Sunday, April 19, 2009

Time flys when you are having fun!!!!

Well now, I cannot believe that 4 months have gone by since my last post. Lots of good intent, but the old blog did not quite come to the top of the priority list. I think I made a fatal mistake in taking a break over Christmas - lost the rhthym, so to speak. Anyway, better late than not at all. 
It was not as though there have not been things to write about, because there have been plenty. But the topic really occupying my mind at the moment is that ongoing problem of polytechnic funding - or should I say, the lack of it.  It is now clear that the current government will not be doing anything to address the problems which the polytechnic sector faces - at least not for some considerable time. In a way I can understand this - the world wide recession has taken its toll on NZ, and the government is facing multi billion dollar budget deficits for many years to  come.

On the other hand, government is still actually  spending multi billion dollars each year, so it is and will be making choices about where spending is directed. There is no such thing as not enough money - it is simply about priorities. And the polytechnic sector is apparently not a priority, and this in spite of the very real positive role we can play in helping the country get the most out of the recession. If there is a silver lining in every cloud then that lining in the cloud of recession  is surely the opportunity to boost the skills of our work force. Now is the time to invest in training and education - both in terms of funding people to upskill - especially those made redundant - and to invest in educational infrastructure. But we are more likely to get a cycle way the length of the country than to have a world class polytechnic sector!!! How sensible is that?

However, complaining about what government is not doing will not solve the problems the sector faces, nor the specific problems facing Otago Polytechnic. So, I have decided to see the funding issue through the lenses through which I usually view the world: the lenses that show the glass as half full, not half empty. So, I am grateful to government for the more than $30m of funding that they do provide. The $5m pa shortfall is merely an opportunity for us to try something different. How hard can it be for a business with a virtually guaranteed revenue stream of over $40m (including student fees) to earn another $5m?  Well, up until now we have found it very hard, but that is probably because we have been trapped by our historical mindsets - mindsets which have not allowed us to function as the business we really are. Yes, a business! Do I hear some cringes already? But to be a business is not to throw away our values, nor to devalue the teaching and learning which we hold so dear. Rather, it is for us to apply with more vigour some basic business principles: you cannot spend what you do not have, nor provide services that do not cover all of their costs. Nor expect to develop and improve if you do not set aside funds each year for that purpose. 

What does this mean for Otago Polytechnic?  Mainly it will be about a shift in approach towards a stronger sense of business discipline. So much which is nice to do will just have to wait until it is economic to do. We will have to take the discipline of cost - benefit analysis more seriously than ever. We will have to focus much more strongly on market realities , and on what our "customers" value. So, interesting times ahead - I am looking forward to engaging with the polytechnic community about how we can seize the opportunities and truly take charge of our own destiny. We have waited too long for government to do the right thing!!