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AUS Tertiary Update Vol. 4 No. 7, 21 March 2001

In our lead story this week?.
The Association of University Staff has written a strongly-worded letter to National MP Wyatt Creech criticising him for his comments regarding a research contract awarded to an AUS member, Professor Peter Davis. In the letter, National President, Neville Blampied "deplores in the strongest possible terms" Mr Creech's comments, which he says are an attack on Professor Davis' personal and professional integrity, and on the integrity of the processes used by the Health Research Council (HRC) in making research grants. Mr Blampied likens the MP’s allegations about Professor Davis -- who is married to the Prime Minister -- to suggesting a medical practitioner or lawyer is incapable of giving quality professional service to clients who have a different political view to themselves. Mr Blampied points out that Professor Davis is being denied the right of "presumption of innocence". Furthermore, writes Mr Blampied, "In the present case, no evidence of misconduct has been adduced against him, only the allegation that political bias will lead to misconduct in the future." Mr Blampied also reminds Mr Creech, a former Minister of Education, that university staff have a statutory right and responsibility to act as critic and conscience of society and emphasises that the AUS will always defend the rights of its members, within the law, to enjoy academic freedom. A copy of the AUS letter has gone to the leader of the National party, Jenny Shipley.

Meanwhile, the Health Research Council (HRC) has issued a news release clearly outlining how it goes about ensuring bias is kept out of research. The Chief Executive, Dr Bruce Scoggins says experienced researchers in their fields assess all applications using the tried and tested peer review system. It is, he says, a process completely independent of government and highly regarded by health research funders and scientists in other countries. "The HRC process is very aware of researcher conflicts of interest", he adds. "This is why it emphasises scientific merit, objectivity and scientific independence." HRC also points out that Professor Davis and his team have a proven record in research, and that he has regularly had papers on his research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals internationally.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Meeting with the minister
2. TEAC consultation
3. Australian universities under the microscope
4. Enticements for research
5. Keeping track of 'diploma mills'

AUS was part of a delegation of education sector unions that this week met the Minister in charge of Tertiary Education, Steve Maharey, to put their views on TEAC'S "Shaping the System" report, and drive home the seriousness of the funding crisis facing the sector. The delegation was led by Ross Wilson, President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. The Minister agreed that the sector was significantly under-funded - the problem was how this was to be remedied, given the fiscal constraints on the government, and the fact that there would be no increase in taxation. It's clear from the feedback from AUS members around the country, however, that the government can't afford NOT to substantially increase investment in public tertiary institutions if it is really serious about developing a knowledge society in New Zealand. The message for the Beehive is that starting this year, its target must be to restore government funding of student tuition to 75% of cost -- as recommended by the Todd Taskforce of 1994. In the longer term, AUS believes that government should aim to cover 80% of that cost. After more than a decade of government neglect, the tertiary sector awaits the May Budget with particular interest.

The public consultation process for the TEAC "Shaping the System" report is now in full swing. Meetings are being held in Christchurch today between 4pm to 7pm at the Christchurch Convention Centre; in Auckland between 9am and 12 noon on Thursday 29 March at the Fickling Convention Centre in Three Kings; and, in Dunedin from 10am to 1pm on Saturday 31 March at the Dunedin Centre. Meanwhile, a reminder that submissions on the report close on Saturday 7 April.

The Australian senate has begun public hearings in its inquiry into the state of the country's public universities. The inquiry is opening its hearings in Brisbane where thirteen witnesses are due to appear before the six-member cross-party team. The witnesses include student and staff union representatives, two vice-chancellors and senior academics. The inquiry -- which was initiated by the Democrats and has the backing of the Labour party -- is focussing on whether public universities have the capacity to meet Australia's higher education needs. It will cover politically controversial areas such as private funding and commercialisation, public funding arrangements, infrastructure and resources, the affects of fees and charges, policy advice to government and regulation. To date, more than fifty submissions have been lodged, with the deadline the end of this month.

The Australian government is inviting top academics from around the world to apply for its new "Federation Fellowships" said to be among the most generous government-supported research fellowships available anywhere. A total of 125 fellowships will be awarded over the next five years for scholars to perform research at Australia's publicly financed higher-education institutions and research organisations. Each recipient will receive a total package in the region of US$224,000. Preference will go to Australian citizens, but non-Australians working overseas are also eligible. The Federation Fellows will be expected to make an outstanding contribution to Australia's research effort, and to establish strong links with industry. The closing date for applications is June 22. More information available at

Regulators in the United States are grappling with the problem of so-called 'diploma mills" -- institutions offering sub-standard courses. The number of these unaccredited courses have increased with the Internet, where they are accused of targeting naïve foreign students, including those who do not have English as their first language. Oregon, Iowa, Louisiana and South Dakota are the latest states to introduce legislation to bar unaccredited institutions from operating within their borders, but the authorities say that institutions are getting around the laws by simply changing their mailing address. Other states, such as Wyoming, Montana and Hawaii permit the unaccredited universities to operate as long as they have a physical presence there. To make matters worse, some of the suspect institutions have established accrediting bodies of their own that are not recognised by the U.S Department of Education. All in all, a regulator’s nightmare! And students are unhappy too when they're told their qualification is not recognised. For more visit
AUS Tertiary Update is produced weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the union and others. Back issues are archived on the AUS website:

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