As well as providing answers to the key questions posed by the Ministry of Education this paper will discuss the tensions between the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy and the continued support of university distance learners. This paper also seeks to demonstrate the alignment between the Vision for Tertiary Education and the current distance provision provided by Massey University.
Massey Extramural Students’ Society is a not for profit organization that represents the distance students of Massey University and provides services for those students, as directed by those students. A key role of EXMSS is to provide a united voice on issues that affect members. EXMSS is independent from Massey University and its views may differ from the views of the University. EXMSS currently has a membership of over 16,000 distance students, being ≈6000 EFTS.
Summary of Recommendations
- That the Minister recognizes that university distance education provides an immediate economic return in terms of productivity, with more than 70% of distance students already contributing to the economy through paid employment
- That defining completion should take into consideration that some students are studying for the purpose of gaining a particular work skill and not for the purpose of completing a university qualification.
- That the suggested definitions of completion should take into consideration adjustments for part-time students.
- That publicly available performance information should accurately reflect the nature of extramural study and not compare extramural statistics with internal student’s completion statistics.
The Vision for Tertiary Education: to provide New Zealanders of all backgrounds with opportunities to gain world class skills and knowledge.
Enable Maori to achieve educational success as Maori.
Access to distance tertiary study allows many New Zealanders of all backgrounds to advance their skills and express themselves culturally. The TES seeks to deliver on student choice, including mode of study, and also prioritizes achievement for Maori and Pacifica students. Over 60% of Maori studying at Massey University, the largest university provider to Maori, are studying at a distance. Supporting growth in distance provision at Massey will support Maori and Pacifica students achieving higher-level qualifications, and fulfilling their cultural aspirations for life-long learning.
Raise the skills and knowledge of the current workforce to meet labour market demands and social needs.
As stated in the TES, demand for tertiary education comes in part from workers seeking skills to advance or change their career. Over 60% of distance students at Massey University are studying to progress their career (Sandbrook, 2005). While it is difficult to determine the mix of factors that drive students to choose this mode, a Mosaic Profiling (attached) lends clear insights. An overwhelming majority of distance students at Massey University come from profiles that are active in the workplace. Even groups such as Mature Wealth, although not fitting the TES youth priority group, are studying to up-skill. Continued improvement in professional and technical skills in the financial, business, education and health sectors (key attributes of Massey Extramural students as recognized in the Mosaic Profile, 2006) will increase New Zealand’s workplace productivity at the management and organizational level.
It is worth noting that over 70% students studying at a distance are working at the same time. As a result, increases in skill level will have an immediate effect in the workplace. It is therefore recommended that the Ministry of Education recognizes that university distance education represents an immediate return on the productivity component of delivering on the Tertiary Education Vision.
The TES states that Student choice will be a driving factor in tertiary education provision. Distance study is often chosen because no other provision will fit the circumstances. Citizens with the opportunity to improve their skills as they work will remain stable contributors to society. Another important consideration for mature students in educational choice is the associated costs: both in tuition and lost revenue. Sandbrook, (2005) suggests that mature students studying extramurally at Massey are debt adverse, resulting in distance provision being favored by this group. Furthermore, considering that 87% of Massey University Extramural students are part time and that “part-time students have a lower incidence of borrowing [from the student loan scheme] than full-time students” (Outcomes of the student loan scheme, 2006) and that the number of students with a student loan decreases markedly in age groups over 24 (Scott, 2006) it is reasonable to suggest this is an area of Tertiary Education investment that will not attract heavy use of the student loan scheme: a good return on investment for the Government.
Distance study represents an important means to get more disabled people completing higher-level qualifications. Distance education at tertiary level represents an opportunity for people with disabilities to gain degree level qualifications with focused support and significantly fewer barriers than internal study. With systems in place for tailored support and student success, completions for students with disabilities are higher than the extramural norm at Massey University. Having access in this way to higher education allows people with disabilities to be productive members of the workforce, thereby reducing the necessity to depend on life-long welfare support.
The balance between access and completion, and therefore institutional focus, will be affected by the manner in which completions are described. Scott & Smart (2005) suggest that overly prescriptive definitions of completion will compromise access in favor of completions. It is also likely that access for minorities would be compromised to a greater extent.
It has been shown (Sandbrook, 2005. Mosaic Study, 2006) that many university distance students are studying to gain specific papers and technical expertise that is required in the workplace. Their intention is not to complete a qualification but to up-skill. There are extramural students enrolled at Massey University who have already completed degrees and postgraduate qualifications, but who require a specific skill such as accounting, or strategic management to meet new demands in the workplace. At undergraduate level completion statistics would be more appropriate if they reflected the intention of the student rather than focus on an institutional benchmark; the bachelor degree. Completing the intended year of study would clearly indicate success from a student’s perspective and therefore be more valuable to students who are researching options for future study. It is therefore recommended that defining completion should take into consideration the study-for-work purpose of university distance students.
Students who study part time, study extramurally and are aged over 25 years have an actual completion rate notably lower than full time, internal youth. However Scott & Smart (2005) demonstrate that, when adjusted for demographic and study related factors, older students do better than younger students. Considering that in many cases part time distance study is the only way a student can access tertiary education it is recommended that the suggested definitions of completion should consider adjustments for part-time and distance students as well as the age of the student.
This submission purports that some legitimate goals for tertiary education in New Zealand have been overlooked in this draft strategy for tertiary education. EXMSS believes that in finalizing a strategy for tertiary education, the inclusion of a commitment to life-long learning is essential, and that life-long learning is vital when considering the needs of the workplace as well as meeting the cultural needs of Maori. Secondly, it is worth observing that not all citizens are ready to take advantage of tertiary education at the same time. There is ample evidence that those who do engage when they are ready, benefit not only themselves but their country. Focusing too heavily on the youth group will encourage some who are not ready and reduce access for many that are.
It is felt that the Tertiary Education Strategy, while reacting to the current economic climate, the expected youth bubble into the tertiary market and the post settlement era for Maori, does not recognize the benefits to New Zealand and the individual of bachelor level distance provision. With the publication of performance information in mind, the study-for-work purpose of university distance students, as well as the impact of demographics and study related factors on completion statistics, needs to be recognized in order for access to remain for this significant, high return on investment, group of learners.
Discussion of questions posed by the Minister of Education
Will the proposed approach to targeting, improving system performance and supporting high quality research, help realize the Government’s 2-5 year priorities?
Although supportive of improvements in system performance EXMSS feels it is likely there will be an associated effect relating to access. The omission of life-long learning in the Draft TES is a clear signal that system performance looks to focus on short-term completions. Study for specific skills and for personal development will not satisfy a completion focused descriptor of improved performance. As a result institutions will react to this measure and drive towards the youth market, creating access difficulties for those who, although potential contributors to the Governments priorities, are not focused on completing a Bachelors degree. One solution is to measure completion from a learner perspective as discussed in the prior submission to the TES.
Do the Government’s expectations of providers accurately and fully reflect the contribution these sub-sectors and the sector as a whole, can make to realizing this strategy?
Extramural study at Massey University has the potential to offer improvements in work specific skills at the professional and managerial level in key strategic areas such as finance, education and health. Progress towards defining system performance based on completion data defined by the Government rather than the student is likely to create reduced access for this high return on investment group of learners. Institutions are effectively encouraged to respond to completion measures at the expense of the economic and social contribution that could otherwise have been made through continued development and improvement in distance delivery.
Will the early indicators of progress provide an accurate indication as to whether or not the system is making progress towards Government’s goals for tertiary education?
More people under the age of 25 enrolling in higher level qualifications will not indicate that the TES is delivering on the Government’s Vision for Tertiary Education. Encouraging this group into higher-level study will not address the needs of New Zealanders of all backgrounds or raise the skills and knowledge of the current workforce. The lead time for conversion of knowledge to productivity for 18-24 year olds will be measured in years whereas the need for increased productivity is immediate. EXMSS believes that a stronger focus on supporting citizens active in the workforce achieving higher level qualifications would be an improved response to the current needs of the economy.
First year retention rates for Maori and Pacifica students will be difficult data to interpret. Retention is affected by a myriad of factors. Measures such as first year retention incentivize institutions to make changes to their enrolment criteria in order to improve retention and completion statistics. The reciprocal effect is reducing access. This cannot be described as enabling Maori and Pacifica to achieve. EXMSS believes that strategies for enabling Maori and Pacifica should be underpinned by agreed institutional plans that account for the broad range of factors impacting on retention rates.
The early indicators of progress described in the TES take no account of those who aspire to life-long learning and the cultural and social values that surround this concept. EXMSS believes that including a commitment to life-long learning in the strategy is vital to the long term health of New Zealand’s society and economy.
Sandbrook, P. 2006. Massey Extramural Student Analysis – MOSAIC Profiling 2006: Attached file
Sandbrook, P. 2005. Key points from selected Extramural Research: Attached file
Ministry Of Education, 2006. Outcomes of the student loan scheme http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/series/2555/33499/5)
Scott, 2006. Older Students Factsheet http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/7349/OlderStudents-factsheet.pdf )
Scott & Smart, 2005. What factors Make a Difference to Getting a Degree in New Zealand. http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/tertiary_education/5691