence of the new agency.