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AUS Tertiary Update Vol.4 No.9

In our lead story this week…..
AUS has this week written to the Minister in charge of Tertiary Education, Steve Maharey asking for an urgent meeting to discuss how salaries are to be set in the environment being proposed by the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission (TEAC). The letter points out that this issue appears to have been neglected to date in discussions on the future of the sector, and is not part of TEAC's brief. AUS makes clear the present arrangements – under which employment contracts and agreements are negotiated on an institution-by-institution basis – are not working, and says the situation has been aggravated by the fall in public funding of universities in real terms. This has been further worsened by the government's freeze on fees in its last Budget – meaning a de facto pay freeze in the university sector for this year, and perhaps next. AUS says that since the late 1980s, when university salaries ceased to be determined by the Higher Salaries Commission, academic pay rates have fallen dramatically, and have not even kept pace with inflation. The letter points out, too, that the current salary-setting mechanism will be inappropriate under the system envisaged by TEAC. That proposes much more active engagement by government, and with the direct link between salaries and student fees decoupled, the AUS letter says, some new framework is required for salary setting in universities.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Legislation "premature, unnecessary and objectionable"
2. Sustaining USP
3. Name change for Waikato Polytechnic
4. Alarm at US students' mounting debt
5. Canadian university accused of hiring bias
6. Unity over Tory privatisation plan

The Vice-Chancellors' Committee is calling the Education Amendment (No.2) Bill, currently before Parliament, "premature, unnecessary and objectionable". In its submission to parliament's Education and Science Select Committee, the NZVCC points out that the legislation is premature because much of its content concerns issues being considered in a wider policy context by TEAC. Professor James McWha, chair of NZVCC, points out that TEAC favours a commission to steer the sector, and yet the Bill proposes giving new powers to the education minister before a decision is made on TEAC's proposals. The NZVCC submission also takes issue with provisions in the bill for monitoring institutions, saying this is a direct threat to their autonomy, and raises "the spectre of Government-controlled universities". "The Bill is unnecessary in that it is clear that the Government already has sufficient power under current legislation and through budgetary controls to achieve its financial monitoring objectives for the tertiary education sector," Professor McWha says. He also stresses that the Bill overlooks the fact that the main reasons tertiary education institutions are at risk are over-capacity in the system and the continual decline in government funding per student over two decades.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Phil Goff has outlined the government's stand concerning the post-coup future of the University of the South Pacific, saying it is committed to giving financial and practical support, but cannot intervene in the affairs of other education providers who see opportunities in Fiji. Mr Goff was replying to a letter sent to him earlier this year by the AUS president, Neville Blampied. That called for New Zealand to foster support for the university's charter among other Pacific governments, and for this country's representative on the USP Council to take a stand on issues such as academic freedom. It also pointed to the competition USP faced as foreign providers – including Massey University – contemplated setting up there. In his reply, the Minister points to New Zealand's annual grant of $2.75m to USP, as well as offers of help with the infrastructure needed for USP to diversify its operations through distance education. Mr Goff says that in briefing newly-appointed New Zealand representatives to the USP Council and the Grants Committee, it was made clear that this country's goal is to be supportive to the institution and encourage good governance. In that context, he notes, "we do not expect our representatives to take the dominant role in determining the direction of the USP … is important that leadership in this area comes from the Pacific Island members of Council."

Waikato Polytechnic is to become the Waikato Institute of Technology, bringing to an end a long drawn-out saga over re-naming the institution. Marketing staff at the polytechnic had suggested taking the name of arguably our greatest living treasure, Sir Edmund Hillary, but the local community objected, wanting the direct link with "Waikato" retained. Sir Edmund was happy to be associated with the institution, and now it's being suggested that, as recompense, the Waikato Institute of Technology might find a role for him as its patron.


A report released in the United States says students are getting deeper and deeper into debt each year, and most of them do not realise how much they will owe after they graduate. The report, by the State Public Interest Research Groups' Higher Education Project, calls on Congress to increase spending to make loans more affordable. It suggests eliminating charges to set up loans, and providing flexible repayment options to prevent students defaulting on the money they owe. The report also warns lawmakers not to heed calls by private colleges and costly public universities to increase the amount of money students are allowed to borrow. "We are concerned with efforts to increase loan limits without reducing the total cost of borrowing for students," the report says. Currently, students in college for five years can take up to $22,625 in federal loans. In turn, the institutions argue that the limits have not kept up with college costs, forcing students to turn to pricier loan agencies to see them through their study.

A leading left-wing academic is accusing Simon Fraser University (SFU) of blocking his appointment to a chair because of his views on the use of technology. David Noble, a professor of the history of technology at York University in Toronto, was unanimously chosen for a chair at SFU's Faculty of Humanities, but was subsequently rejected. SFU says Professor Noble was not appointed because he would not agree to a background check that involved referees picked by the university rather than by the applicant himself. The 5 referees have all been the subject of criticism by Professor Noble. But Professor Noble's supporters, including the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), see the move as linked to his politics. He has been a vocal critic of on-line education because of the alliances it creates between universities and the private companies that provide the finance. As one of Professor Noble's referees for the position, Ralph Nader, put it: "David is a person who challenges autocratic procedures at institutions, and especially the corporatisation of universities. If you do that, you stand out and people are opposed to you." Jim Turk, CAUT Executive Director, says that CAUT regards this as a breach of academic freedom and is referring the matter to its Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee

The Association of University Teachers (AUT) has joined the National Union of Students (NUS) in condemning plans by the British Conservative Party's plans to privatise higher education.
The plan would see commercial rates of interest introduced for student loans, and an endowment system put in place for universities. Research by the AUT has found that the cost of the endowment proposals would be £89 billion and both organisations fear the proposals would lead to top up fees being imposed. Calling it "the most dangerous higher education proposal put before the general public in a generation", the general secretary of AUT, David Triesman suggested the party "should come clean and tell us where the widespread support for [the] policy can be found. Increasing student hardship and continuing unrest by university staff about pay and conditions would only be heightened by freeing up universities in the private sector."
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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