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AUS Tertiary Update

AUS WEB SITESeven universities top PBRF
As expected, the seven traditional New Zealand universities have topped the tertiary education sector in terms of research performance. The results of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) report on the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF), Evaluating Research Excellence: The 2003 Assessment, give quality-score rankings of between 3.96 and 2.11 out of a maximum of 10 to the seven universities, while the highest non-university institution scored 1.16.
The TEC released its report last Thursday night, six days ahead of schedule after the news media obtained a copy and intended publishing the key findings last Friday. The public release was scheduled for Wednesday this week, after earlier being delayed by High Court action by two universities in a successful attempt to block the release of international comparisons in the report.
Association of University Staff (AUS) National President Bill Rosenberg said that it was no surprise to anyone that the seven universities are at the top of the tertiary sector in terms of research quality. “The results show that if the Government wants to increase research output in New Zealand, then the best place to invest resources is in the seven top institutions – which are all universities,” he said. “The results show that no other institution even reached a “C” grade average. In a country where tertiary money is short, the Government needs to put money into institutions that are capable of quality research.”
Dr Rosenberg said that AUS members have had enough of all the measuring, strategising and talk, and now expected the Government to increase its investment in universities. He noted that in the introduction to the report the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) said that it was vital to retain good researchers in the New Zealand system. “The only way he can do that is to put more money into universities,” said Dr Rosenberg.
“An immediate measure would be to speed up the move to PBRF funding and to increase the overall pot of money in the fund,” Dr Rosenberg said.
A full copy of the report can be found on the TEC website:

Also in Tertiary Update this week . . . .
1. Funding changes “perverse”
2. New proposals in university pay dispute
3. Student debt reaches $7 billion
4. Waikato University records small surplus
5. Swansea closes Chemistry department
6. Melbourne students in fees protest
7. Big rise in overseas student fees

Funding changes “perverse”
Changes in research funding to universities as a result of their PBRF results have been “perverse” according to AUS National President Dr Bill Rosenberg. “The PBRF appears to reward high-cost subjects and the ability to attract external research income more than it rewards high-quality scores. It may also reflect a bias against research students in the new funding regime,” he said.
Among the universities, the University of Auckland was ranked first with a quality score of 3.96, but will receive only the third highest percentage increase in funding, whereas the University of Otago, which was placed fourth with a quality score of 3.23, will receive the highest percentage increase of funding, at 7.93%.
Lincoln University will receive the second-highest percentage increase in funding, at 6.51%, despite being the second-lowest-ranked university by quality score, at 2.56. The University of Canterbury will receive the third-lowest increase in funding, 2.15%, despite being second-highest-ranked with a quality score of 3.83.
“In Canterbury’s case, this is apparently because it is particularly strong in the number of research students it attracts. Because the funding which is being phased out is based on student numbers, it lost more funding proportionally than others,” said Dr Rosenberg. “This raises the question of whether the new regime discourages universities from attracting research students.”
“The scheme appears to reward high-cost subjects and the ability to attract external research income, which is not available to researchers in many subject areas, more than it rewards high-quality scores”, said Dr Rosenberg. “Is that what its designers intended?”
Of the twenty four institutions participating in the PBRF exercise, eleven gained increased funding, at an average of 3.88%, while thirteen lost funding, at an average of 4.82%.

New proposals in university pay dispute
University staff are this week considering whether to defer industrial action after last minute negotiations between union and university negotiators made sufficient progress to avert the first of five days’ strike action planned in the sector.
Union members in the seven traditional universities had earlier voted on a campaign of industrial action after university employers refused to agree to the new national collective employment agreements and made pay offers which staff negotiators said were unacceptable.
Meetings of union members, which started on Wednesday this week and which will conclude on Monday next week, are voting on a proposal to defer the national bargaining and to work towards the settlement of enterprise agreements at each of the seven universities.
The vote comes after employers agreed to establish a joint working party to look at the options for employment agreements (including national agreements), to jointly commission a “white paper” on university funding and to request tripartite meetings with the Minister of Education (Tertiary) on funding issues.
Speaking on behalf of the combined university unions, AUS General Secretary Helen Kelly said that the unions remained strongly committed to the principles of national bargaining and that the current vote, if carried, would be viewed as an interim settlement to allow further dialogue between the universities and unions, and with Government.
Ms Kelly said that some of the salary offers were unacceptable and would not be recommended for settlement. This was particularly so where there are differentials between the offers made to general and academic staff. She said industrial action was still highly likely in those places unless satisfactory offers were made.

Student debt reaches $7 billion
Student debt levels reached $7 billion this week, twelve years after the student loan scheme was introduced, according to figures released this week by the New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA).
More than 379,000 people now have student loan debts, with the average amount borrowed in an academic year increasing from $3,628 in 1992 to $6,204 in 2002. The average debt has increased in that time from $5,525 to $12,643, and the average repayment time is now nine and a half years.
NZUSA Co-President Fleur Fitzsimons says that student debt would not have reached $7 billion if the Government had taken action on living allowances. “Two thirds of students have no alternative but to borrow from the loan scheme for rent and food,” she said. “The Government must make good on its promise on allowances in the upcoming Budget.” NZUSA is calling on the Government to introduce a living allowance, similar to the unemployment benefit, in the Budget.
The Government’s Student Loan Scheme Annual Report shows that student loans will total more than $14 billion by 2020, although NZUSA is saying that student debt is currently increasing by almost $1 billion per year.
Protests were held by students at most universities on Wednesday, the time when the debt was expected to reach the $7 billion mark.

Waikato University records small surplus
Waikato University has recorded its smallest surplus in seven years, according to its 2003 Annual Report. It recorded an operating surplus of $1.9 million, down on $4.5 million in 2002, and well below its best performance in recent years of $7.5 million in 1998.
According to the University’s Chief Operating Officer, the surplus of $1.9 million represents a return on revenue of 1.1%, well below the target of 3.5% to 4.5% recommended by the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit (TAMU).
Education Review reports Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Bryan Gould saying that the University Council and management had noted the figures, but that there was no undue alarm and that the University continued to get A ratings from TAMU. Professor Gould said the University was struck by several one-off events last year that adversely affected its balance sheet, including SARS and changes to accounting for depreciation. He said the University had set itself a modest but achievable target of a $2.5 million operating surplus this year, rising to $5 million in 2005 and $7.5 million in 2006.
It is expected that Waikato’s new Vice-Chancellor will be named next week to replace Professor Gould who is to retire at the end of the year. Former National Party Member of Parliament Simon Upton is understood to be the frontrunner for the position. Kaye Turner had also been a frontrunner, but has confirmed that she is no longer a candidate upon her appointment as the acting Chairperson of TEC following the resignation of Dr Andy West.

Swansea closes Chemistry department
Swansea University has decided to press ahead with the closure of its Chemistry department to make room for more courses in “soft” subjects, despite an outcry among Britain’s scientific elite. The University’s Council voted last month to close the Chemistry and several other departments because of an “overprovision” of undergraduate university places in the United Kingdom.
“The phasing out of undergraduate teaching (in those areas) is regrettable, but a university the size of Swansea cannot do everything,” said the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Richard Davies. He said the University was responding to a lack of student demand.
In an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor, 18 Fellows of the Royal Society, including Nobel laureate chemists, and many other scientists have condemned the closure as short-sighted.
There are forty chemistry departments left in Britain, but the Royal Society warns that there could be as few as six within a decade.

Melbourne students in fees protest
Students at Melbourne University blockaded access to administration buildings last week in protest at the University’s decision to increase student tuition fees by 25% for most courses. The proposed increase in fees comes at the same time the University announced an operating surplus of $64 million, and all other major universities in the Australian state of Victoria showed surpluses of more than $10 million.
National Union of Students President Jodie Jansen said that large profits made by all major universities in the Australian state of Victoria raised questions about why universities have increased fees at all, and said the public would be suspicious of the universities’ real motivation in increasing the fees.
The universities are claiming that lack of Commonwealth funding meant fee rises were necessary for them to continue providing quality courses.
Meanwhile, nineteen Monash University students are expected to be charged with trespass and obstructing police after an occupation of buildings at Monash in protest at that University’s decision to increase fees.

Big rise in overseas student fees
Fees paid to universities in the United Kingdom have jumped 24% to more than £1 billion, according to figures released this week. The Higher Education Statistics Agency said that the 2002-03 financial statements from higher education institutions showed that income from outside the European Union had risen from £875 million the previous year. The increase in income is higher that the rise in overseas students (21%), suggesting that universities have increased fees to overseas students.
Income from overseas students now represents almost a third of the total fees going to universities and higher education colleges in the UK.

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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