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AUS Tertiary Update Vol. 5 No.8, 21 March 2002

AUS WEB SITEAUS Tertiary Update Vol. 5 No. 8, 21 March 2002
In our lead story this week…..
The Association of University Staff has announced that education unionist, Helen Kelly has been appointed General Secretary of the AUS. She replaces Rob Crozier who retires from AUS mid-year. A former schoolteacher, Helen Kelly is currently Assistant Secretary, Professional/Industrial at the NZEI. She was AUS branch organiser at Victoria University between 1996 and 1997 and is currently completing an LLB at Victoria's School of Law. She is due to take up her position at the end of May.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. AUS lobbies Labour backbenchers
2. Canterbury staff face layoffs
3. Otago 'staff crisis' highlighted
4. Tertiary reforms essential for NZ's development
5. 'Proclaimers' support free education
6. ACT says problems not student loans but student debt
7. Israeli Education Minister under fire
8. Major changes in way UK university staff paid
9. Australian government moves to reform higher education

AUS National President, Dr Grant Duncan has reiterated the need for Government to review the university industrial bargaining framework during a meeting this week with backbench Labour MPs. "The enterprise bargaining system of the 1990s is not producing effective processes or outcomes, and is out of step with the more centralised ‘steering’ of the sector that government is developing at the moment," Dr Duncan told the MPs. AUS has consistently argued for a more centralised approach. Dr Duncan also pointed out that none of the current tertiary education reviews and strategies directly addresses the concerns of university staff. "Besides needing more funding, university staff also need to see a plan for the future that makes sense to them and within which they can see a future for themselves and their colleagues," he said.

Canterbury University management is meeting this week to discuss how many jobs need to be cut to claw back its deficit. A round of voluntary redundancies last year saw 129 jobs go, but it was not enough to cut an operating deficit of $6m, meaning the university is now resorting to compulsory redundancies to achieve its target. All but a few of the redundancies last year involved academic staff, raising fears that they, along with technical staff, will bear the brunt of the latest cuts. AUS Branch Organiser, Marty Braithwaite is warning that the university cannot afford further job losses without severely eroding the quality of its teaching. "The cuts that have taken place are already affecting quality and more cuts will only damage it further," he says. Meanwhile, news media reports say six of the university's eight managers have received their full performance-based bonus payments. Mr Braithwaite has criticised the payments, saying the university's financial presentations to the AUS have shown significant management failures in recent years and it is understandable that staff are aggrieved.

A member of the University of Otago council has talked of "serious problems" at the university, with many staff overworked and academic posts unfilled. Dr. Nicholas Reid said the university faced an "ongoing crisis" despite being in a healthy financial situation and pointed to the irony that one of the reasons for last year's operating surplus of $19.9m was that so many academic jobs were vacant, and some research funds were left unspent because staff did not have the time to do the research. Dr Reid emphasised that the system was badly underfunded, and more Government money was needed to offer the salaries that would attract staff in a competitive international and private sector market. Chancellor Eion Edgar said that although the university's overall performance was sound, he was concerned about recruitment and retention problems and the need for more Government funding.

The Minister in charge of tertiary education, Steve Maharey, says the ongoing tertiary education reforms are an essential element of the government's framework for innovation. He told a conference of the Economic Development Association of New Zealand in Palmerston North that the reforms were designed to open up the sector to a closer relationship with the economy and society. "We are looking for a quantum shift in the performance and connectedness of the whole tertiary education sector because nothing less will provide us with the skills base to move forward," he said.

Craig Reid of the Proclaimers spoke up for free education during a St Patrick’s Day concert in Dunedin, and then devoted their anti-poverty song "Cap in Hand" to a better-funded system in New Zealand. Student leaders were delighted. Otago University Students’ Association Campaign co-ordinator, Kyle Matthews, said that if the Proclaimers could see the problem after only a few days in the country, then the Government should have started to fix it by now after two-and-a-half years in power!

The leader of ACT, Richard Prebble says it is the level of student debt, rather than the loan scheme itself that is the problem. Speaking to the party conference last weekend, Mr Prebble said ACT was determined to produce fresh ideas to the problems of the loans. He suggested it had been too easy for young people to get loans, meaning that the level of money owed had doubled in three years under Labour. Mr Prebble suggests using the money currently going towards student allowances and making loans interest free, towards a package helping graduates reduce their debt.

Academic staff in Israel are accusing the Education Minister of trying to stifle academic freedom by complaining about a University of Haifa drama professor who reportedly compared Israeli soldiers to Nazis. The complaint was sent to the university's rector, along with a demand that news reports of the comments be investigated. The professor involved denies the charge.

In contrast to the hands-off, fragmented approach to staffing issues in New Zealand, major changes to higher education pay systems, designed to harmonise salary arrangements across the whole of higher education, are moving ahead in the United Kingdom. National bargaining will be retained through a single new national Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff - made up of higher education employers and unions. Following recent pay settlements, combined working parties have been set up to work on:
-a new single pay spine… to develop proposals on the design of new pay structures to ensure a consistent approach to the treatment of all staff [except clinical academics].
-ensuring that the pay system delivers equal pay for work of equal value
-modernisation issues … fixed-term contracts/casualisation

The Australian government has unveiled its plans for the reform of higher education, setting up a secretariat within the Department of Education, Science and Training to lead the project, and establishing an external reference group to work alongside it. Discussion papers laying out policy options as a basis for consultations are due to be released in about a month. Issues listed for discussion by the Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, include: funding; what defines a university; career advancement for academics; workplace relations; and intellectual property.

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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