Friday, November 7, 2008

Tertiary Policies - who is promising what?

I have been asked if I would offer some views on the tertiary education policies of the various political parties, and I am happy to do so -especially those that relate to polytechnics.
First up, I have to say that across the board the thinking about tertiary education by our politicians is underwhelming, to say the least! What we do not have is any party advocating for New Zealand to have a genuinely world class tertiary system, although all are prepared to go along with that rhetoric. There is some advocacy for boosting the university sector through more research funding - National has just announced an intent to redirect tax write offs for research of $315m into the direct funding of science and research in universities. If I was charitable I would say they have not even given polytechnics a moment's thought, but more likely is that they simply do not understand what we do in these areas. We as a sector must shoulder some of the responsibility for that. However, let's look at some specific key issues.
- will stick with the course they have already set for the polytechnic sector, believing that the so called "reforms" have been successful and are supported. They have not and are not! There was initially significant support because the intent was honourable and it appeared that the concerns of the sector had been taken on board. The reality is that the single most important issue - proper funding of the sector - has not been addressed and most institutions face a bleak future of operating on a shoe string with poor quality infrastructure (appalling infrastructure by international standards!) . What's more, the reforms have not delivered a high trust and low compliance cost regime at all - the opposite is the case.
-are promising to reduce the TEC bureacracy, which will be a good thing. Hopefully the first to go will be the stakeholder engagement function and the resources being wasted there being redirected into direct funding of the regional facilitation process. National is also promising a simpler accountability system, but the policy is short on detail, which is where the devil always lies.This system will include publishing more information about institutional performance eg completion and retention rates. Personally I am relaxed about this. Indeed, I would rather see information about educational performance being used to judge institutional success rather than solely financial perfomance as is the case now.Finally, National has a strong commitment to see more young people go into training and will fund free education for 16/17 year olds with a non school provider if this is a better option for the student. This is a good policy in my view, and better than Labour's Schools Plus, which is about keeping kids in schools even if school is nor the right place for them to learn! Both parties seem keen to fund new trades infrastructure in schools, which is a good thing if there is no trade training infrastructure in a region, but which could seriously undermine polytechnic viability if duplicate facilities are established. Neither party appears to have examined the possible consequences of their schools interface policies on the polytechnic sector.
Maori Party:
- understandably is committed to seeing a better set of outcomes for Maori, and that is a good thing. Hopefully they will be in a position to influence better resourcing of Maori educational initiatives in our institutions.The Maori Party also supports the extension of the salary supplement currently enjoyed only by university staff to include polytechnic staff. This is again great to see, as is their belief that more funding per EFTS is necessary for the polytechnic sector. The Maori Party is the only party to recognise explicitly that our sector is not adequately funded. There is hope yet!!
Green Party:
- is generally supportive of improving the sector, but is also generally supportive of what we have now. The only standout for me in terms of their stance is that public education should be prioritised ahead of PTEs. Of course, that is one of the downsides of National's approach - more support for PTEs based on their deeply held views that competition is always good and that it is perfectly sensible to fund other businesses to compete with your own!!
Other parties:
- not worth commenting on in my view, because none have given any indication that they have an agenda for tertiary that would be a "must have" as part of a coalition deal.

To finish, this election will not be won or lost on tertiary education, and all of the policies put forward really are bland at this stage - which is to be expected. What must happen is that the incoming minister, whoever that is, needs to be well briefed on our sector needs and issues. Otago Polytechnic will be providing just such a briefing, and I will cover off the issues in a future posting.


Leigh Blackall said...

Many thanks Phil. I must admit to being very concerned with the outcome. Nationals will form government, and bring back the days of rationalisation and a belief in business based competition without acknowleging that there really is no market in New Zealand. That said, I agree with you entirely - the options were very lack luster and lacking in any substance what so ever. Hard to see what it is that actually runs this country!

Now we have a new Gov', we'll be counting on you to feedback what goes on, what you think we should be looking at, and how you think we should respond.

Your coverage in the front page of the ODT was interesting, interesting timing too. Is there anything you feel was missed in the article?

I found it difficult to comprehend.. I mean, the size of the numbers you refer to are beyond my comprehension. 32 Million sounds like a lot of money actually, and I can think of (and have suggested) a few areas we might save money, but nothing to the tune of 3 million.. maybe half to 1 million.. (my suggestion relates to IT infrastructual spending and software). Putting the figure in relation to something would help... for example: we spend [this much] on wages, [this much] on rnning costs, [this much] on marketing etc.. but that might be giving yourself a rod..

I like to see my CEO dishing out heavy words and being political.

phil said...

The ODT article got across the key points. The inconvenient truth is that the polytechnic sector is seriously underfunded, and this is a message that needs to be picked up by the communities that polytechnics serve, and in turn communicated to their political representatives. A new government brings a new opportunity to be heard, so we will give it our best shot! Last Saturday was just the start.
As for the figures, we have a total budget of around $50m and some comparatives are: we spend $30m on salaries,less than $1m on advertising and marketing, around $4m on capital - technology, equipment, building adaptations etc.
I am interested in where you think there might be up to $1m of savings in IT and software spend Leigh! I do remember your earlier suggestions, mostly around OER and open source software if I recall correctly, and we are moving slowly down that path. But gains in this arena require significant organisational change -which is a relatively slow process. So, if you have some quick hits on cost reduction,let's hear them!

Leigh Blackall said...

Well Phil, one person's quick hits is another persons organisational change. Regarding software, a review of the software we pay licenses for and how many people actually use it. For exampe, how many computers are used primarily for web browsing and general word processing and slide presentations? I estimate about 1/6 of our computers. Replace their operating systems with a free operating system that comes bundled with image editing and office software, ie Ubuntu. Emphasis is on doing this to only some of our computers, and to those who volunteer and who look like they won't need IT support.

Camtasia, Adobe Creative, Vista, and many more.. how many people in teh Poly need or use them, and how many licenses do we pay for.

Elluminate... why isn't TANZ or some other peak body offring this service for the sector? Australia is well down this path of scaled provision.. for example VET Virtual

Our capital expenditure on computing, does it need to be that much and in that direction? For example my post on student debt

I realise many of us see these and related suggestions around ICT as "unrealistic" or not "quick fixes", but nor do I see much movement in the direction of these possible savings, with capability improvements - not even discussion, that myself and others are invited to at least...

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't a change from a Microsoft based operating system possibly increase the amount of service calls to ISS? Would it also increase the amount of skills / training required for some staff to learn OpenOffice or similar software?

I acknowledge that OpenOffice etc are very similar in look to MS Office etc, but for more advanced functions, it becomes a tricky exercise. For some staff (academic and allied) learning a new system, along with the increased workload that we are increasingly expected to carry might be the final straw for some.

Would a better solution be to go down the road that Citrix is currently developing? See the link here for more information.

Alternatively the use of "virtual computers" (Dave Bremer is a valuable resource regarding the use of this within the classroom) which could be based on a corporately provided setup. This would reduce the time costs of our technicians.

Finally, I would suggest looking at areas within the Poly that aren't benefiting the organisation as a whole, rather than looking at specific sections (Leigh's example of IT spending).

Leigh Blackall said...

Yep, Annonymous is right - implimenting an alternative to MS accross all the institution would result in more calls innititally, and would be way too disruptive to many people. That's why I suggested starting small. The thing is, I think its related to sustainability.. same as we invest in other things to achieve better efficiencies and capability, we might consider investing in ideas with sustainable computing. But instead we are rolling out Vista which has caused a raft of trouble over here with trying to get interoperability and accessibility covered in our learning resource development. not to mention staff having to learn a new interface. Seems to me like this is our opportunity. But, it'd be nice to see a small project at least.

Citrix link was broke :(

The Virtual Computers.. is that like Thin Clients and Application Servers? On a larger scale our IT seems to be doing that when they implimented Windows Live for service to student email and stuff. A similar approach could be trialed with staff hey.. but I hope they try Google instead.

I've seen and used Thin Clients and Application Servers that were using Linux Redhat before.. worked well and I think it would be good to see it done on lab computers where the installs were standard, but I personally wouldn't think it was a good idea on staff computers though.. it would restrict some peoples options too much.

So, suggestions on savings in IT so far:

*Audit existing use of commercial software

*Officially use good free software instead of commercial software (as an unsupported option, or trial small scale and support to start off)

*Use utility Internet services like Google apps (as an option)

*Lobby peak bodies like TANZ to provide utility internet on things like Web Conferencing

*Virtual computers

*Citrix (same as virtual computers I'm guessing)

phil said...

Thanks Leigh, but I think most of what you have suggested is being pursued. I hope Mike Collins will join this discussion to give a more definitive response. For example, we will be moving to a "thin client" regime next year,and in the meanwhile will not be acquiring any more new PCs. We have taken on board the open education resource scenario, and will migrate across to moodle next year. Mike and his team are working on the implementation plan for that now. I know that we are also carefully reviewing software licences, in terms om number of licences and whether we need them at all.
The changes this year to student emails is also another eample.
So, I think there is plenty of action happening, but I am not sure if we have followed up all you have suggested. I will check that out, so keep the suggestions coming.

Leigh Blackall said...

Ok, one more suggestion :)

Sunshine and I bought a couple of little Asus Eee PCs. They are the NZ$400 laptops. I remember hearing about a student laptop initiative being talked about back in 2005/6, where the Polytechnic was negotiating bulk deals for students. Trouble was I think, the laptops being negotiated were $2 and $3000 laptops. Not sure what sort of price was being negotiated in bulk, but I reckon $500 is the cut off point for most people not in need of anything specialist.

I wonder if the Polytech could negotiate a bulk deal with DickSmith (Asus distributor) or Asus directly? Or run a hire purchase scheme that sees us lightening our reliance on desktop lap set ups.

These little things run pretty good. They are super light weight, run a Linux operating system with Open Office and Firefox, and plug in no worries to a larger monitor and keyboard.

What I'm thinking is that the labs have a few monitors and keyboards only, for students who buy into an Asus who might need to spend a long session on the computer.. the plug in monitor and keyboard would be useful, and the light weight portability of the Asus the key feature - especially when we get free and open access wireless all over campus and beyond :)

You might like one too.. they actually fit on the tray tables of planes for those last minute tweaks to a document or slide presentation :)