AUS Tertiary Update
The likelihood of university unions and employers collaborating on approaches to deal with funding and salary woes in the university sector seems remote after employers stipulated that such an approach could proceed only if unions dropped claims for national collective employment agreements.
University employers have walked away from a proposal for an independently researched ‘white paper’ on university funding and salaries, to form the basis of a joint employer/union approach to government, after saying that such a project was contingent on enterprise (site) bargaining. They said that the ‘white paper would not proceed’ if the unions’ claim for national agreements remained.
The unions had earlier initiated bargaining for two national collective employment agreements across the sector with salary increases of 10% for next year, based on studies of local and international relativities.
Negotiations, which resumed in Hamilton this week, explored the possibility of the interim short-term rollover of current enterprise agreements to allow for the ‘white paper’ to be developed, however they have been adjourned after the unions rejected the employers’ terms for the rollover, which included salary offers of between less than 2.0% and 2.8%.
Union advocate Jeff Rowe said that meetings of union members last week had shown continued strong support for national bargaining, and impatience with the employers’ refusal to make realistic salary offers and to accept national bargaining. Union members had authorised the bargaining team to explore the possibility of interim site settlements to allow the ‘white paper’ proposal to be developed, but the present salary offers were unacceptably low and showed no sign of any commitment by the employers to resolving long-term salary woes in the sector.
Mr. Rowe said there was no logical reason that the development of a ‘white paper’ was reliant on enterprise bargaining “and, in fact, the employers have acknowledged that it is only because we are bargaining nationally that the suggestion has even been explored”. He said that the unions remained open to working on a collaborative basis on this matter. “We see national bargaining as assisting, not impeding, this process,” he said. “What is apparent, however, is that the employers are using this as a lever to try to delay national bargaining”.
Mr. Rowe said that the salary increases which had been on offer were lower than average wage and salary settlements across New Zealand and did nothing towards resolving long-accepted funding and salary problems within New Zealand universities.
Negotiations are scheduled to resume in Wellington on 11 February 2004.
Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Restrictions on tertiary growth
2. Loan repayments threshold to rise
3. One-off payment for Victoria staff
4. 100 new chairs created in bid to lift RAE scores
5. Higher education strike ballot in UK
6. Fixed-term drift halted
7. Scottish universities urged to pool academic resources
8. University launches own beer
on tertiary growth
Tertiary institutions may grow by no more than 15% or 1,000 equivalent full time students (EFTS) per year, whichever is the greater, under new rules announced this week to manage growth in tertiary student numbers from 2004. In exceptional circumstances the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) may approve growth exceeding these rates. The initial calculation will be based on 2002 enrolments and the growth limit applies only to domestic EFTS-funded places.
Announcing the plans, Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary) Steve Maharey said that the rules provide some flexibility, while giving the government the ability to plan for the costs of growth in student numbers.
Mr Maharey said that most tertiary institutions are increasing their education provision at annual rates well below the 15% ceiling. “The TEC will manage this process and will focus on balancing public expenditure, tertiary student growth and tertiary education objectives,” he said. “Safeguarding the quality of education outcomes during this process remains a top priority”.
"There has been concerns expressed that high rates of growth in some areas may risk compromising quality and ultimately disadvantage the students. The government also wants to avoid unexpected surges in supply and demand that impact on the tertiary education budget”.
Mr. Maharey said that those education providers which may be allowed to exceed the 15% growth limit in equivalent full-time students (EFTS), to start in 2004, would already have had firm plans and additional capacity in place at the time of the June announcement about growth limits. “I would hope that providers are only expanding where they are confident that the growth is in high-quality courses, well-aligned to the Tertiary Education Strategy. If the sector is not re-examining its growth plans with this in mind, then I will need to ask the Commission to undertake further measures to restrict growth,” Mr. Maharey said.
threshold to rise
Income thresholds for student loan repayments and interest write-offs will rise from 1 April next year, from $15,964 to $16,172. The maximum income level for a full interest write-off for part-time or part-year students will rise from $25,909 to $26,140. The student loan repayment threshold is aligned with the domestic purposes benefit paid to people with two or more children.
Announcing the changes, Associate Education (Tertiary) Minister Steve Maharey and Associate Revenue Minister David Cunliffe said that borrowers whose income is below the repayment threshold will not be obliged to make repayments on their loans and a large portion of their interest will be written off.
“Full-time, full-year students will continue to receive a full interest write-off while they are studying, regardless of their income,” they said.
Lincoln University student President Andrew Kirton said the changes would do “next to nothing” and were like a bad Christmas joke. Increasing the threshold by a “meagre” $4.00 per week was “insulting, especially when the income threshold for the student allowance has not increased since 1992,” he said.
One-off payment for Victoria
Almost $1.3 million will be paid to Victoria University staff in a one-off payment in what has been described as a reward for their hard work and achievements over the past year. Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon said the payments, which represent 1.75 percent of an employee's base salary for the past 11 months, will be made before the end of the University year.
“Record enrolments, the introduction of the Performance-Based Research Fund, the development of significant new partnerships and the transition to a multi-campus University have made for a challenging year,” said Professor McCutcheon. “Victoria was able meet these challenges, and succeed, because of the dedication and hard work of its staff and I'm particularly pleased the University's good fortunes can be shared with them”.
Professor McCutcheon said more than 18,500 students enrolled with Victoria in 2003, about 2000 more than in the year before and that, combined with careful financial management, meant it would achieve a surplus of about $8 million.
AUS spokesperson Robyn May said that the payment would have far more value for staff had it had been included as part of Victoria University’s salary offer during national bargaining. “Increasing base rates of pay is what counts and the 2% currently on offer will do little to remedy the appalling state of university salaries,” she said.
Robyn May said staff reacted angrily to the University’s proposal to introduce performance pay linked to PBRF scores, and felt the bonus would do little to counteract that anger.
100 new chairs created in bid to lift RAE scores
More than 100 new chairs are being created by UK universities in a multimillion-pound restructuring drive aimed at securing them top marks in the next research assessment exercise (RAE).
Competition for top researchers to form cores of new groups is intensifying more than three years ahead of the next RAE, with chairs being created at Royal Holloway, Birmingham and Manchester. These follow similar initiatives at Nottingham (20 new chairs), Sheffield (12), East Anglia (16) and Aberdeen.
The drive is being matched by efforts to persuade key staff to remain in post, in some cases by giving them promotion to ensure that they are not lured away.
In a move unprecedented in recent years, Queen Mary, University of London, is advertising up to 48 professorial positions in The Times Higher Education Supplement this week.
Adrian Smith, principal of the college, confirmed that the initiative was an explicit attempt to boost department assessments to at least a 5 rating in the next RAE, expected in 2007.
"Anything less than 4 will not be funded and will cost a university millions of pounds, as happened in the last RAE," he said.
"This is a competitive situation, and we must invest in the highest quality researchers - hence our decision to invest in new chairs”.
Queen Mary's priorities were drawn up after an internal mock RAE. This produced casualties, picking out 3a-rated chemistry as one department unlikely to make the grade without a £4 million investment.
As a result, the academic board decided last week to stop recruiting chemistry undergraduates. Staff will be moved elsewhere in the college.
Universities UK warned, however, that the rush to create new professorial posts could cause staff recruitment problems at many institutions. In a recent report, the organisation said that removing funding from grade 4-rated departments would put at risk "innovative research of disciplinary, economic and social benefit.”
Higher education strike ballot in
The Association of University Teachers (AUT) in the UK will ballot its 47,000 members on strike action after the higher education employers’ body, UCEA, called off negotiations in London this week. The AUT will be recommending that members vote for industrial action in the ballots which will be held between 13 January and 12 February next year.
Employment agreement negotiations broke down earlier in the year after the unions rejected a pay offer of under 6.5% over the next two years and new salary structures which would have led to the abandonment of national wage bargaining and substantial pay losses over the sector.
The AUT says that the employers had agreed to resume negotiations this week on key elements of the pay and salary structure package, but abruptly withdrew the offer without explanation. AUT deputy general secretary Malcolm Keight said “it now seems clear that they (the employers) would prefer a damaging dispute than to seek a negotiated settlement”.
“The employers’ pay and modernisation proposals are truly insulting. During the past 20 years, higher education pay has fallen substantially in comparison to all other sectors, and yet we are faced with a proposed system that would lead to under-regulated localised wage-bargaining; widespread downgrading and hefty losses in salary for many hard-working employees,” said Mr Keight.
Fixed-term drift halted
A dramatic increase in tenured positions shows that Australian universities have reversed the drift to fixed-term employment during the past five years. Data gathered by the federal Department of Education, Science and Training shows that tenured staff numbers increased 30 per cent between 1998 and 2003 to 53,285. This represents 70.7 per cent of all full-time employees. The trend was most marked among women with the number of tenured women staff increasing by 45 per cent in the five-year period. During the same period fixed-term employment fell from 35.5 per cent to 24.7 per cent.
The turnaround coincides with a landmark ruling in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in 1998 which limited the circumstances under which fixed-term employment can be offered. The commission ruled that fixed-term employment should be limited to four main circumstances: to replace someone on leave; to fill a temporary research position tied to an external grant; as a pre-retirement contract; and for postgraduate students to obtain employment for the duration of their studies.
Within 12 months of the IRC ruling there had been an 8 per cent increase in tenured employment. Before 1998 tenured numbers had steadily declined from 46,000 in 1994 to fewer than 41,000 in 1998.
Scottish universities urged to pool academic
Universities in Scotland are being encouraged by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council to pool resources in physics, economics, life sciences and creative industries to create greater "critical mass" in the competition for research funding. Roger McClure, the council's chief executive, said a combined Scottish physics "institute" looked set to be the first fruit of the policy, designed to encourage outside academics and funding bodies to "see the Scottish research landscape as a whole" rather than a disparate set of smaller departments and institutions.
University launches own beer
Birmingham University this week launched its own ale - Old Joe's Winter Warmer. The beer is named after one of the university's leading landmarks, the 100m high Chamberlain clock tower, known as 'Old Joe' in memory of founder Joseph Chamberlain.
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