Sharing the knowledge of tertiary teaching excellence

Friday 2 November 2007, 12:25PM

By Michael Cullen



Speech at the launch of Ako Aotearoa, National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.


Speech at the launch of Ako Aotearoa, National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, Old Museum Building, Massey University, Wellington. Thursday, 1 November 2007.

Good evening. It is a pleasure to be here to celebrate the launch of Ako Aotearoa, the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence. This is the first centre of its kind for New Zealand and a great initiative for tertiary education in our country.

I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the hard work that has gone into getting the Centre to this point. Firstly, special thanks must go to the Teaching Matters Forum chaired by Professor Deborah Wills of Victoria University. This forum had a key role in leading the consultation process to determine the shape and role of the Centre. It is unfortunate that Professor Wills is overseas and could not be here tonight.

I would also like to acknowledge the establishment team and Associate Professor Neil Haigh of Auckland University of Technology, who was the pioneer visionary behind the concept of the Centre. And congratulations to the Massey University-led consortium including Auckland University of Technology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch College of Education, UCOL, and the Manukau Institute of Technology for being awarded the contract to run the Centre.

Ako Aotearoa is unique and stands apart from similar centres around the world. The Centre covers the whole spectrum of tertiary education - from universities, wananga, institutes of technology and private training establishments, through to adult and community education providers and on-the-job training arranged by industry training organisations. While centres overseas tend to focus on either university level education or vocational education, the government has deliberately asked Ako Aotearoa to do both. And to support the Centre in this, the government has committed $20 million in funding over five years.

We are in the midst of fundamental change in the tertiary education sector. The tertiary reforms the government is putting in place are designed to move the whole tertiary sector towards a focus on quality, rather than just student numbers.

When I refer to quality I am concerned first and foremost with teaching and learning - the core business of our tertiary education providers. We want the quality of tertiary teaching raised across the system, with a focus on continuous improvement. We can always do better. It is here that Ako Aotearoa has immense potential to add value right across the tertiary sector.

I am pleased to hear you are working towards a conference on "Quality Assurance and the Learner" for early next year. This will be a great opportunity to examine in depth how the new Quality Assurance processes support and enhance effective teaching and learning. It also provides a good chance raise the level of debate about Quality Assurance, with particular attention on the benefits to the learner. It will encourage us to consider what needs to change, what needs to be protected and enhanced, and what are the key risks.

Wherever and however students engage with our tertiary system, be it a foundation education programme, a trades qualification or a research degree, they are entitled to a quality education experience that gives them the opportunity to reach their full potential.

We also know that quality teaching is one of the main drivers of better educational outcomes. Research tells us that the quality of engagement and interaction between student and teacher is one of the most important components of successful learning.

As our national centre for tertiary teaching excellence, part of Ako Aotearoa's role is to determine exactly what we mean when we refer to excellent teaching. The Centre has an important strategic role to lead and raise the level of debate about what is best practice. The expectation is that you will leverage existing research and build an evidence base of what makes the biggest difference to students' learning.

At the same time, the Centre will create awareness of these practices throughout the tertiary education sector. No doubt this will be a valuable resource for tertiary organisations and for individual teachers.

The name Ako Aotearoa is very fitting. In Maori 'ako' means both 'teaching' and 'learning'. I have had the pleasure of speaking at the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards over the last couple of years. Time and again, the award winners will tell you how they continue to learn from their students as they practice their profession. They gain new insights into both their discipline and how they approach teaching their subject. Their students teach them how to be better teachers.

We also want our tertiary sector to learn from our best teachers. A key activity for the Centre will be to identify, celebrate and share excellent practice. From next year, Ako Aotearoa will run the annual Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards. A magnificent resource of excellent teachers has been identified since the Awards began in 2001. But we have not yet worked out how to use these great people to the best advantage of the whole tertiary sector. Ako Aotearoa will look at ways to do just that.

The tertiary reforms are a real opportunity to focus on quality and the things that really matter to students and their success. I acknowledge that there are challenges in supporting organisations while remaining relevant and accessible to individual teachers. However, I am equally as confident that the Centre will seize this opportunity to make an important contribution to what New Zealanders deserve - the very best from their tertiary system.

Just before I close, I would like to say a brief word of thanks to the tertiary education sector. This is my last speech as Minister for Tertiary Education before the very capable Pete Hodgson picks up the role next week. It has been an enormous pleasure to work in an area that is so vital not only to our economy, but in creating opportunities for all New Zealanders to share in our country's success. We have achieved a great deal and I'm sure with your new Minister, a great deal more will be achieved.

It is my pleasure to declare Ako Aotearoa, the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, officially open.