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AUS Tertiary Update Vol.5 No.19

In our lead story this week¡K..
AUS wants more information before passing judgement on the Government's introduction of ministerial powers to set student fees maxima for university courses. 'Universities need better public funding and our response to the idea of the Minister determining how much universities can charge students depends on the size of the government's contribution,' said Dr Grant Duncan, AUS National President.
'As a matter of democratic process, it is very disappointing that Government intends sneaking this provision through in a last-minute addition to the Tertiary Education Reform Bill, preventing formal submissions from University Councils and others. (A Supplementary Order Paper will be introduced when the Bill is in its committee stages next week.) To remove very significant powers, such as the mandate to set tuition fees, from institutions without consulting sector groups or calling for public submissions does little to inspire trust in Government.
'This concept also indicates that Government is getting more deeply into centralised control of universities. We now have ministerial control over sectoral strategy, institutional priorities and charters, tuition subsidies, research objectives and funding, and student fees. As the Minister will have his hands firmly on nearly every lever, he is only one step away from steering industrial relations in the sector, something that to-date he's been in denial about. Nearly every move he makes from now will have an effect on our members' salaries,' he said.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Bridge out of line in new tertiary climate
2. IRD reassures overcharged loan holders
3. September 11 recalled in new Auckland course
4. 'Non-traditional' students dominate US colleges
5. Call for action over staffing crisis
6. Falling standards mean more work for academic staff

A group of former Otago students trying to stop the university building a bridge across the Leith
River has turned to the new tertiary education regime to support their arguments. One of them, Mark Baxter says the university's ongoing battle to build the "unnecessary" bridge shows the university is still living in the 1990s instead of adapting to the new vision of tertiary education. "The whole tertiary education is being turned upside down to get it to achieve national goals of learning and achievement, yet the university still has its blinkers on, and is full steam ahead. Spending close to $1m. on an unnecessary grandiose bridge". He said the development society that had donated money for the bridge should be approached and asked to reallocate it to something of real use to the university community.

Inland Revenue says it believes less than a thousand non-resident student loan holders have been affected by a slip-up in the system that saw some borrowers overcharged for their required repayments (see "Tertiary Update" Vol. 5 No. 18). In a statement released in response to news media coverage of the story, the General Manager of Business Development and Systems at IRD, Colin MacDonald said most of the over-assessments were for amounts of less than $100. He said the assessments had been inflated by an average of around 10% as opposed to the average of 15% reported in the media. Borrowers most likely to have been affected were those who left the country during the 2002 income year, had made repayments towards their loan during that year, did not file an IR3 tax return for the 2002 year before they left their country, and had a loan balance of more than $15,000 at the end of March this year.

The University of Auckland is introducing a new course on Islam that is designed to give a balanced view of the Muslim world in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Lecturer Dr Tim Behrend says the course, entitled "Fundamentally Muslim-Islam, Modernity and Cultural Identity" has been put together in part to counter the quick, negative glimpses of Islam often provided by television. The course will look at the events of September 11, but will also focus on wider issues such as Muslim reactions to modernity and globalisation. "Students will discover that the Muslim world is just as diverse and complex as the West and there's much more to it than just the political thinking of some fringe elements," Dr Behrend says. The paper can be taken as a stage two course as part of a Bachelor of Arts degree or other undergraduate programme.


A new report on education in the United States says almost 75% of undergraduate students are considered 'non-traditional' because of their age and financial status. The report by the US Education Department's National Centre for Education Statistics has been prepared for the US Congress and contains facts and data on the state of education in the country at all levels. In a section devoted to the rise in the number of non-traditional students, the report says only 27% of today's undergraduates are traditional students in that they have a high-school diploma, enrol full-time immediately after leaving high school and depend on their parents for financial support. The remaining 73% fall outside that definition. The most common non-traditional characteristic is financial independence, followed by part-time attendance and then age.

In Britain, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) is attacking the government for failing to tackle the looming crisis in university teaching levels, saying the shortages of teaching staff, researchers and academic-related staff threatens to undermine the target of 50% access to university. AUT wants the government to increase the funding available for university staff, set aside $29m to increase starting salaries, and put aside extra money to tackle the gender pay gap. The union's stand has been backed up by a new report published this week which says that a fifth of all British universities had experienced difficulties with attracting new academic staff in 2001 and that the situation was likely to become worse. The general secretary of the AUT, Sally Hunt says the report's findings are a clear signal to government ministers and vice-chancellors that there will inevitably be a crisis without substantial extra funding. "World-class research and a growing student population cannot be funded through ad hoc gimmicks and initiatives," she says. "It is time for ministers and vice-chancellors to end the rhetoric and provide universities and students with the money that the sector desperately needs."
The issue of declining pay and recruitment problems is on the agenda for the AUT annual conference being held in Eastbourne this week.

Researchers in Australia studying changing academic work roles for the federal government say their early data shows that academic workloads are rising because staff are having to do more work to bring students up to standard. One of the team, Professor Don Anderson says early analysis of responses from 2000 academics at 12 Australian universities showed academics believed the average standard of students entering university was falling. "Academics are saying that at the top end students are as good as they ever were and standards are as good as they ever were, but lower down it's more difficult to fail," he says. The final report, along with another on the implications of the changing age structure in Australian universities, is expected to be made public by the end of this month. Commentators say the findings will be particularly sensitive since the publication of the report will coincide with the federal government's attempts to push through higher education reforms later this year.

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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