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AUS Tertiary Update Volume 5, No 18

In our lead story this week…..

The General Secretary of the Association of University Staff (AUS), Rob Crozier, stepped down at the end of last week after more than 22 years in the position. Mr Crozier joined AUT in December 1979 and during his years in the job has seen the sector undergo numerous reviews and legislative changes, and has worked with seven different ministers. AUT has since become AUS and has grown in size. Membership has increased from 2,500 to 6,200, while AUS staff have grown from three to 18 and the overall budget is now $1.7m. compared with around $57,000 in 1979. The new General Secretary is Helen Kelly who joins AUS from the position of Assistant Secretary (Industrial/Professional) at NZEI.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Budget 2002 commendable, but……
2. Minister to set tuition fees
3. Student loans a factor in doctor shortage
4. IRD admits over-billing students
5. Maurice got it wrong, says Maharey
6. Study to compare Oz universities with overseas counterparts
7. Toronto settles equity claim
8. University staff at heart of UK Science

The university's vice-chancellors have welcomed last week's Budget for its recognition of the importance of the tertiary education sector to the country's economic future, but are critical of the funding formulas that apply restraints on tuition fees. The chair of the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee (NZVCC), Professor James McWha, says a number of the Budget initiatives would benefit universities, especially the $80m a year funding boost for the sector, the introduction of a performance-based research fund, the 'partnership for excellence' initiative, and funding for the development of e-learning. But he said these were offset by funding issues. He was critical of the funding deal for the coming year that required an overall freeze on fees.

When Parliament is debating the committee stages of the Tertiary Education Reform Bill in the week beginning Tuesday 11 June, a Supplementary Order Paper will be introduced that allows the Minister to set tuition fee maxima for the tertiary sector. AUS is currently assessing its position in relation to this announcement and will make a formal statement later today. University Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors have protested strongly at this interference with the powers of Councils. "Tertiary Update" notes that, if current rumours are correct, the Tertiary Education Reform Bill may well be the last piece of legislation enacted by the present Government before the House rises for an election campaign.

The New Zealand University Students' Association (NZUSA) and the New Zealand Medical Students' Association (NZSMA) say the government must introduce universal student allowances and reduce student fees if it wants to ease the shortage of junior doctors. NZUSA co-president, Andrew Campbell, says the doctor shortage highlights the consequences of student debt. “Putting huge amounts of debt onto the shoulders of graduates encourages them to leave the country and take their skills with them.” The president of the NZMSA, Cindy Towns, said average debts of over $60,000 were sending the medical students overseas. She suggested that a good place to start in alleviating the problem would be for the government to increase the trainee intern grant paid to final year medical students in recognition of their contribution to the medical team. She says that after medical fees are paid, a trainee intern receives $2.57 an hour.

Inland Revenue says it overestimated the repayment demands it sent to some student loan borrowers overseas because it used an incorrect loan balance in doing the calculations. A tertiary student website, had taken the department to task after some students working abroad received demands for double the amount they needed to pay back. Under law, overseas borrowers who have a loan of $15,000 or more must pay it back at a rate of one-fifteenth its value a year. A spokesman for IRD said the department was not sure how many borrowers had been affected, but promised the students they would not be out of pocket in the long term. The mistake was uncovered when a UK-based borrower questioned the size of his compulsory repayment estimate on the site.

The minister in charge of tertiary education, Steve Maharey, has taken issue with the National Party's tertiary education spokesperson over Maurice Williamson's claims that universities will receive only a $10m increase in government funding next year. Mr Maharey says Mr Williamson's calculations are "hopelessly wrong" because they had not taken into account the fact that tertiary institutions operate on a calendar year basis. Comparing financial years of July to June would always mean underestimating any increase. The minister said the National MP had also overlooked $141m, budgeted for special supplementary grants in 2002-03 and the substantial new funding they would gain through initiatives such as the Centres of Research Excellence.

A comparative study is to be made of Australian universities to see how they rank in relation to similar institutions overseas. The study will be carried out by the Productivity Commission and is likely to include countries such as the United States, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Germany and Sweden. No details of the study have been released, but reports say it will compare sources of income, the balance between public and private funding, how universities spend their income, and financial management and audit processes. The Productivity Commission is due to report back with its findings in time for the government's review of higher education in late September.

Four women, all retired professors from the University of Toronto have reached a mediated settlement with the university after filing a law case claiming that the institution had been unjustly enriched by decades of paying its women less than men. As a result, about 60 retired female professors will receive compensation. One of the complainants, Ursula Franklin, said the mediated settlement meant more women would benefit from compensation than if it had gone to court. She also said the payments would be made immediately, which was important for some of the retired staff, who were now in their 80s and 90s. The lawyer who acted for the women said their victory created an important precedent. "Now it's really up to other women to make it a good precedent by bringing their cases forward."

In Britain, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) is welcoming the government's focus on science, saying it is recognition of the importance of scientists and researchers in higher education. The comments follow a major speech on the subject by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. But the AUT General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said there was also a need to increase public investment in UK higher education overall. "It is university academics who train both the school teachers of the future and the scientists who go on to work in the private sector. Unless university staff are properly rewarded for what they do, the future supply of teachers, researchers and scientists will be severely damaged," she said.

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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