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AUS Tertiary Update Vol. 5 No. 25, July 18

In our lead story this week…..
The Association of University Staff (AUS) says the minister responsible for tertiary education, Steve Maharey has failed to provide any satisfactory assurance that government-sponsored partnerships between universities and private enterprise will protect academic freedom. Mr Maharey this week outlined plans for partnerships involving private sector investment in universities to a business audience. He said these partnerships would uphold "the values of academic freedom, scientific rigour and critical inquiry”. But AUS national president, Dr Grant Duncan says the goals and criteria for Cabinet approval of the partnerships contain at best only "general and vague" references to these, suggesting the minister's assurances must be "taken with a grain of salt". Dr Duncan suggests the Education Act should be strengthened to protect academic freedom and the 'critic and conscience' role of universities so that universities could not, for example, be used as promotion tools or training departments of big business. He also suggests that as well as having to come up with ‘a thorough business case’ to support proposals for funding, private investors should have to meet strict, explicit criteria to protect academic freedom. Dr Duncan also predicts that if the private partnership initiative proceeds, universities will become dependent on private enterprise, just as they are now dependent on overseas students. "We are concerned that this will provide an excuse for government not to increase needed public investment in tertiary education," he adds.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. First STEP emphasises sector ownership of reforms
2. Government to appeal dentistry decision
3. MORST responds
4. Private hospital plans alliance with Auckland medical faculty
5. Greater scrutiny for job applicants
6. Israeli troops move on Palestinian university
7. Policies boost faculty diversity

The first Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities (STEP) calls for sector ownership of the current reforms and a system that is more focused on quality as they keys to improving connections between the tertiary education sector, industry and the community. Statements of Tertiary Education Priorities will be issued at least once every three years under the new system. Commenting on the first statement, the minister, Steve Maharey said the key priority during the current financial year would be developing the infrastructure and processes needed to support the new system, and he said building strong outward-looking relationships with the communities they serve was the top priority for tertiary institutions.

The Government has lodged an appeal against the High Court’s decision in April in favour of Otago University and several hundred dentistry students and graduates who had challenged funding cuts in 1994 when a National government was in power. The present government says it is filing an appeal to preserve its position. More than 460 current students and graduates had joined the university in challenging the decision to cut back funding from $40,334 to $25,001 over three years, forcing the university to raise tuition fees to recover costs. The Labour-Alliance coalition raised funding for dentistry courses when it came to power.

The Ministry of Research Science and Technology (MORST) has responded to some of the issues raised in last week's "Tertiary Update" (see Vol. 5 No. 24) by the Chief Executive Officer of Victoria Link, Mike Doig about the "2000 R&D Statistics Report". Mr Doig commented on the drop in total expenditure on research and development, the fall in salaries and wages despite a rise in staff numbers, a drop in the level of business funding and in funding from offshore. MORST says the drop in total and government expenditure is the result of a $38m. revision of university R&D expenditure by the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee. Without this, MORST says, spending would have remained at 1.1% of GDP. It says the discrepancy between salaries and wages and staff numbers happened because universities did not revise their staff figures at the same time as the expenditure figures. On business expenditure, the Ministry says spending actually increased by 3.7% and the drop in offshore funding was in line with previous trends after an exceptional high of $35m. in the 1997-98 year. MORST says the statistics give no reason for complacency but says a 2001 survey suggests the situation may be better than expected. While the survey did not measure R&D expenditure itself, MORST says it found the median innovation expenditure in firms with 6 or more staff was $23,000 – a level in line with European rates.

The country's largest private hospital, MercyAscot says it is planning Auckland's first private sector medical research and training partnership with the Auckland University Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. Under the alliance, two university units – the Surgical Skills Training Unit from Greenlane Hospital and the Department of Anaesthesia from Auckland Medical School – would be relocated to MercyAscot's Mercy site. The faculty also plans to appoint a senior lecturer in gastro-intestinal surgery based at Mercy. AUS will be inquiring of Auckland University the provisions it plans to put in place to ensure academic freedom is protected within this new arrangement.


Australian universities are expected to increase their scrutiny of applicants for top positions after the rapid departure of newly-appointed Monash University vice-chancellor, David Robinson for plagiarism. Monash had hired a search firm to vet applicants for the job. It is making no comment on the case, but commentators say the incident has pointed to sensitive issues about disclosure and research on people seeking the top university positions as well as questions about the capacity of search firms to get information on applications from informal academic networks.

Israeli troops this week raided and closed down the administration building of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, accusing its president Sari Nusseibeh of undermining Israeli sovereignty. Officials were detained and questioned and files, documents and computers were confiscated. An official Israeli statement said Mr Nusseibeh's offices were "recognised as representing the offices of the Palestinian Authority operating within the sovereign area of Israel". Mr Nusseibeh is the Palestinian Authority's commissioner for Jerusalem affairs and is the senior Palestinian Authority representative in Jerusalem. Israeli opposition MPs attacked the closure order in the Israeli parliament saying the government's actions were "sending a negative message to Palestinian academics and intellectuals." About 6,000 students are currently enrolled at Al-Quds University, which is considered the most prestigious Palestinian academic institution in Jerusalem.

Nearly 90% of new staff employed this year by the Virginia Tech College of Arts and Sciences in the United States were female or scholars from minority groups following its introduction of a series of policies aimed at diversifying the faculty workforce. The college uses search committees to find staff and they are sometimes ordered to add non-faculty members to ensure that the committees are diverse. They are also not allowed to rank finalists, but must simply pass on all of the names to the dean, who, along with the department head, makes a selection, with diversity frequently a major factor in deciding who to appoint.

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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