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AUS Tertiary Update Vol. 5 No. 14

In our lead story this week…..
The Association of University Staff (AUS) has restated its support for the liberal arts and basic sciences as the core educational role of universities. The AUS national president, Dr Grant Duncan says that with the government currently conducting a strategic review of the tertiary education sector, the case in favour of a liberal education in the arts and humanities or in the natural and social sciences has "never been stronger." He says many students feel obliged to take courses that have a narrow vocational focus, such as law, business or engineering. It would be better for their development, he says, if they followed their passions, and did well in an arts degree rather than dragging themselves "reluctantly" through a business qualification. Dr Duncan says many universities overseas are now placing greater emphasis on qualities such as critical thinking, aesthetic and ethical awareness, cultural and creative capabilities and communication, while a widespread knowledge of the basic sciences will be increasingly important for New Zealand's participation in economic innovation. He welcomes the fact that the new legislation will continue to require universities to provide an "advanced education that promotes intellectual independence, and that is closely linked to research".

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Fake degrees in the limelight
2. Universities oppose levy on international student fee income
3. Court victory for dental students
4. Economic growth the key – survey
5. Review 'unbalanced' says union
6. Research exercise a 'damaging distraction'
7. Canadian unions take battle to court

Fake degrees, easily obtainable over the Internet, have been in the limelight with the sudden dismissal of John Davy as Chief Executive of the new Maori television channel. To see the extent of the problem, visit "". There you'll find a degree from Victoria University of Wellington. Want an MBA from a leading American university? No problem, either. The problem is, what to do? The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee’s (NZVCC) Committee on University Academic Programmes met last month to discuss the feasibility of legal action against sites offering New Zealand degrees. It decided it would be too costly, and that cases would have little chance of success because of problems in identifying those responsible for the site. Across the Tasman, the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee is proposing to set up a national database of all tertiary graduates to allow employers to make checks on the validity of applicants' qualifications. A similar scheme has been introduced in Britain.

NZVCC and individual universities are criticising a government proposal to levy all education institutions that take foreign fee-paying students (see Tertiary Update, Vol. 5 No. 13). They point out that government already gets GST from international student fees, providing more than $125m a year while the presence of thousands of the students brings further economic benefits. The government says the levy money will go towards the development, promotion and quality assurance of the export education industry, but NZVCC says this presumes that those at the centre are better placed than those in the industry to decide how that should be done. AUS notes with sympathy the VCs’ views but currently has no policy position on this issue.

Business New Zealand says a new survey shows 86% of New Zealanders believe a strong growing economy is necessary if they are to have access to a high standard of health and education services and quality jobs. The survey was carried out by UMR Research on behalf of Business NZ, the Knowledge Wave Trust and the Science and Innovation Advisory Council. The figure was up 3% on a survey carried out last December. In both surveys, 21% of respondents felt the economy was performing well enough to deliver those benefits now. Business NZ Chief Executive Simon Carlaw says the survey confirms economic growth as a critical election issue.

The minister in charge of tertiary education, Steve Maharey is awaiting advice from the Crown Law Office before commenting further on a high court decision in favour of Otago University and several hundred dentistry students and graduates who had challenged funding cuts in 1994. More than 460 current students and graduates had joined the university in challenging the then National government's decision to cut back tuition subsidies from $40,334 to $25,001 over three years, forcing the university to raise tuition fees to recover costs. In a reserved decision, Justice Goddard called the decision "so erroneous that it could only be categorised as irrational". The judge ordered the government to make a payment of $10.5m, with $5.8m of that to go to the students. Court costs and interest are expected to push the sum up to around $15m. The Labour-Alliance coalition has since raised funding for dentistry courses.

In Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has described a discussion paper on the state of higher education as "unbalanced" and providing "a disappointing start to a ministerial review of the sector. The paper, entitled "Higher Education at the Crossroads: an overview" was produced, the minister Dr Brendan Nelson says, to take stock fourteen years on from the last major reforms. The NTEU President, Dr Carolyn Allport says the union shares the Minister's concerns that current policies are sustainable, but says the paper gets the review off to "a lopsided start". She says it is common knowledge that the number one issue is funding, but the discussion paper puts too much emphasis on increasing private funding, and not enough on the need to increase the public contribution. "By placing the emphasis on private funding, the Government has raised the white flag, and is saying that it no longer accepts responsibility for ensuring that universities are properly funded."

A parliamentary report released in Britain says an exercise in 1996 to assess research at universities had positive effects, but also distorted research practice, ruined careers and contributed to the closure of university departments. The report by the House of Commons science and technology select committee concluded that the Research Assessment Exercise (REA) had stimulated universities into managing their research and targeting areas of research excellence. It noted, however, that some researchers had been excluded from the exercise by their institution, a practice that was "divisive and demoralising". The committee says the RAE may have discouraged long-term speculative research and stifled breakthroughs, commenting that if James Watson and Francis Crick of DNA fame had been working at the time, they could have been "branded as inactive and shunted off to teach first-year undergraduates."

Higher Education and public sector unions in British Columbia are going to the Supreme Court to challenge provincial legislation they say will give college presidents the right to tear up collective agreements negotiated in good faith. The unions say the provincial government, with its Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act (see Tertiary Update, Vol. 5 No. 3), has acted without regard for long-standing labour laws and relationships in the province. The executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) called the government action "unprecedented". "There has been outrage from faculty associations not only in B.C. but across Canada and around the world." AUS wrote to the premier Gordon Campbell to protest at legislation. CAUT is also taking a complaint to the International Labour Organisation. **************************************************************************
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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