New Zealand's new Labour/Alliance coalition government has fulfilled its pre-election promise to set up a commission to advise on a strategic direction for higher education, but it has moved to block polytechnics' hopes of achieving university status.
The announcement of the chair and the terms of reference for the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission mark a progression from a market-driven system to one that is more sharply differentiated and cooperative.
The chair of the new commission is Norman Kingsbury, a respected educationist who is chief executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Dr Kingsbury has a long association with tertiary education, and his appointment has been welcomed across the sector.
Referring to the new commission, Steve Maharey, associate director of education, said it was essential to make better use of resources. Money was being spread too thinly and there was a consensus that such a situation could not continue, and that could mean looking at mergers and partnerships.
Any discussion on the total funding needed for tertiary education is outside the commission's terms of reference, but it can look at funding principles. Dr Kingsbury rejected the suggestion that the commission would present yet another review that achieved little. It was the first time, he said, that there had been such an emphasis on collaboration rather than competition.
"We are seeing the end of an absolutely unfettered market approach. That doesn't mean a return to everything decided at the centre, though."
The hopes of New Zealand's polytechnics for university status received a setback when Mr Maharey said that he wanted
polytechnics to be clearly differentiated from universities. Although there is one application in the pipeline from a polytechnic seeking university status, Mr Maharey said that he did not want to see any more.
One New Zealand polytechnic has become a university through merger and another applied successfully for university status.