The cultural politics of research in New Zealand Polytechnics

Year: 1997

Author: Harvey, Sharon

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Legislative and socieetal changes have transformed New Zealand polytechnics almost beyond recognition ove the last ten years. They are now able to offer degrees and post-graduate qualifications. The large New Zealand polytechnics, eager to upgrade their status and compete on a "level playing field" in the mass education market, have seized the opportunity, offering an ever-increasing smorgasboard of graduate and post-graduate qualifications. New Zealand Qualifications Authority validation of these programmes requires staff teaching at and above the graduate level to be "actively engaged in research". Concomitantly, the polytechnic drive for university status demands that these institutions have a "worthy" resezrch record. This requirement for academic staff to be researchers has been and still is a shock to many. It is one of the most significant and yet under-documented changes in the tertiary sector.

This presentation seeks to problematise the notion of research as it is currently constituted in New Zealand tertiary institutions, with special reference to New Zealand polytechnics. It analyses the publicly held and documented notions of research and knowledge, questioning how relevent these are in light of contemporary philosophical debates over the status of knowledge and by association, research. Specifically, it seeks to explore the following problems:

1. What is research and how might the current meta-narratives of research in education be interrogated? i.e. that research and therefore more knowledge is beneficial; that research informs teaching; that teachers need to research to be effective; that researching people with a different owrld view than one's own is unproblematical; that research can and ought to be measured in terms of "outputs"; that quantitative research is mor valuable and believable than qualitative forms of investigation; that greater research funding indicates better and more research; that research exists in particular categories and hierarchies of usefulness to the institution and society in general.
2. What societal, legislative and associated discoursal changes have led to the large New Zealand polytechnics reconstituting themselves in the way that they have, particularly in regards to research? Whose interests do the changes serve?

This paper will be of interest to anyone teaching and/or researching in tertiary education. They are encouraged to share their own views with others in discussion following the presentation.