Part 1: Introduction

New Zealand Qualifications Authority: Monitoring the quality of polytechnic education.

In this Part, we:

  • describe the tertiary education system;
  • explain the need for quality assurance in the tertiary education sector;
  • explain how quality assurance operates in the polytechnic sector;
  • explain why we did this audit;
  • describe the scope of the audit; and
  • explain how we conducted the audit.

The tertiary education system

Tertiary education means all post-school education, including learning undertaken in the workplace. It includes:

  • foundation education, such as adult literacy and second-chance education for those with low qualifications;
  • certificates and diplomas;
  • industry training;
  • adult and community education; and
  • undergraduate degrees and postgraduate qualifications.

Tertiary education is delivered by a diverse range of providers, including:

  • eight universities, which provide education largely focused on qualifications at bachelors degree level or higher;
  • 20 polytechnics or institutes of technology,1 which provide vocational training at certificate and diploma level, especially in trades and applied areas (although many polytechnics offer degree-level education and are involved in research activities, particularly applied research and research in technological areas); and
  • three wānanga, which provide iwi-based tertiary education at a variety of levels and with a variety of approaches and which focus particularly on the needs of Māori learners.

In addition to these tertiary education institutions (TEIs),2 there is a range of other education providers. For example, there are about 800 private training establishments (PTEs)3 providing a wide range of courses, often in specialised areas. Employers also provide a significant amount of work-based training.

The need for quality assurance

Strong quality assurance systems are an important part of a well-functioning tertiary education system. Stakeholders (for example, students, parents, and employers) need to know that a qualification represents meaningful and credible achievement. To ensure that it allocates public funds effectively, the Government needs to know the courses it is funding are of an acceptable quality. Only those tertiary education courses that have been “quality assured” by a quality assurance body4 are eligible for government funding.

Quality assurance in the tertiary education sector focuses on the systems and processes that support providers to deliver quality education services. It comprises three parts: approving courses, accrediting providers to deliver courses, and auditing providers against standards for academic quality (academic audit). This academic audit function underpins the approval and accreditation functions and is a crucial part of the quality assurance process.

Quality assurance in the polytechnic sector

Under the Education Act 1989 (the Act), the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is responsible for the quality assurance of all tertiary education providers outside the university sector.

NZQA is a Crown entity set up in 1990 to provide leadership in the areas of quality-assured qualifications and quality-assured provision of education and training. It is governed by a Board appointed by the Minister of Education. The Board reflects industry, community, and education interests.

The Act allows NZQA to delegate its quality assurance functions. For polytechnics, NZQA has delegated these to Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics Quality (ITP Quality). As the delegating authority, NZQA is responsible for auditing the quality assurance system operated by ITP Quality.

Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics Quality

ITP Quality is a committee of the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand (ITP New Zealand). ITP New Zealand is an incorporated society representing the interests of polytechnics.

ITP Quality has been responsible since 1993 for approving polytechnic courses and accrediting providers to deliver courses. ITP Quality makes its decisions independently, and they are not reviewed by ITP New Zealand. In 2000, NZQA also delegated authority to ITP Quality to audit academic programmes provided by polytechnics, to underpin the other quality assurance functions carried out by ITP Quality.5 NZQA commented in its letter of delegation that ITP Quality would be able to use the audits to collect evidence for approvals and accreditations.

ITP Quality has adopted an audit approach in which it audits a selection of a polytechnic’s academic programmes for compliance and effectiveness against a set of 12 academic standards. Each standard relates to different dimensions of the academic activity within polytechnics.6

If the polytechnic meets the standards, it is awarded “quality assured” status for a period of four years.

ITP New Zealand has described the 12 standards as representing the minimum academic quality requirements that it regards “as appropriate and reasonable in order to protect the interests of the sector’s students and the reputation of individual institutions and the sector as a whole”. ITP New Zealand has also stated that the standards are described as academic standards because their focus reflects a government requirement that accountabilities for academic quality should be separate from those for the overall management and governance of polytechnics.

Academic audits are a major focus of the work of ITP Quality. They show whether the programmes meet the academic standards and whether quality education is being provided.

ITP Quality provides a copy of all the academic audit reports it prepares to NZQA.

ITP Quality audits 19 of the 20 polytechnics. The Approvals, Accreditation and Audit group (AAA group), a quality assurance body within NZQA, is responsible for auditing the one polytechnic not covered by ITP Quality.7

Why we did this audit

Polytechnics are an important part of New Zealand’s tertiary education sector. In 2005, there were more than 214,000 students enrolled in courses leading to formal qualifications at polytechnics, which was a significant proportion of the total students (504,000) enrolled in courses leading to formal qualifications in the tertiary sector.

We wanted to provide assurance to Parliament that the Board of NZQA, having delegated its quality assurance functions for this part of the education system, actively monitors the delegation and ensures that there are processes in place so that the Board is informed of any quality issues in the polytechnic sector.

The scope of our audit

Our audit assessed how effectively NZQA maintains an oversight of quality assurance in the polytechnic sector.

Our audit:

  • examined NZQA’s management of delegations of quality assurance functions for the polytechnic sector;
  • reviewed the operation of, and reporting arrangements for, the academic audit function delegated to ITP Quality;
  • reviewed the auditing of the one polytechnic, Unitec New Zealand (Unitec), audited by the AAA group;
  • examined the extent to which a risk-based approach is used in the academic audits of polytechnics; and
  • reviewed the use of special audits of polytechnics.

Our audit focused on the academic audit aspect of quality assurance. We did not look at course approval or accreditation of providers.

How we conducted the audit

To test the effectiveness of the arrangement under which NZQA has delegated the quality assurance functions, we:

  • interviewed the Chairperson of NZQA and staff at NZQA;
  • interviewed staff at ITP Quality and at ITP New Zealand;
  • reviewed the information provided to the NZQA Board on the auditing of polytechnics during a two-year period; and
  • reviewed relevant papers held by NZQA, including a sample of 10 audit reports on polytechnics provided to NZQA by ITP Quality during the previous four years and papers relating to the audit of Unitec.

1: Polytechnics may also be called institutes of technology. In this report, we refer to them as polytechnics, which is the term used in the Education Act 1989.

2: TEIs are public providers of education.

3: PTEs are also referred to as private training providers (PTPs). In this report, we refer to them as private training establishments, which is the term used in the Education Act 1989.

4: Organisations exercising delegated quality assurance functions from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority are known as “quality assurance bodies”.

5: ITP Quality has multiple delegations, which are noted in Appendix 2.

6: We did not assess the adequacy of the standards.

7: The polytechnic audited by the AAA group is Unitec New Zealand. This is because Unitec is not a member of the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand and therefore is not audited by ITP Quality.

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