Posts from ACTS: Neil Barnes

Posted on October 7, 2008



Dr Neil Barns gave one of the keynotes at the Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability conference in Christchurch last week.  

Barns is the CEO of CPIT, his talk focussed on the challenges and opportunities education for sustainability presents to a tertiary institution.   In short, he describes an approach of developing a vision with the governance structure which is then “given effect” by the staff with action plans approved by management. 

He spent some time talking about the problems with the term sustainability, it being “full of nuance” and “meaning different things to different people”.  He uses the three rings Venn diagram model of sustainability.    The problem, he says is that people have quite different agenda, staff with passions about the environment can be quite dismissive of the financial whereas the pressures of funding drive “critical economic issues”.   He recognises  that “if we don’t get all three in balance, position will fail.

He expands on the pressures felt by those in governance roles where the priority is to economic viability, performance usually judged on financial performance and the environment is sometimes seen as desirable but not critical

His approach then, is to align the vision of governance and challenge staff to deliver.   That needs clear statements that result in actions to demonstrate to stakeholders what you’re about (without impinging academic freedom). 

CPIT’s approach to this institutional statement has been the development of a kaupapa/guiding philosophy.  This was developed by Council and given effect by statements of intent (developed by staff and approved by management).  Specific plans are then developed to deliver on statements of intent.

The philosophy starts with a purpose statement (which, incidentally doesn’t mention the environment):

CPIT’s provision of applied tertiary education and research contributes to the future social, economic and cultural wellbeing of the people, communities, and organisations particularly of Canterbury.

And then gives five alliterative value statements:


Manaakitanga: We respect all the people who make up the communities of Canterbury, working with them confidently, openly, equitably and sensitively.

Mana Atua: We make a positive contribution to the inner strength of our students, their whanau and communities supporting them to achieve their spiritual, cultural, social, economic, and environmental goals.

Mana tangata: Our teaching and learning approach builds each person’s standing enabling them to practise professionally and work responsibly with others for personal and community achievement.

Matauranga: We provide accessible learning opportunities for personal growth, achievement, and vocational success, fostering people’s ability to learn independently and modelling best practice in applied learning and research.

Mana Whenua: We are generous in making strong connections through community partnerships ensuring economic and environmental sustainability, responding quickly and well to our changing environment.


This is then supported by statement of intent.  This includes statements about minimising ecological footprint and “Increasing quality and quantity of EfS”.    In 2009 they have 14 strategies areas, including to work to achieve carbon-zero status.  In the learning area they aim to develop, promote and deliver relevant education focussed on specific aspects of sustainability.    Instiution wide they aim to develop an institutional culture that will increase environmental and sustainability activity.

Q: What is the role of government?

A: effort but little in meaningful way of $ for research or support for tertiary sustainability. Connections govt- agencies- tertiarys
Q: Orientation programmes?
A: Yes for staff, not yet for students. Leadership team testing orientation package now. Students will be strongest advocates.

Q: How to get teachers support to get into eg: building. Staff development unit, including curriculum development.  2 day workshop, aims to shift from ignorance/denial to awareness.  Needs to be supported by ongoing network to allow them to take into their area of work.
Q: How to get buy-in for development of statement of intent
A: Key role holders. Passion and enthusiasm.  Sure conflict, but then brought back to leadership team. Level of conflict quite low. Importance of strong institutional statement. Passionate people know they are supported cf isolated.
Q: Short and long term objectives. Timeframes?
A: Serious short term financial threats. Plan for 12 months and 3 years. Now moving attention to longer term learning and research focus. 2020 horizon.
Q: How will kaupapa endure (changes in CEO etc).
A: 3 year expectation of tertiary CEO. Collective ownership from more stable body – governance body. Stakeholder group.

Q: Focus on values?  Difficult to collect together? Disconnect between values held by passionate staff and students and cumbersome institutions?
A: Early days. Not easy territory. Individual values. Easy to espouse. Critcial is reflecting and living them. Haven’t always behaved t reflect the values. Now leadership focussing on living those values. Eg caring for people, need to treat people with respect. Not a quick fix.
Q: planning framework?
A: key success indicators over long term that makes a difference. Graduate successes over long period of time. Is anyone better off because they came here?  How do employers see curriculum changes?