AUS Tertiary Update
Protest action likely over
Protest action is on the cards following the latest offers in negotiations between university unions and employers. Unions, representing staff in seven universities, initiated bargaining last year for new national collective employment agreements for academic and general staff to replace the 13 enterprise (site) agreements previously negotiated. Pay claims of up to 10% per annum over the next three years were also filed in an attempt to address long-standing national and international pay disparities.
Negotiations, which resumed in Wellington on Wednesday last week, failed to make progress after all seven employer parties rejected any move to national collective agreements and reiterated pay offers ranging between around 2% and 2.8%.
The employers earlier proposed that a joint approach be made to Government on the issue of university funding, but this was contingent on enterprise bargaining, and on the pay offers outlined above.
The level of government funding to universities has fallen, in real terms, by 21% per student over the past decade and the unions believe this is now having a detrimental effect on the quality of university education and the student experience.
The unions’ lead advocate, Association of University Staff Industrial Officer Jeff Rowe, said that negotiations were adjourned after the employers failed to lift their pay offers to a level which would have allowed interim settlements while the approach to Government on funding was progressed. “We looked for a sign that the employers were serious about resolving recognised pay problems, but the current offers give no confidence that they are genuine in this regard,” he said. “Their proposal will be regarded as feeble, and seen simply as delaying any attempt to seriously address funding problems which beset the sector.”
There are no plans for negotiations to resume.
Between 23 February and 4 March, staff at the seven universities will hold stopwork meetings at which a recommendation will be made to reject the offers and endorse a low-level industrial campaign, with stronger action foreshadowed if satisfactory progress is not made.
Tertiary Update this week
1. Search continues for new V-C at Auckland
2. PBRF portfolios not to be published
3. Wananga to defend $10m Carich claim
4. Polytech multi-employer deal settled
5. Ire at export education levy announcement
6. Strike action to hit UK universities
7. Student strike spreads in Guinea
Search continues for new V-C at Auckland
It is understood that the current search for a new Vice-Chancellor for the University of Auckland has not resulted in an appointment being made, and that the search will now continue. Current Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood, leaves to head Oxford University in the United Kingdom later in the year.
The international search for Dr Hood's replacement is thought to have drawn as many as 60 applicants from whom four candidates were shortlisted and interviewed.
Subsequent advice that the search is continuing has lead to speculation that none of the shortlisted candidates will be appointed as a result of the current process.
portfolios not to be published
Formatting problems, along with grammatical and factual errors, have contributed to the decision of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) not to publish the evidence portfolios of academic staff on its website when the results of the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) are made public next month.
Education Review reports PBRF Manager Roger Staples saying that the quality of the evidence portfolios was variable, and the TEC did not have time to tidy them up for publication. Although the TEC had initially agreed to correct the portfolios, Mr. Staples said it was not able to do so because of the high number of mistakes. In addition to the factual and grammatical errors, there were formatting problems caused because portfolios were submitted using software built by some institutions rather than the official PBRF software.
Mr. Staples said the decision did not mean that evidence portfolios submitted to the TEC would not be published in 2005. He said that institutions would have more time to tidy up the portfolios and researchers would be more familiar with TEC's requirements.
Meanwhile, the Association of University Staff has announced it will ask the Privacy Commissioner for a ruling on whether it is appropriate under privacy legislation for individual PBRF scores to be returned to institutions. It follows a successful application by Auckland AUS Branch President, Dr Peter Wills, to have his personal score remain confidential.
Wananga to defend $10m
Maori tertiary provider Te Wananga o Aotearoa said it would fight a $10 million claim against it by the receivers of collapsed private training establishment Carich Computer Training.
Te Wananga o Aotearoa Chief Executive Rongo Wetere is reported by NZPA saying the Wananga had rejected an offer of mediation and that he was happy to defend their position legally. “I'm pretty relaxed about that, in fact I think they'll have some difficulty about that given the situation,” he said.
Carich, which was New Zealand's largest private education provider, went into receivership last year owing about $8.8 m, leaving more than 200 staff jobless and 3000 students without a school.
Mr. Wetere dashed any hope that litigation could be avoided by out-of-court negotiations. “They would be dreaming. They would be dreaming. There is no way I'm doing any out-of-court settlement. If they think they've got a legit claim, we want to take it upfront. We're not doing any deals,” he said. "The failure to perform was on the other side. We won't be doing any deals, you can tell him (Carich receiver, Kerryn Downey) that.”
The claim centres on an alleged breach of a joint-venture agreement under which Carich was to train 2500 students on behalf of the Wananga. Mr. Downey said Mr. Wetere “defaulted” on the contract shortly before the course started in March last year.
Adding to the intrigue over the Carich collapse, The Press reports that it was technically insolvent long before Chief Executive Caron Taurima was named New Zealand's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003. Independent financial performance reports, released to The Press under the Official Information Act, raise concerns about Carich's deteriorating financial position in the first five months of 2003.
Based on the information provided by Carich directors, the company was considered insolvent on a balance-sheet basis as at July 2003, and by October it was believed to be insolvent in a cashflow sense because it could not meet debts as they fell due. Taurima was later named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Polytech multi-employer deal settled
The Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE) has agreed to a new multi-employer collective employment agreement with six polytechnics and institutes of technology after staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of the agreement.
ASTE National President, Lloyd Woods, said it was a major achievement for ASTE and all of the members who participated in what has been a long drawn out process. “We are all very pleased with the outcome as it proves that it is possible and beneficial to negotiate common conditions across a number of employers,” he said.
Mr. Woods went on to say that despite the fact that the process had taken 23 days of face-to-face negotiations, significant strike action, and mediation to reach a satisfactory outcome, members believed it was worthwhile. “We are part of a national teaching service and our conditions of work and rates of pay should be negotiated in a way that reflects this,” Lloyd Woods said.
He added that he hoped the Employment Relations Act would be amended to ensure that multi-employer bargaining becomes the norm rather than something workers have to fight for before they can even begin talking about what will be in their collective agreements.
The agreement covers the Waikato Institute of Technology, Auckland's Unitec, Taranaki's Western Institute of Technology, Northland Polytechnic, Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, and Whitireia Community Polytechnic.
Ire at export education levy
An announcement by Government this week that private training establishments (PTEs) would be paying one rate for the export education levy and that all other export education providers would be paying a lower rate has aroused the ire of private tertiary training providers.
"Submissions to the Education and Science Committee on the Export Education Levy (Amendment) Bill only closed last Friday, but the Government is already assuming that there will be no amendments and that the Bill will be passed. The Bill would allow the Government to charge PTEs for the failures of their competitors despite there being no other instances where good operators are required to pay for the business failures of others, even if they are in the same industry," said Sandra McKersey, President of the New Zealand Association of Private Education Providers (NZAPEP).
NZAPEP is opposed to the new levy, which is being introduced in response to the high profile collapses of Modern Age Institute of Learning and Carich training centres last year.
AUS National President Dr Bill Rosenberg said it was entirely appropriate that PTEs faced a higher levy given their performance in the sector. “A high failure rate of PTEs risks damaging the entire sector, and this is not a cost which should not be picked up by the taxpayer and public institutions,” he said.
Strike action to hit UK universities
University staff in the United Kingdom are planning to join with students next week in protest at attacks on pay and conditions of employment for staff and plans for variable top-up fees for students.
Staff voted overwhelmingly to reject the latest pay offers from university employers that would have introduced a significant restructuring of university salary scales.
Association of University Teachers (AUT) General Secretary Sally Hunt hailed the outcome as a stunning rebuff for the plans tabled by management which, among other things, would lead to smaller annual salary increments. "Our members have comprehensively rejected the employers' proposals that would lead to many lecturers losing £6,300 over eight years, researchers losing £17,300 over nine years, and senior support staff losing £47,000 over 21 years," she said.
The AUT's decision to hold a ballot for strike action has been endorsed by the National Union of Students (NUS). In a joint statement with Ms Hunt, NUS President Mandy Telford said students recognised that industrial action may be necessary by the AUT to protect its members' interests. "Further," she said, "the NUS supports the AUT in its struggle against the employers' attacks on academic and related staff pay and conditions."
The week of action will see a day of strikes at institutions in each of the UK's four home nations respectively, and one day of strikes across the whole of the UK on Wednesday 25 February.
Student strike spreads in Guinea
Seventeen students have been arrested at Gamal Abdel Nasser University in the Guinea capital of Conakry, triggering a crisis that threatens to spark a nationwide strike by students at public universities across the West African country.
The University's 14,000 students walked out of their classes last week and pledged not to return until one of their leaders, whom the police had arrested, was released. The authorities had accused the student of leading political agitation at the University aimed at increasing students' $US10 monthly stipends and reinstating 11 students who were expelled last year from Kankan University, about 350 miles inland from the capital. Tensions rose when the police arrested 16 more student leaders while they were organising the strike.
The dispute worsened when students at other universities in the country threatened to join the strike. Students at the Institute of Geology and Mines, at Boké, 125 miles northwest of Conakry, stayed away from lectures last week, and their peers at Kankan also are planning to go on strike.
AUS Tertiary Update is compiled weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the union and others. Back issues are archived on the AUS website: http://www.aus.ac.nz. Direct enquires to Marty Braithwaite, AUS Communications Officer, email: firstname.lastname@example.org