AUS Tertiary Update
Overwhelming mandate for
strike action in universities
Union members at New Zealand universities have voted to take up to five day’s strike action in support of pay claims and new national collective agreements for academic and general staff.
Unions representing more than 7,000 university staff have been in negotiations since October 2003, claiming two new national collective employment agreements to replace more than 13 enterprise agreements currently negotiated at a local university level.
Salary claims of up to 10% per annum over the next three years were filed by unions in an attempt to address long-standing national and international pay disparities. A claim has also been made for a national job evaluation for general staff in an attempt to bring a national consistency to salary rates.
University employers have offered salary increases of between 2.0% and 4.0%, and have refused to agree to the new national collective employment agreements.
At a series of meetings held in the seven traditional New Zealand universities over the past week, union members participating in the ballot have voted by 79% to take strike action over five weeks from 28 April. A full day’s strike action will take place on 28 April and on 25 May, with full or partial strike action scheduled in the intervening weeks.
A further five days of strike action have been foreshadowed for July if the dispute is not resolved.
Speaking on behalf of the combined unions, Association of University Staff (AUS) General Secretary Helen Kelly said it was time university employers and the Government seriously addressed the salary and funding issues which have beset the sector for over a decade. “Government funding to universities has diminished by 23% in real terms over the last decade and this has resulted in an erosion of salary rates which threatens the long-term quality of university education,” she said. “The decision, to take an unprecedented level of industrial action, shows that staff are no longer prepared to leave these matters unresolved.”
“Employers in the sector have no strategy for challenging the Government’s continued underfunding of universities; we are providing that strategy,” said Ms Kelly. “Without increased funding, looming workforce shortages will start to have a real impact on the country’s ability to deliver quality university education. Employers have a responsibility for the long term health of the system and they are neglecting it.”
Ms Kelly said that in light of the strong mandate in the ballot, the unions have written to universities seeking further negotiations in an attempt to bring an end to the impasse.
The universities affected are Auckland, Waikato, Massey, Victoria, Canterbury, Lincoln and Otago.
Tertiary Update this week
1. Both sides claims victory in PBRF case
2. Otago student numbers continue growth
3. Tertiary monitoring report released
4. Former PMs award criticised
5. Impartiality of funding body called into question
6. Armed students raid Mexico’s largest university
Both sides claims victory in PBRF case
Both sides involved in recent court action over the release of international comparisons as a part of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) report on the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) have claimed success following the release of the High Court’s decision on Tuesday this week.
A case was brought against the TEC by the University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington in an attempt to stop the release of comparisons between New Zealand universities in the PBRF exercise and British universities in the Research Assessment Exercise.
In its decision the Court ruled that the TEC breached the natural justice and the legitimate expectation of the Universities by failing to properly consult them on the comparison. It has continued an interim order prohibiting the TEC from releasing an appendix to the report with the international comparisons, and other references to the international comparisons, until consultation has taken place.
But while the Vice-Chancellors have claimed success, so too has the TEC. The Court has told the Universities that the TEC has the lawful power, and may still decide to publish the comparisons after consulting with universities. TEC Chair Dr Andy West said that the Court had validated TEC’s judgement that comparisons could be made. “We will now provide the opportunity for appropriate consultation about the international comparisons,” he said. “Following that consultation the TEC may publish the international comparisons either in their present or in a modified form.”
In bringing the case, the Universities argued that the comparison was unlawful on a number of grounds, including that it was irrational and based on mistaken fact, was in breach of natural justice and the legitimate expectation of the Universities, and failed to give them adequate opportunity to challenge correctness of the material. They said that the adverse consequences of the comparison were so considerable that its publication was in breach of good faith and the obligation of the TEC to act with reasonable care, diligence and skill.
AUS National President Dr Bill Rosenberg said that one of the Universities’ main complaints had been that data supplied to the TEC for assessment purposes was now being used for the international comparisons, a completely different purpose than for which it was supplied. “We hope those vice-chancellors who may have considered using PBRF results as a basis for performance enhancements will now ensure that the information provided by staff will only be used for the purposes from that for which it was supplied,” he said.
The TEC has said it will now release the PBRF results without the international comparisons, and will then consult with the universities.
Dr West says that the TEC hopes to have the assessment results to participating tertiary institutions before the end of April. The public release will take place about a week later.
The full decision from the High Court can be found on the AUS website: www.aus.ac.nz/pbrfdecision.pdf
numbers continue growth
Equivalent full time student (EFTS) numbers at the University of Otago have increased from 15,787 in 2003 to 16,563 at the same time this year, a jump of around 5% and about 145 ahead of forecast. Otago Vice-Chancellor Dr Graeme Fogelberg told a meeting of the University Council this week that if the growth is sustained into the second semester it is likely the final EFTS for the year will be over 17,400. The growth in numbers this year follows a 7.7% increase in EFTS between 2002 and 2003.
International student numbers have increased by 441 EFTS or 36%, 224 EFTS ahead of forecast.
Dr Fogelberg has told his Council that the University cannot sustain continued growth at the current rate. “Quite frankly it cannot go on,” he is reported in the Otago Daily Times as saying. “It is impossible to fund the growth in the infrastructure we need for halls of accommodation, the physical needs of the University and expansion of staff on the funding base and fees levels.”
University Chancellor Lindsay Brown said that student numbers were two to three years ahead of forecast and predicted the incoming Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Skegg, would need to review the University’s strategic plan to deal with the increase in numbers.
Dr Fogelberg said the university did not have the resources to build more accommodation, as well as expanding the campus infrastructure and meeting other costs associated with the growth.
Tertiary monitoring report
A new Government report shows the tertiary education sector is well placed to respond to the needs of community and business, according to the Acting Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary), Margaret Wilson.
The Baseline Monitoring Report on the Tertiary Education Strategy provides a base against which progress towards the goals of the Government’s tertiary education strategy can be monitored. Margaret Wilson said the report identifies a number of areas on which the Government and tertiary education providers will need to focus to achieve the vision set out in the strategy.
“This report tells us that the tertiary education sector is in a good position to address the challenges of providing the right kinds of education, skills, and knowledge to support a growing knowledge and society. We have more people than ever before participating in tertiary education,” Ms Wilson said. “Future challenges include achieving equality of access to tertiary education and providing quality learning outcomes for adults, particularly those who have missed out on education.”
The report can be found at: http://www.beehive.govt.nz/ViewDocument.cfm?DocumentID=19397
PMs award criticised
University of Canterbury academic staff member David Small has criticised his University’s conferring of an honorary degree on former Prime Minster Mike Moore. Mr Moore was awarded an honorary doctorate of commerce from the University at its graduation ceremony in Christchurch this week.
Dr Small who is a senior lecturer in education and an opponent of free trade said the honour was divisive, controversial, and unfortunate, and said Mr Moore had made the “lives of millions very miserable with his promotion of free trade.”
Mr Moore was a strong advocate of free trade during his political career, and later served a half-term as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.
The University of Canterbury Chancellor, Dr Robin Mann, said the award recognized Mr Moore’s “considerable contribution to New Zealand and on the world scene.”
Mr Moore said he was grateful for the award, particularly since he had left school at 14.
Impartiality of funding body called into question
The head of the Russell group of top research-led universities in the United Kingdom has said that vice-chancellors should not be allowed to sit on the board of England’s university funding body in an effort to ensure its independence.
The move follows inflammatory comments about the status of new (post 1992) universities made by Sir Richard Sykes, the rector of Imperial College who sits on the board of the funding council Hefce. In an interview in the Financial Times newspaper last month, Sir Richard called some new universities “third class” and questioned the funding of maths students at Luton University.
Professor Michael Sterling, chairman of the Russell group and Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University, called Sir Richard's comments “inappropriate”, but said the ensuing row raised questions about the independence of the board.
“I think it raises the question as to whether it's appropriate to have members of Hefce who are themselves funded by Hefce on that body. I think Hefce ought to think about the appropriateness of that. There's nothing to stop them having an advisory group separate from its board, that's no problem. But the board which makes decisions should be independent of the sector,” he said.
Leaders of the new universities immediately demanded Sir Richard’s resignation from the board unless he unreservedly withdraws his comments.
Armed students raid Mexico’s largest
Armed students in Mexico have stormed a building at Mexico’s largest university and seized dozens of case reports in an apparent bid to avoid disciplinary action. A university tribunal had been hearing disciplinary cases against students, some of who were reportedly among the participants in the raid.
Officials at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) called in police who arrested more than 18 of the students after the raid, which was the latest incident in a series of violent attacks on UNAM staff and buildings since a 10 month student strike which had paralysed the University between April 1999 and February 2000.
During the strike thousands of students occupied several main buildings around the campus, initially in protest at increasing tuition fees and later in broad-reaching protests against globalisation and the war in Iraq.
The strike ended with a police raid in which more than 600 students were arrested, some of who are still facing criminal charges in connection with the destruction of university property.