Phil Ker receives honorary doctorate


Although every Otago Polytechnic graduation ceremony holds a special place for those involved, today’s event at the Dunedin Town Hall was particularly notable.

Presiding over his final ceremony after 16 years as Otago Polytechnic Chief Executive, Phil Ker was conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Professional Practice on Friday 13 March.

OP Council Chair Kathy Grant conferred the Doctorate, noting it recognises a distinguished professional career in academic leadership encompassing more than 45 years.

“The award of an Honorary Doctorate of Professional Practice is appropriate recognition of the extraordinary contribution that Phil has made as a leader, educator and global citizen to Otago Polytechnic, to this community, and to the tertiary education sector over a period of more than four decades.

“As chair of the Council of Otago Polytechnic I am delighted to confer on Phillip Ross Ker the honorary degree Doctorate of Professional Practice.

“Phil’s contribution and achievements during his tenure at Otago Polytechnic have impacted our communities, our stakeholders, our region and our people. Phil has certainly lived our vision: He ao ka taea, ka autaia - Our people make a better world.”

Phil, who steps down as Chief Executive of Otago Polytechnic in June, took up his appointment in 2004.

Under his leadership, Otago Polytechnic has transformed its performance, reputation and reach, witnessing financial uplift, a continued and sustained upward trend in educational outcomes for its learners and the acknowledgment of the Polytechnic as a high-performing institution with a reputation for innovation.

In 2018, Otago Polytechnic gained the Baldrige-affiliated Performance Excellence Study Award (PESA), a prestigious organisational excellence award of world-class standard - and the first to be awarded to an institution in New Zealand.

Born in Auckland, Phil completed undergraduate studies in Commerce at the University of Auckland, graduating with Honours in 1982. He subsequently completed a Masters of Educational Administration at Massey University, graduating with First Class Honours. He also holds a Trained Teachers Diploma from the Auckland College of Education. He was accepted for and completed study at the Institute for Education Management and Leadership at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in 2001.

Phil’s professional and academic career has been dedicated to tertiary education, initially at what was then the Auckland Institute of Technology. By the time the Institute became the Auckland University of Technology in 2000, he held the position of Executive Director of Corporate Services, having also completed a three-year term as president of the New Zealand Polytechnic Teachers Union.

Phil has championed key innovations in our sector. From EduBits (Otago Polytechnic’s micro-credentialling service) though Capable NZ, supporting work-based learning, to the creation of flagship facilities such as the Otago Brew School at our Central Otago Campus, a campus in Auckland for international students in partnership with Future Skills, and most recently our heavy automotive facility here in Dunedin. All of these initiatives are helping to meet the growing demand for just-in-time and work-based learning while addressing the changing skills needs of future employees.

But Philr’s contribution to the sector has not been limited to the institutions at which he has worked. As a Director of Ako Aotearoa he has worked to support capability-building for learner success across the national sector. Chairing Ako Aotearoa’s Tertiary Excellence Awards Committee, he has helped to shape the way in which we honour and recognise our outstanding practitioners.

As a Director of the Malcam Charitable Trust, and a Board member of ITP Quality and Te Tapuae o Rehua, he has worked to provide effective development opportunities to empower people to realise their potential and achieve stronger communities. He has played a pivotal role in the Tertiary Accord of New Zealand (TANZ), an accord between seven of New Zealand's ITPs which promotes best-practice in applied education and models leadership for a better vocational education system in New Zealand.

Most recently, Phil’s leadership in education has been called upon by the Establishment Board of the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology – he is chairing two of the seven work streams tasked with co-designing elements of the new Institute.

“Phil’s enduring vision and application of his professional ethos in every day practice have had a powerful effect on individuals’ autonomy, professional identity and personal wellbeing,” Kathy Grant said when conferring the award.

“Phil has tirelessly advocated for, and modelled, a servant leadership ethos. He has consistently encouraged a values-driven approach to facilitating the best outcomes for all learners, here and further afield.

“Always with an eye on the future, he has conceptualised, driven and delivered innovation in tertiary educational practice which will serve this country well as it transitions into a new era of vocational education.”

Congratulations, Phil!