Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Tertiary Education Funding

February 23, 2009

I was pleased to hear that the inconsistency between the current funding model for tertiary education institutions  and the difficult economic times (which is seeing a big increase in demand for places)  was one of the main items run on Morning Report this morning.  I have been raising this issue with government for some weeks (see for example my speech to the Weltec graduation).  Most recently I raised the issue with Mark Weldon (Friday) and TEC boss Roy Sharp (Wednesday).  I see the tertiary education as a key part of the response to this crisis.  I would much rather have people re-skill or up-skill rather than go on the dole.  Aside from anything else this will help us grow our productivity into the long term.

We have a section on this issue in our submission to the employment summit on Friday.  We hope the Government will act immediately to review policy in this area and remove the caps imposed a couple of years ago.

Chinese Businesses Suggest Ways To Grow Economy

February 10, 2009

I attended a very special event at Parliament tonight.  Around 150 Chinese business leaders were invited by Pansy Wong to speak direct to the Prime Minister and relevant Ministers – Groser (Trade), Coleman (Immigration) and Wong on how we can get the economy growing again.  Tim Gibson from NZTE, a couple of other officials and I were privileged to be included on the invitation list.  What struck me was the similarity of view from this group of business people from one ethnic source to the wider views of the business community.  Immigration (particularly business migration), tourism and education were seen a key drivers of the recovery.  There was also a strong call for an improved export performance and a need to harness the skills of the wider New Zealand diaspora.  The PM spoke well.  Some of you regard me as too optimistic.  You should have heard the PM tonight.   Many in the audience supported this assessment.  Opportunity was a common theme of the comments from the floor.  I agree fully with suggestions from Ministers Coleman and Groser that this event become an annual one.

WelTec Graduation

February 6, 2009

It doesn’t get the attention of Victoria or Massey Universities, but one of the most important education institutions in this town is the Wellington Institute of Technology – WelTec.  I was last evening the guest speaker at the WelTec graduation ceremony.  Here are my speaking notes: 


Peter Steel, Deputy Chairman and Council Members, Linda Sissons CEO and Staff, Your Worship David Ogden, Mayor of Hutt City,  those who are about to Graduate or receive Honorary Degrees, ladies and gentlemen, I am deeply honoured to have been asked to speak at this graduation ceremony.


As of 7 February I will have been the CEO of the Wellington regional Chamber of Commerce for four years.  Four years ago I knew virtually nothing about WelTec, but over the past four years I have worked very closely with Linda Sissons and her team, and I have to say that I have been nothing but impressed.  WelTec is a key component of the Wellington economy, and I can only see that importance growing over the next few years.


If I had given this address 12 months ago it would have been very different.  I would still have been saying very positive things about WelTec, but my focus would have been on skills and people shortages and on the role that WelTec could play in boosting our productivity performance.


12 months on we no longer have full employment.  We do have a productivity challenge and there are still some skills shortages, but the problems we face in the short term are more acute as an economy.  And for many firms the challenge right now is how to survive.  A very different challenge to last year’s – how do I find more staff….


Everyday, the news appears to be getting bleaker, internationally and domestically.  I have to say that I am very worried.  We don’t know when this crisis is going to bottom out or at what level.  We should not underestimate how bad things could get.  I have just spent a few weeks in Europe and things there are much worse than they are here.


But we should not overlook the positives either.  My view is that Wellington is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that are going to be presented by the current global challenges.  And you the graduates of WelTec are particularly well placed to take advantage of these opportunities.


At the most basic level you have just upgraded your qualifications and skill levels.  That puts you at an advantage over those who have not been so wise in a tight labour market.  I also think that you have been particularly wise to have studied at WelTec because the qualifications you are about to have conferred are perfectly aligned to the opportunities that are opening up for New Zealand and Wellington in particular.


This alignment is not a matter of chance.  WelTec needs to be commended for the way in which it has integrated itself into the local business scene and has stayed closely in touch with employer groups, economic development agencies and individual companies to ensure that the courses offered are directly relevant to employer needs.  I am not sure how widely this great work by Linda Sissons and her team is appreciated.


Let me say some more about the opportunities as I see them.  I will begin with an example.  Aside from insolvency practitioners, there are precious few growth areas in our economy right now. But  WelTec and other tertiary education institutions happen to be in a growth area right now.  Already enrollments for 2009 are up and this demand is only going to grow as the year progresses.  This demand is in part being driven by tighter labour market conditions.  But there also seems to be growth in international student interest.  Why is international interest growing again?  One of the benefits of the current international financial turmoil is that our currency has declined in value by a substantial amount vis a vis the US dollar and Euro and all those currencies tied in value to the US dollar (significantly China is one of these currencies).  Europe has pretty much priced itself out of the market.  The US is also seen as relatively expensive.  But New Zealand (and Australia) and being seen as high quality markets that are increasingly price competitive.  This is particularly significant as education is a real are of strength for our economy.  Aside from WelTec we have Victoria University, Massey, the Otago Medical School plus another couple of polytechnics and some great schools.


Let me give another example. Just before Christmas NZ winegrowers held a tasting in London at exactly the same time as a leading importer of Burgundy was hosting a tasting.  Normally, this would mean that many buyers would miss the New Zealand tasting.  But not in current market conditions.  The New Zealand tasting was packed while the Burgundy tasting had only five visitors.  The high value of the Euro has made Burgundy unaffordable. New Zealand Pinot Noir in contrast is becoming more affordable by the day.  New Zealand sparkling wine sales were strong in the UK over the Christmas/New Year period while demand for Champagne was well down.


We do as a region produce a bit of wine over in the Wairarapa, but far more significantly this same factor is going to play our way in other areas – the services economy where Wellington is national leader. Aside from education, hospitality and tourism, film and television, design, information technology – all areas of direct relevance to many of the qualifications you are about to have conferred – will benefit.


International tourist numbers are down right now.  People are staying home, or holidaying closer to home than has been the norm.  But this will change.  Word will soon get around about how great the value of a holiday is compared to North America or Europe.  And because Europe and North America have become so expensive, more New Zealanders will be holidaying in New Zealand, our domestic tourism will grow.


Of course, the other area of opportunity presenting itself is the Government’s proposed acceleration of expenditure on infrastructure.  Already we were under some strain in this space with the skills shortage really hurting.  The downturn in construction eased this pressure considerably, but I would have thought that all graduates from WelTec’s Centre for Industry and Trade Technology will be very welcome in the market place over the next few months.  And don’t forget that the US, UK, Australian and many other Governments are embarking on similarly adventurous infrastructure investments.  This could well create opportunities for some of you beyond our borders.


One area of the WelTec family that has been a particular focus of my attention has been the work done in the Centre for Service Industries, particularly relating to hospitality, food and beverage.  I was delighted a few months back that the excellence of the work done by WelTec has been recognized nationally. I see huge opportunities for this area of WelTec’s activities to grow.  This is an area where nationally we have a real need to up our act, particularly with big events such as Rugby World Cup 2011 fast approaching.  Longer term, if we are really going to grow our tourism industry we are going to have to offer a higher quality service in our hotels and in our restaurants.  This is only going to occur if WelTec keeps up the excellence that has developed in recent years.


Finally can I commend those who have studied business and management over the past few years.  This is another area of skill deficit in New Zealand.  We don’t have enough trained managers and too few of our companies are run by people with formal business training.


Congratulations on the qualifications you are about to receive.  Thank you for upskilling.  And thank you WelTec for turning out another fine group of graduates in areas so critical to our economic future.  I look forward to continuing to work closely with Linda Sissions and the WelTec team over the year ahead.  It is going to be a challenging year, and I see WelTec and other Tertiary Education providers as playing a key role in the response to these challenges.  We will need to engage closely with Government on funding policy to ensure that WelTec and others are able to deliver this contribution.  Existing policy settings may not be the right ones for the difficult times we are facing.


Thank you again for asking me to speak.  It has been a great honour.  Can I end by wishing tonight’s graduates all the best for their future careers, and could I make a plea for as many of you as possible to stay in the Wellington region.  We need your qualifications.