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AUS Tertiary Update Vol 5 No 12 17 April 2002

AUS WEB SITEAUS Tertiary Update Vol. 5 No. 12, 17 April 2002
In our lead story this week…..
A New Zealand Herald editorial says the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University, Dr John Hood, was "skating on the thinnest of ice when he told staff they would be fired if caught making disparaging comment about colleagues to outsiders." Noting that while "speaking with one voice" is the cultural norm of successful companies, the newspaper says it is one that is alien and inappropriate for universities. The Herald believes the companies that have established links with the University under Dr Hood's stewardship are "not so naïve as to believe that a university functions as they do" and will expect freedom of thought and energetic debate. "If competition for funding has heightened that questioning and criticism, is that necessarily a bad thing?" the paper asks. It notes that Dr Hood was quick to invoke academic freedom when the Government last year proposed dissolving councils of universities in financial strike. "He cannot have it both ways," the writer concludes. "A university which denies its staff the freedom it demands as an institution would be a poor university indeed."
Also entering the debate has been Don Savage, whose report on academic freedom and institutional autonomy in New Zealand was published in 2000. In a letter to Dr Hood, Dr Savage refers to the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel. It insists, he says, that institutional autonomy should not be used as a cloak for the institution to violate the academic freedom of its staff. He also stresses the importance of "debate between researchers about the merits of their research and sometimes about the research strategies of the university both in the professional and in the popular press." This is particularly important, he writes, when private sector contracts are being sought, or there is competition for government funding. Senior management can and should rebut criticism of the university considered unfair or ignorant, but at the same time it should expect that those criticised will answer back. Dr Savage calls on Dr Hood to continue to "practice openness and a commitment to vigorous internal and external debate and resist attempts to impose a private sector ethos which might curtail these".
The Otago Daily Times, in an editorial entitled "Universities in Crisis", also refers to the issue, saying that universities must allow robust debate about both specific academic research and views, and wider 'critic and conscience' matters. Universities must not, the ODT concludes, "operate like other businesses in this sphere". The editorial also records how "the quality of university education is ailing after years of neglect". It points to increasing student-to-staff ratios, falling staff salaries, and a steady fall in the amount of money universities receive per student as being the culprits in the "inexorable process of decline".

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Tertiary Consultative Group inaugural meeting
2. Call for more support for foreign students
3. Eight universities – should there be more?
4. University funding pays in the long run
5. More Oz universities in dire straits
6. Oz librarians’ win a victory for all women

A new forum on tertiary issues – the Tertiary Consultative Group – has held its first meeting.
AUS is among the organisations represented on the group, which also includes representatives from public and private tertiary providers, quality assurance bodies, students, and government agencies. The forum will meet several times a year and its roles include advising on how tertiary education policy is working and providing advice to the minister.

A report produced by Massey University researchers says poorly-resourced tertiary institutions should establish links with community groups to ensure that New Zealand's burgeoning foreign student population gets the support it needs. The report found that many Asian students had turned to community groups such as Rotary, churches and friendly societies to cope with isolation and loneliness. One of the authors, Andrew Butcher, said many education providers failed to offer sufficient social support services for their foreign students, and it was voluntary groups that had offered English tuition, accommodation and friendship –mostly free of charge.

Eagle eyes in the AUS office have noted that the Education (Limiting Number of Universities) Amendment Bill, introduced in June 2000 and scheduled for reporting back to Parliament in March 2002 (in itself a mystery!), has now been rescheduled for 1 November 2002. An unlikely date, it would seem, unless there is a very early election (and no long-drawn out coalition horse-trading) to allow Parliament to resume by then. Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellors' Committee is using the Official Information Act to ask the NZQA Board to explain why it has decided to take no action over Unitec’s continuing unauthorised use of the term 'university' in its marketing. Meanwhile, Tertiary Update notes that the Tertiary Education Reform Bill, which establishes the Tertiary Education Commission, is due to be reported back to Parliament on 6 May.


Two University of Melbourne economists who researched the returns to the community of investments in higher education say that governments around the world that spend billions of dollars a year on their public universities almost certainly get back more than they invest. Drs Roger Wilkins and David Johnson found that the Australian Federal Government last year received around $A9bn net from its investment in higher education. The return included increased taxation payments resulting from the higher salaries of graduates and the repayment of student loan debt. As graduate incomes rise, so does the government's return on its investment. The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee says the latest study confirms the findings of earlier research demonstrating the value of higher education to both the individual and the wider community.

The number of Australia's universities in the red has doubled in the past year according to a report by the Department of Education, Training and Research into higher education funding. It found 10 of the nation's 38 public universities were in deficit because of a combination of limited revenue growth and a general increase in costs.
Meanwhile, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has welcomed an announcement by the Education Minister, Dr Brendan Nelson, of a review of the higher education sector. NTEU says, however, the review must address the fundamental problem of funding for the core activities of teaching, research and community service. ‘The problems of our universities have been well documented through a number of significant reviews in recent years," says NTEU National President, Dr Carolyn Allport. "This review must move on from the problems and deliver solutions."
And just for the record – New Zealand universities operate at about 60% of the level of government funding of Australian universities!

Public sector librarians, library technicians, library assistants and archivists in New South Wales have received a pay increase of around 16% on average, on the grounds that their work has been historically undervalued because of the predominance of women in the profession. The award was made by the Full Bench of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, which also concluded that there had been significant increases in the work, skill and responsibilities of the employees that had not been reflected in pay rates. The NTEU hopes the rise will flow on to librarians working in higher education, although there will be a delay because a new pay round has just been completed.

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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