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AUS Tertiary Update, Vol.3 No.21

AUS WEB SITE
AUS MEETS TEAC
Staffing issues had not featured in any tertiary education reviews over the last decade, the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission were told by AUS representatives this week.
National President Neville Blampied, Executive Director Rob Crozier, and Policy Analyst Margaret Ledgerton, presented the AUS submission on the terms of reference for the Commission at the meeting.
With the intellectual capital of staff being tertiary institutions’ most significant asset, the AUS called for an independent review of the current staffing situation in New Zealand universities, including salaries, workloads, superannuation, research facilities etc.
We reiterated our firm view that the concept of a co-operative and collaborative sector was the best means of using a small nation’s resources most effectively and equitably.
TEAC’s initial report setting out the Commission’s starting position and their work plan will be released later this month.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Victoria and Auckland Join the Fee-Freeze Set
2. Planned Improvements to Student Loan Processing
3. Students’ Response
4. WINZ Debacle at Waikato Polytechnic – An Example

VICTORIA AND AUCKLAND JOIN THE FEE-FREEZE SET
Victoria and Auckland Universities this week joined Otago and Massey in accepting the Government’s 2.3% funding increase for 2001 provided they maintain 2000 tuition fee levels.
This means another year of funding cuts in real terms for tertiary institutions and does not bode well for institutions or their staff. Christchurch Polytechnic is the only polytechnic to accept the offer so far.
The Vice-Chancellors from both universities believe that quality is threatened by the effective cut in real funding.
Students at both universities welcomed the news, noting that participation rates had been affected in recent years by dramatic fee increases.

PLANNED IMPROVEMENTS TO STUDENT LOAN PROCESSING
Student loan processing next year should improve when recommendations from an independent review are put into place by the Department of Work and Income.
Commenting on the review, Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey said a number of improvements were already underway by the Department. The evaluation found that core problems included the Department’s centralised system of a national call and processing centre and insufficient acknowledgement of concerns raised by tertiary institutions.
The review recommended greater emphasis on delivering aspects of loan processing on campus.
Mr Maharey said options on this were being explored in terms of feasibility and cost. He said the focus for the Department was now on finding solutions to the problems that occurred and putting them in place for next year.

STUDENTS’ RESPONSE
Both the Aotearoa Post-compulsory Student Union (APSU) and the New Zealand University Students Association (NZUSA) welcomed the review and the issues it identified.
“It is clear that the DWI is not skilled at solving students' problems with their loan applications via their 0800 number. This year the DWI staff who were based on campus had no computer access and were practically useless,” said David Penney, APSU National President.
“The only acceptable option for improving on campus support that we see is for DWI staff to have full on-line access on each University and Polytechnic campus,” said Sam Huggard, NZUSA Co-President.
The identification of staff training as an issue was also welcomed. “Many students this year were frustrated with the inconsistent information they received from DWI staff and we will be looking for a major improvement next year,” said David Penney.

WINZ DEBACLE AT WAIKATO POLYTECHNIC – AN EXAMPLE
Dr Kai Jensen, an academic officer at Waikato Polytechnic, says no one knows how many students were lost to Waikato Polytechnic this year, with the average waiting time for student loan approvals being 2.5 months.
Dr Jensen identified a lack of service focus, absence of contingency planning, reliance on a production-line model and an insular and defensive organisational culture as key factors in the failure of WINZ to cope with the processing of student loans earlier this year.
Six weeks into the year, from three classes surveyed, 20% of students’ applications were still in the early stages of the approval process.
WINZ blamed students for not correctly filling in forms, but it was clear that the organisation had failed to provide adequate instructions. The WINZ helpline was overloaded, call centre staff gave varying responses and WINZ staff (most of whom were temporary) did not know how to read their VOS screens (computer data relating to verification of study).

WORLD WATCH

FUNDING BOOST FOR UK SCIENCE
The news that UK university science laboratories are to receive a £1 billion boost for their equipment and that PhD students in science and engineering will receive an increase in grant support has been welcomed by the Association of University Teachers.
The funding boost comes from a public private partnership between the Government and the Wellcome Trust, who have again generously supported UK science with aid of £225 million over the first two years of the next spending review. The Government is funding the remaining £775 million for the years 2002/3 and 2003/4.
Crucially, the Government has accepted the need to invest in people, a central tenet of the report by Sir Michael Bett into pay and conditions of staff in higher education. Postgraduate science and engineering students will see an increase in their grants from £6,500 to £9,000 over the next two academic years until 2003.

USP AND THE FIJI COUP
The University of the South Pacific will reopen for the second semester on the 7th of August it was decided this week.
Some regional countries are still concerned about the security of their students, however, despite assurances by representatives of the Interim Fiji Government. The interim Fiji education minister also gave assurances to the University that academic freedom will not be curtailed in any way. Funding by the Fiji government has also been assured.
The AUS remains unclear of the status of the Interim Government and its ability to deliver on these matters. We are also unsure how the coup and its aftermath affects Massey’s expansion in Fiji.
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AUS Tertiary Update is produced weekly on Fridays and distributed freely to members of the union and others. Back issues are archived on the AUS website:

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