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AUS Tertiary Update Vol 5 No 6 7 March 2002

AUS Tertiary Update Vol. 5 No. 6, 7 March 2002
In our lead story this week…..
The Association of University Staff (AUS) is dismayed at reports of a 4.5% increase in Government funding of universities in return for another freeze on student fees, pointing out that the increase is not adequate for rebuilding the sector. AUS National President Dr Grant Duncan says the net effect would be to leave institutions in "the same mire" they are in at the moment, and would inevitably lead to further industrial unrest. "To make a fee-freeze deal acceptable to staff, an increase in Government funding in the range of 12% to 20% would be essential, to reinvest in and rebuild a sector that everyone knows has been underfunded for years," says Dr Duncan. He suggests another solution would be to have cumulative 12% increases each year for the next 3 years. AUS calculates that would require an estimated $91.3 million in the first year – if student participation remains stable, or a total new input of $593 million over the next 3 years. "The kind of money we're talking about is less than that invested in rescuing Air New Zealand," Dr Duncan says, but he warns that if the Government's next budget continues the trend of inadequate funding, AUS may be forced to reject further fees stabilisation policies, eventhough the Association does not wish to see student fees rise.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. National day of action a first for AUS
2. Maharey urges resumption of university pay talks
3. Victoria University loses employment case
4. Let them eat cake!
5. Five Centres of Research Excellence named
6. Age seen as an academic question
7. Wanted: thousands of university teachers

On Monday this week, staff at Massey, Waikato and Canterbury universities held a strike in protest at inadequate university salaries and underfunding of university education. Their stand was supported by colleagues at other universities who held lunchtime rallies and meetings. In Palmerston North, Massey members marched to a rally at the City Square to hear speeches emphasising how a decade of underfunding by both National and Coalition Governments has left universities understaffed and overworked. At Canterbury, hundreds of protesters staged a two-hour rally and handed out leaflets to students explaining their case. Lincoln and Victoria universities were to have joined the strike, but last-minute offers saw them at work. Victoria staff , however, sent a delegation to Parliament and were received by Wellington Central MP, Marian Hobbs. AUS members received messages of support and encouragement from their international counterparts, including the National Tertiary Education Union in Australia and the staff association at the University of the South Pacific (AUSPS).

The Minister in charge of tertiary education, Steve Maharey, has urged university staff and employers to go back to the negotiating table. In a news release coinciding with Monday's industrial action by university staff, Steve Maharey said that while tertiary institutions have autonomy in industrial issues, he was urging both sides to resume negotiations in good faith in order to reach an acceptable settlement. “The Government is not a party to the negotiations which have broken down on some campuses. However we have introduced a new industrial relations framework which allows staff to organise collectively and bargain in good faith to share the gains. Staff at Otago and Auckland universities have used this framework to reach an acceptable settlement and I believe that staff and management at other universities can do the same," he said. AUS National President, Grant Duncan, noted, however, that the Minister claims that he has no direct role in industrial relations and yet the Government makes funding decisions that directly predetermine industrial outcomes in the universities.

Victoria University has lost an appeal against an Employment Tribunal decision which saw a former employee awarded more than $35,000 in damages. Karen Reader, who had been with Victoria's science research department since 1986, took her claim to the court in 2000 after departmental restructuring a year earlier saw her lose her position as Head Technician in the electron microscope facility. She had been asked to apply for another position, which she claimed was significantly different from her previous job. Lawyers for the university had argued that the skills required for the new position were "broadly within Ms Reader's technical capability." But lawyer for AUS, Sandra Moran, argued that the university would not concede there was a significant difference in the two positions, because a clause in Ms Reader’s contract required them to pay severance if she left the job within a nine-month period, which she had done. The Tribunal decided the differences in the two positions were significant enough to warrant redundancy and awarded Ms Reader $25,488 in redundancy compensation and $6,903 in retirement leave, plus costs and interest on the amount.

Student leaders presented current and former tertiary ministers with birthday cakes this week to mark the 10th anniversary of the student loan scheme. Recipients included National's Lockwood Smith, Wyatt Creech, and Max Bradford as well as current minister, Labour's Steve Maharey. NZUSA noted the cakes were a reminder to the politicians of the role they had played in creating and maintaining one of the harshest and most inequitable student loan systems in the world.

The Royal Society of New Zealand has announced the five Centres of Research Excellence chosen to receive money from the government's new $60m. CoRE fund. They are the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution based at Massey; the Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery, the New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, and Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (the National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development and Advancement) – all based at Auckland; and the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology based at Victoria.

The Australian Department of Education, Science and Training has commissioned a study aimed at revealing how universities are coping with, and can overcome, the problems that will arise from an ageing academic workforce. In relation to the changing nature of academic work, the study will look at the past two decades, changes in what academics do and how they do it, with a view to informing recruitment and training activities. The project brief cites changes in teaching and technology of teaching, the structure of the academic environment and work conditions and incentives. The project will be part of a longer-term study. [AUS has been advocating for years that similar research be carried out in New Zealand and is hoping that the Tertiary Education Commission will provide strategic initiatives in this area].

In Britain, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) has calculated that around 40,000 new university teachers must be found if the government is to meet its target of 50% participation in higher education. The AUT data is based on maintaining current student:staff ratios and replacing the 17,000 university teachers who are due to retire by 2010.
AUS Tertiary Update is produced weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the union and others.
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