‘Doing More With Less’: A Critical Analysis of Ideological Discourse in Tertiary Sector Policy Documents and Its Impact on Polytechnics in New Zealand
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The purpose of this study was twofold. The first was to trace the history of tertiary education in New Zealand to demonstrate how its purpose and direction has changed. The First Labour Government elected in 1935 believed that the state had the responsibility for investing in an education system that would provide opportunities to all regardless of status or ability. Subsequent governments continued to develop and invest in a wide-ranging education system to cater for all New Zealanders. The arrival of neoliberalism from the mid-1980s saw the decline of Government investment in all state services, including education. With the election of the Fourth Labour Government in July 1984, a programme of neoliberal social and economic reform was implemented immediately. The education sector was also restructured, and a culture of competition and free market principles was established. The tertiary education sector was no longer defined as ‘education’ or ‘training’, and all providers were required to compete for state funding covering all aspects of tertiary education. Community education programmes were the worst affected, with the cessation of all government funding. Teacher training colleges were merged with the universities as they were no longer considered institutions in their own right. The New Zealand Qualifications Framework, established in 1991, enabled any tertiary education provider to deliver degree-level programmes, creating increased competition between polytechnics and universities and blurring the boundaries between vocation and academic education. Performance-based funding was introduced and the gap between polytechnics and universities widened as the universities were able to pursue this funding opportunity with more vigour than the polytechnics. The second purpose of the study was to identify and critically analyse ideologically-driven discourse in selected documents informing policy direction for tertiary education. With a particular focus on the polytechnics, the thesis highlights keywords and phrases which represent a supposedly commonsense approach to improving tertiary education provision. The selected key words are difficult to challenge or critique. On closer examination, it is suggested that these words are generally devoid of meaning and represent ideas that are under-developed. This enables the possibility for wide interpretation and runs the risk that policy direction will be captured by ideologues to drive their own political agendas. Examples of where this has occurred are presented along with cases where there has been less focus on the ideological drivers, resulting in strong-performing polytechnics that are well-supported. Since the beginning of the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s, the polytechnics have been overlooked and misaligned within existing policy and it seemed as though this once vital piece of the tertiary education landscape might disappear altogether. The thesis concludes with reference to the current review of the New Zealand polytechnic system. It would seem that there is an opportunity for the polytechnics to regain a foothold in the landscape of tertiary education and the Minister of Education would do well to consider those polytechnics that have remained successful in spite of the ongoing reforms. Will a fully considered reflection on why this might be so be put into practice? The response to this question will decide the future of the polytechnics in New Zealand.