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AUS Tertiary Update

AUS WEB SITEUnderfunding blamed for deficit forecast
Underfunding has been blamed by the University of Otago for significant budget blow-outs predicted for its Schools of Medicine. The Christchurch School of Medicine is expected to post a $5 million deficit this financial year, while the Dunedin and Wellington Schools are expected to run deficits of $2.5 million and $1 million respectively.
The University’s Acting Assistant Vice-Chancellor of Health Sciences, Professor Peter Innes, has warned that if the Government does not increase funding, staff numbers and courses may have to be cut. The University receives around $57 million per year from the Government for its health programmes.
The Press reports Professor Innes saying that the University was concerned about the financial state of its programmes which were struggling under a Government-imposed cap of 325 on annual student enrolments and a tuition fee cap of $10,000 per student.
Professor Innes said that high staff recruitment and retention costs were placing a strain on the schools as the University had to compete with hospital and health boards for health professionals. Under current salary structures, base salaries for medical specialists are $20,000 higher than for equivalent university staff, with the differential expected to increase to at least $40,000 within 5 years.
“Recruitment has become a serious problem,” said Professor Innes. The real problem is salaries. We just cannot afford to keep them (specialist staff).”
Professor Innes said there were no easy answers as medical schools were working on cost reduction plans for already-tight budgets. “It worries me that we can’t reduce costs without reducing staff . . . it’s something that we’re going to have to look at very seriously,” he said.
The Dean of the University of Auckland Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Professor Peter Smith, said his school was “stressed”, but still running on budget. “(These issues) indicate that Government needs to readdress the whole issue of funding medical schools,” he said. The Auckland School receives $33 million per year in Government funding.
Acting Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary) Margaret Wilson said the Government had given more money to tertiary institutions every year since it came into office and it was up to each institution to decide how to allocate its money. The Government had also raised the cap on funded medical students by 20 each to the Otago and Auckland medical schools.
Association of University Staff (AUS) National President Dr Bill Rosenberg said that the Government had been consistently warned over the last five years that the situation in the schools of medicine and dentistry had reached a critical stage. “Ms Wilson’s response shows an unfortunate lack of understanding,” he said. “If medical schools are to retain their international accreditation they must be resourced in a manner which allows them to recruit and retain high calibre clinical and other staff. It is a red herring to say that the government had given more money to the tertiary sector each year. As the recently released research on University funding by Guy and Helen Scott shows, universities are getting a decreasing share of the tertiary funding pie, and student numbers and costs are rising faster than the funding they receive. The plight of the medical and dental schools is a symptom of underfunding across the whole university sector.”

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. PBRF report due soon
2. VCs and Government must avert university staff strike action
3. AUT posts $6.5m surplus
4. College head to desert
5. Vote on new UK pay offer
6. Student sues over PhD comments

PBRF report due soon
The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) has confirmed it hopes to release its report on the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) to participating institutions by the end of April, with the public release to follow about a week later.
A spokesperson for the TEC told Tertiary Update that the Commission is currently working through the process and hoped to finalise the timeline and other details relating to the report’s release later this week. Arrangements for consultation with tertiary institutions over the release of comparisons between New Zealand universities in the PBRF and British universities in the Research Assessment Exercise RAE) are also expected to be released.
The High Court last week continued an interim order blocking the release of the comparisons until proper consultation had taken place between the TEC and universities.

VCs and Government must avert university staff strike action
Students have called on vice-chancellors and the Government to act quickly to avert planned strike action by university staff. It follows the decision last week by university staff around the country to take strike action over five weeks starting from Wednesday 28 April in support of pay claims and new national collective employment agreements for academic and general staff
“The vice-chancellors need to make a decent pay offer to staff to stop disruptive strike action,” said Fleur Fitzsimons, Co-President of the New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA) “University managers have an obligation to students to provide the right conditions for study, including fair pay for university staff.”
“The Government and the universities will be to blame if strike action goes ahead. They must start to value university staff in New Zealand,” said Ms Fitzsimons.
“If the Government wants universities of a world class standard, they have to start putting their money where their mouth is and fund them properly,” said Ms Fitzsimons. “Students are keenly aware of the fact that staff at New Zealand universities are overworked and underpaid and support their claims for better pay and conditions.”
University unions and employers will meet again on 20 April to try and resolve the impasse in negotiations.

AUT posts $6.5m surplus
The Auckland University of Technology (AUT) recorded a $6.457 million operating surplus in 2003, more than $1.25 million ahead of a budgeted $5.2 million. The University’s 2003 annual report, published this year in a compact disc format, shows a growth of 1,113 equivalent full time students (EFTS) in Ministry of Education funded programmes, from 13,031 to 14,144. International EFTS increased by 746 (41%), from 1,828 in 2002 to 2,574 in 2003.
The University’s $6.457 operating surplus was derived from a total income of $168 million of which $81 million (48%) came from Government operational funding, and $67 million (40%) from student tuition fees. From the tuition fee income $35.7 million (53%) came from international students, meaning that for the first time ever the University derived more income from international fees than from domestic tuition fees.
The University boosted its research performance with 1,203 “research outputs” recorded at a rate of 1.6 per full time academic staff member. The report lists 881 academic staff and 733 allied staff, giving an academic staff to student ratio of 16.1 to 1, down on 17.3 in 2002 and 17.0 in 2001.

College head to desert
Principal of the Christchurch College of Education, Dr Ian Hall, has announced his resignation and is leaving to take up a position as a director of two colleges of higher technology in the United Arab Emirates city of Ras al Khaimah.
Dr Hall told The Press that he appreciated the support he had received from the College Council and acknowledged the professionalism and dedication of staff. He said the move was a career opportunity for him.
Council Chairwoman Wendy Ritchie described Dr Hall as a person of ability and strategic vision. “We have been privileged to have had Ian as our Principal for (the last eight years) and he will be sorely missed,” she said.
Dr Hall said he left the College concerned about the ongoing struggle to attract secondary teachers. “Until the community gets serious about the work schools and teachers do, we will continue to lose good people from the profession and struggle to attract sufficient numbers,” he said.
Dr Hall takes up his new appointment in August.

French Government backs down in dispute with scientists
French scientists are celebrating victory after the Government gave ground on key issues in a long-running dispute over government support of scientific research. Some two hundred directors of research laboratories and scientific research teams had earlier resigned from their administrative duties, and tens of thousands of researchers had signed an on-line petition in protest about research funding. They claimed that the Government was neglecting the public research sector and was undermining its very survival.
The scientists’ main demands were for the immediate payment of overdue research funds from 2002, an increase in the number of junior researchers and the convocation of a national assembly on research.
After the intervention of French President Jaques Chirac, negotiations between the Government and scientists resulted in agreement in all areas in dispute. Notably, 550 contract jobs have been made permanent and another 1,000 new university positions have been agreed.

Vote on new UK pay offer
The Association of University Teachers (AUT) is currently balloting union members in the United Kingdom after delegates to the AUT’s annual conference recommended that a new pay offer from university employers be accepted. If accepted by members the new pay offer will give salary increases of between 8.7% and 24.7% over the next two years. The average increase is understood to be around 12.2%. Staff at the top of grades would receive lower increases while those on the lower end of the salary scales will receive a higher increase. The new offer applies only to old (pre-1992) universities.
AUT General Secretary Sally Hunt said that while the AUT was disappointed that the improved offer applied only to old universities, it was the best achievable through negotiations.
The union held UK-wide strike action during February and then, in March, staged other protest action which included a boycott of student assessments.
The ballot will conclude on 28 April.

Student sues over PhD comments
A PhD student who was told that his work was “some of the dullest and most unimaginative” an examiner had seen is seeking almost £100,000 from Royal Holloway, University of London. The music student has been told by a lawyer that he has a strong claim for breach of contract and negligence after he was told repeatedly that his work was progressing satisfactorily, only to have it ridiculed by external examiners.
One examiner reported, “I find this music some of the dullest and (most) technically unimaginative I have come across at doctoral level and, perhaps more importantly, lacking in any real originality of style, approach or intent.”
The student had originally appealed against a decision not to award him a PhD, but withdrew the appeal and sought compensation. His lawyer has claimed that the student’s supervision was wholly inadequate. “Four outside examiners were clear in their view that his work was not of, or even close to, PhD standard. Yet he was consistently told by his supervisors and advisors that his progress was more than satisfactory.”
His lawyer is claiming damages for inconvenience or discomfort, and loss of earnings for five years “wasted study”.

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: Direct enquires to Marty Braithwaite, AUS Communications Officer, email:

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