New Zealand Qualifications Authority

Developing a new qualifications framework, after wide consultation, will enable a more streamlined and coherent tertiary education system.

Thought leaders champion change

New Zealand Qualifications Authority logoEngaging “thought leaders” from the outset was central to the tertiary education sector quickly adopting a clearer and more consistent way of describing the skills and knowledge of its certificate and diploma graduates. The result is 45% fewer qualifications but greater certainty for participants and employers as to what graduates can be expected to know and do with the qualification they receive from a New Zealand education provider.

A significant driver for changing levels 1 to 6 qualifications came from industry, which was concerned about the mismatch between its needs and graduates’ skills and knowledge. Industry was also frustrated by the lack of clarity with what each of the 4600 qualifications available actually equipped graduates to do. The concern was so great that it was identified in the Labour Government’s Skills Strategy as a significant risk to the nation, and improving the New Zealand qualifications system became a Ministerial priority.

Efficient and effective mean better, faster, cheaper, and easier to work with.

In 2009, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and the Ministry of Education set about researching the extent, and the culture, of the issue. Education organisations including universities, polytechnics, wānanga, industry training organisations, and other education providers, as well as the general public, were asked for their views.

In January 2010, the NZQA Board agreed to a package of seven changes to the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF), which the Minister for Tertiary Education endorsed. The change programme was run by a team comprising in-house expertise as well as seconded and contracted sector people with relevant education and industry training expertise. The programme was split into three steps, the first being to capture the details and status of every qualification available at the time as well as to establish the NZQF. 

Tim Fowler, Deputy Chief Executive, Quality Assurance, NZQA, says the review and implementation process drew heavily on the goodwill and input of industry and education representatives through working groups of about 12 members. “One of the real strengths of the project was shoulder-tapping a number of key people in the peak bodies and other organisations, the thought leaders of their sectors, and they made a real contribution and became champions of the process,” he says. This was particularly important given the diverse range of stakeholders involved, from the very large to the very small, with different areas of interest.

As a result, NZQA received a 100% response to its request for information about existing qualifications, enabling it to accurately update qualification details on the new qualifications framework, which went live in June 2010. Implementation, the third step, commenced in January 2011, after all the operational policies had been agreed, and is ongoing. 

Mr Fowler says the high level of engagement from education providers and employers has enabled these significant changes to take place quickly and smoothly. By the end of 2014, there will be around 1300 qualifications, clearer pathways to employment and further education, and reduced duplication. This will result in a more streamlined and coherent tertiary education system that will increase the usability of the qualifications framework for learners, and deliver time and resource savings across the education sector.

Mr Fowler says that NZQA is keen to ensure that the framework continues to be relevant and adaptable to changing market forces, so it has chosen to make reviews a mandatory part of the process.

However, if there is one thing they would have done differently, he says, it would have been to test the mandatory review process with a select number of organisations. “We have all learnt a lot from the early reviews, which we have now built into the process and shared. Some of this could have been identified in a pilot,” he says.

Although it is still early days, Mr Fowler says NZQA is being recognised internationally as one of the leaders in developing national qualifications frameworks and staff are regularly invited to share the New Zealand experience at conferences.

Based on an interview with Catherine Williams, Eve McMahon, and Loraine Milne, on 28 June 2012.

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