Rt. Hon Helen Clark
13 February 2003
It is a pleasure to take part in the formal launch of the
Tertiary Education Commission this evening.
The establishment of the Commission is critical to the new direction for
tertiary education which the government has promoted since coming to office
in 1999. We said then that we wanted more collaboration and a focus on
quality and excellence in the tertiary sector. Those qualities are also
central to our growth and innovation strategy and to ensuring that New
Zealand stands tall in the 21st century as a confident and dynamic nation.
The process of developing the first ever New Zealand Tertiary Education
Strategy and establishing the Commission has involved a great deal of
consultation and dialogue within the wider tertiary education sector, and
beyond. A wide range of organisations representing a cross section of New
Zealand social and economic life have been engaged. That is because tertiary
education has a major contribution to make to New Zealandís economic,
social, and cultural development, as well as to the education of each of us
as individuals, seeking to fulfill our potential and use our talents to the
Our government does not undertake significant structural change lightly. The
imperatives for change must be strong and the benefits clear. This is
undoubtedly the case with respect to the change in tertiary education. A new
organisation with clout was needed to drive a strategy which could transform
New Zealand into a more highly skilled and knowledge-rich society. That
change is essential to our future.
New Zealand in the 21st century must be a confident and successful nation,
able to capitalise on its own unique qualities, developing the skills and
knowledge of its people, nurturing good ideas, being able to compete
globally with high value goods and services, and at home encouraging the
maximum possible social cohesion and participation. The Tertiary Education
Strategy articulates the role of the tertiary sector in achieving that
Building sustainable economic growth at satisfactory levels and lifting
living standards demands a focused effort and strategic approaches across
the government system, and requires government to work in partnership with
local government, industry, the science and research sector, and with all
our communities. The effective implementation of the tertiary education
changes is critical in that process.
The vision of the growth and innovation framework sees New Zealanders as;
∑ Optimistic and confident about our countryís future;
∑ Celebrating our successes in all walks of life;
∑ Creating globally competitive companies;
∑ Committing to sustainable development;
∑ Ensuring that a social dividend flows from economic success;
∑ Gaining strength from the Treaty of Waitangi as our nationís founding
The framework has a key objective of lifting New Zealand back into the top
half of the OECDís, per capita income rankings over time. That requires our
growth rates on average to be above those of our OECD partners.
Currently the economy is performing well and above the OECD average. New
Zealandís annual average growth in the year to September came in at 3.9 per
cent. Unemployment for the December quarter came in at 4.9 per cent, the
lowest since March 1988.
Net inward migration is strong with New Zealand proving popular not only
with new migrants, but also with Kiwis who are both returning and staying
home in significantly larger numbers.
Other key indicators are also encouraging. Retail sales, consumer
confidence, and businessesí own investment and employment intentions are all
solid, although overall business confidence is picking up the current
Pleasing as current conditions are, however, this is no time to relax on the
change process. The rising New Zealand dollar reminds us of the ongoing
challenge to our economy to reposition up the value chain as a supplier of
highly desired and high value products which are less vulnerable to currency
fluctuations. Our government is determined to see New Zealand in the race to
the top, competing on innovation, quality, and value; and not in the race to
the bottom, competing to produce the cheapest products and having the least
concern for labour and environmental standards. A high skilled, high waged
economy, which can sustain high living standards, is the objective. And
thatís where the education system plays such a critical role.
What happens in tertiary education builds on the many years children and
young people spend in the education system from early childhood onwards.
Last year saw the launch of a new nationwide strategy for the early
childhood sector, aiming to lift quality and participation rates, and to
increase involvement with and support from New Zealandís many communities.
In the compulsory sector, teacher numbers are increasing ahead of roll
growth; there are major information and communications technology
initiatives, and a fresh look is being taken at how to improve teaching and
learning. Pathways for students from school to paid work and related
training are being strengthened.
At the tertiary end, the new strategy links education to the key goals of
economic and, social development. It looks for greater collaboration,
improved quality, partnerships with stakeholders and communities, improved
global linkages, future focused strategies, and a culture of optimism and
It looks for stronger links and partnerships between tertiary research and
other sectors, with research better informing the development of new
services and industries and enhancing existing services and industries.
It looks for stronger linkages between employers and tertiary education
organisations to minimise gaps between emerging skills shortages and
education and training responses.
The Tertiary Education Commission takes over the responsibilities and
functions of Skill New Zealand, and it is very important that the impetus
and momentum achieved by Skill New Zealand is maintained. The past three
years have seen phenomenal growth in the numbers of apprentices and trainees
in industry. But the pace of economic growth is still outstripping our
ability to supply enough relevant skills, and we are racing to catch up.
This is a top priority for the government. Put simply, skills shortages
choke off growth potential. We will do everything in our power to match the
potential and talents of New Zealanders up with the skills needed in the
workforce. Success in this area has the potential to knock unemployment back
While inevitably future strategies for education have a strong and necessary
focus on how to drive a stronger, up market economy, they must also focus on
the intrinsic benefits and qualities of education.
Put simply, an educated, knowledgeable community is likely to be a more
interesting, tolerant, and outward looking community. I stand strongly for
the role of education in producing well rounded, highly literate, well
informed New Zealanders, who are aware of the world around us, of history,
of cultural heritage, and of the great ideas and philosophies which have
driven humankind. Education can never be reduced to a mere economic input.
It has the potential to transform the lives of individuals and whole
communities. Its focus must be broad and empowering, not narrow and
In closing, I offer my congratulations to all who have worked so hard to
create this new Tertiary Education Commission and the new Tertiary Education
Strategy from the earliest days of the Tertiary Education Advisory
Commission. It has been a long haul, but I believe it has been worthwhile.
The government has high hopes for the new organisation, the strategy, and
the whole sector. We look forward to continuing to work with you.