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AUS Tertiary Update Vol 4 No 17

In our lead story this week…..
The Association of University Staff has written to the Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors and student presidents of the country's eight universities inviting them to a crisis summit meeting on last week's Budget announcement on tertiary funding. In a letter, AUS Executive Director, Rob Crozier, says it is essential that all the parties affected – Councils, Vice-Chancellors, staff and students – should discuss the implications of either accepting or rejecting the Government's 2.6% fee-freeze offer (in reality about 1.8%). He is suggesting the meeting be held in Wellington as soon as possible, but in the meantime says the various parties should also discuss the issue at the local level.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Action on the campuses
2. AUS criticises fee-freeze link with 'excellence' funding
3. TEC no threat, says Minister
4. Church minister speaks up for academic freedom
5. UK universities cash-strapped
6. European universities seek harmonisation
7. Journal costs escalate

There has been strong criticism, along with direct action, from universities in reaction to the Government's fee-freeze offer unveiled in last week's Budget. The AUS organised forums for Massey University's Palmerston North and Albany staff on Wednesday (29 May) while the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE) helped organise a similar event at the Wellington campus. The Massey Vice-Chancellor, Professor James McWha, urged staff to attend and also spoke at the Palmerston North forum. Professor McWha told staff that all eight university Vice-Chancellors have confirmed that they are "not of a mind to accept the offer" because it is not sufficient to maintain the quality of university education in New Zealand. The final decision on whether or not to accept the Government's offer must be made by university councils by 1 August. He pointed out that there had already been an impact on the university of a "very small increase" in funding in the current year. "We need substantially more than the government appears ready to offer, if we are to maintain staffing levels and ensure we can adequately reward our staff," he said.
Earlier, more than 3000 staff and students from Canterbury attended a rally in protest at the funding offer. The Vice-Chancellor, Daryl Le Grew, who had closed down the university for the afternoon, addressed the rally. He told the crowd: "We've heard a lot about the knowledge society and the knowledge-driven economic recovery. It's hollow rhetoric if it's not going to be backed up by some decent funding." He said the university was already $5m worse off by accepting the fee-freeze deal for this year, and would be another $5m worse off if it accepted another similar deal. In a show of solidarity, staff and students from Lincoln University and from Otago University's Christchurch School of Medicine joined the Canterbury rally.
Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University, Bryan Gould, says the universities and the Government are on a collision course over the matter of funding. He takes the Government to task for deciding on the offer without negotiating, or even discussing the matter, with the universities. "Their unilateral decision was the way it was going to be," he says. "It's a bit rich therefore to be told that it's now 'too late' to make the argument that the deal cannot be accepted". The Waikato Vice-Chancellor calls for common sense to be brought to bear, saying that everyone wants to hold down fees, and all that is needed to make this possible is "a fair offer".

The AUS National President, Neville Blampied, has voiced serious concern that only institutions that accept the Government's fee-freeze deal will be eligible for money to set up Centres of Research Excellence. He was speaking during a forum on funding held at Otago University. The Government announced in the Budget a $46m package to set up the centres of excellence, but tied it to acceptance of its offer of funding in return for a freeze on fees. Mr Blampied said the AUS was concerned about this "coercive" element and was seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister, Helen Clark to discuss it. He suggested universities were, in effect, being "given a bowl of thin soup…served by a surly waiter". Unfortunately the waiter is insisting that the universities eat their crumbs or there will be no soup at all!

The Minister in charge of Tertiary Education, Steve Maharey says the thriving tertiary education sector in Otago will do even better under the Government's planned Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). In an interview with the "Otago Daily Times", Mr Maharey said the TEC would take an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach and he called on tertiary institutions in the city to discuss their strengths and how they could co-operate to develop them. The AUS National President, Neville Blampied agrees that the TEC approach will benefit Dunedin. He says it promises to reduce duplication within the private sector, allowing more funding to go to public institutions.

A Presbyterian minister in Invercargill, the Rev. Simon Rae has criticised as "too drastic" a Government proposal that would see a commissioner appointed to run a university when it is in financial difficulty. Writing in the publication, "Religion and Life", the minister recalls the fact that the modern western university grew out of the church, evolving into "a corporate body of masters and students with its own government, its own values and its own curricula and qualifications". That autonomy, he says, led to it having a moral authority within society. To dissolve that corporate governance, the Rev. Rae writes, would change the nature of its role in society: "An independent, critical voice would become just another agent of the ideology of the day. A long-valued ally in the search for wisdom and knowledge would be significantly weakened."


A report released by Britain's Association of University Teachers (AUT) shows that 44% of the country's universities recorded deficits in the 1999-2000 year. That compared with the 28% that recorded a deficit in the previous year. The AUT general secretary, David Triesman says: "Universities cannot continue to meet the needs of a growing student population unless there is a real drive to invest money in research and teaching."

Officials from tertiary institutions in 30 European countries have re-affirmed their commitment to harmonise their diverse national university systems. In a statement released at the end of a two-day meeting in Prague, the officials called for the adoption of the 'European Credit Transfer System'. This will allow students to accumulate and transfer credits and provide universities and employers outside their home country with the detailed information they need on the academic work they have completed. The meeting also agreed to adopt a system for degree qualifications. The meeting also called for a common framework of reference to be established as a way of assuring quality standards.

More than 22,800 scientists from around the world are saying they will boycott any publishers of scientific journals that refuse to make research papers freely available on the Internet after six months. The boycott is the result of building anger at the high cost of subscriptions to the journals (some cost up to £9,000 a year), and the fact that access on the Internet is also by subscription only. Scientists who publish in the journals are not paid for their contributions and say they see no reason why they should hand over copyright to the publishers. But a spokesman for one major publisher, Elsevier says someone has to pay for putting the papers up on the Web.
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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