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AUS Tertiary Update

AUS WEB SITEVictoria University general staff to strike
General staff at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) will strike next Monday in support of a claim to increase their salaries by 4%. Last week they rejected a salary offer of 2.2% and voted, at a series of meetings, to take industrial and protest action in support of the 4% claim.
Association of University Staff (AUS) general staff spokesperson, Tony Quinn, said that the current salary offer from VUW was the lowest offer made to any group of university staff in the current wage round, and was well below New Zealand national average wage and salary increases.
Mr Quinn said that VUW posted an operational surplus of $7.6 million dollars last year, and looked to be heading for a record financial surplus this year with higher than expected enrolments. “The money is there, but any goodwill towards sharing the surplus with those staff that helped create it is sadly lacking,” he said.
“General staff are insulted by their salary offer from VUW management,” said Mr Quinn. “They are being offered significantly less than their academic counterparts, and markedly less than what is being offered at other universities.”
Mr Quinn said that without general staff the university simply could not operate. “They are the public face of the institution, and are the main point of contact with students in their day-to-day campus life. They ensure the smooth running of the entire University and should be treated in a manner which reflects that,” he said.
“General staff make up half the workforce at the University, and come from a wide variety of specialist trades and professions,” said Mr Quinn. “The core university function of teaching and research is a team effort towards which general staff make an essential and valuable contribution. In making a differential pay offer between general and academic staff, the VUW deliberately fails to appreciate and reward general staff for their contribution to the academic success of the institution. It also divides one group of staff from the other.”
Academic staff at VUW have accepted a 4% salary increase for 2004.
Negotiations between University of Otago management and unions have stalled after union negotiators rejected a salary offer of 3%, from 1 May, for general staff and academic staff below the rank of lecturer, and a minimum of 3.5% for academic staff ranked from lecturer and above. Otago staff have claimed a 4% salary increase backdated to 1 February.
New collective agreements have been settled at the University of Auckland, where staff will receive a 3.5% salary increase, and at Waikato University where staff will receive an increase of 3%, 2% of which will be backdated to October 2003.

Also in Tertiary Update this week . . .
1. Pre-Budget briefing cancelled
2. Funding-scam claim challenged
3. PBRF dispute resolved
4. Highest student debt closes in on $250,000
5. Staff at risk in RAE
6. Go8 expands base to Europe

Pre-Budget briefing cancelled
Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary) Steve Maharey cancelled a proposed pre-Budget briefing with tertiary sector unions scheduled for Tuesday this week, saying that he would not have been able to provide comprehensive information so close to Budget day. Mr Maharey also expressed concerns about recent leaks of confidential information.
AUS representatives will attend a Budget lock-up from mid-morning today and will report Budget details relating to the tertiary education sector later in the day.
The Budget is not expected to provide any major surprises for the university sector, with indicative EFTS and Performance-Based Research Funding having been previously announced.

Funding-scam claim challenged
Associate Education Minister (Tertiary) Steve Maharey has challenged National MP Bill English to provide evidence of potentially fraudulent community education enrolments at polytechnics after Mr English claimed a community education “scam” at Gisborne’s Tairawhiti Polytechnic is “getting more outrageous by the week.”
Mr English has claimed that community education students at Tairawhiti were encouraged to enrol in a free course, in Te Reo Maori, in order to secure further free funding for the Polytechnic. He said the students, who originally enrolled in a Maori spiritual healing course, were told that it was up to them whether they completed the Te Reo course, and they didn’t receive course materials as promised.
Mr English said that the Polytechnic would have received hundreds of dollars for each enrolment. “The students estimate that the healing course may have produced up to sixty enrolments in the Te Reo course. It’s quite possible that none of these students even started in Te Reo,” he said.
In a media release relating to Tairawhiti, Mr English said that polytechnics were enrolling students in bogus courses for funding purposes, potentially committing fraud.
Responding to the allegation, the Tertiary Education Commission TEC) has been assured by an independent report that no claims for public money have been made by Tairawhiti Polytechnic for learners who did not receive materials for the course in which they enrolled.
A copy of the report into the management and recording of community education courses at the Tairawhiti Polytechnic, which has been received by the TEC, gave assurances that no evidence was found of any invalid enrolments being recorded and claimed by the Polytechnic.
Mr Maharey told Parliament this week that he was not about to begin any type of “stupid witch-hunt” on the basis of Mr English’s statements in the House, but that he would act where there was evidence of scams. He said that if Mr English had any evidence he should give it to the Minister, or the TEC. “I would regard any evidence of anything which was a conflict of interest or potentially fraudulent at any of our tertiary education providers as grounds for swift investigation,” he said. “If a fraud is either proven or one that needs to be prosecuted we would do exactly that.”
Tairawhiti enrolled 47,000 students and received $21.6 million in community education funding last year.

PBRF dispute resolved
In a joint statement, the Tertiary Education Commission, University of Auckland, and Victoria University of Wellington have announced that they have “substantially resolved” their legal dispute over the release of international comparisons as a part of the TEC's Performance-Based Research Fund report.
Earlier the Universities had blocked the release of the international comparisons, saying they were unlawful, irrational, based on mistaken fact, and in breach of natural justice and the legitimate expectation of the Universities. They had argued 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. The main report was released last month without the international comparisons.
The University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Dr John Hood says that the Universities have now agreed with the TEC that if it wishes to proceed with an international comparison, there should be a full consultative process with institutions over whether such a comparison should be done and, if so, how it should be done.
The TEC’s Acting Chairperson, Kaye Turner, welcomed the decision. “We are pleased to have this episode behind us,” she said. “We look forward to a constructive and collaborative approach with the tertiary institutions on this and the many other significant issues facing the tertiary education sector.”

Highest student debt closes in on $250,000
New Zealand’s highest individual student loan is now $230,000, according to the latest student loan scheme quarterly report released by the Inland Revenue Department. The number of borrowers who have student debts through the scheme is 425,575, with more than half of all loans being over $10,000.
New Zealand University Students’ Association Co-President Fleur Fitzsimons said the figures showed a “massive increase” with the biggest individual debt rising by $50,000 in the last quarter. The total number of borrowers increased by more than 46,000, from 379,023 to 425,575.
The report shows that the proportion of borrowers with bigger debts was continuing to grow, with the number of people with debts of over $99,000 having doubled, and with nearly a quarter of all debts now over $20,000.
The average loan balance of borrowers is now $14,169, but Ms Fitzsimons said she believed the average debt for a graduating student is around $20,000. She said the average loan figure includes those people who were already paying off their debt.
Ms Fitzsimons said that the Government needed to contain the spiralling levels of student debt by introducing a living allowance for all students in today’s Budget, and by reducing student tuition fees.

Staff at risk in RAE
Evidence has emerged in the United Kingdom that universities are threatening to transfer weak researchers into teaching-only positions, or to make them redundant, as preparations begin for the next Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 2008. A growing number of universities are conducting “dummy runs” to calculate how they will fare in the exercise.
The Association of University Teachers (AUT) has discovered that preparations are already in progress to remove or transfer some staff in at least three institutions in an attempt to improve RAE scores and the resulting funding allocations from the funding councils. The institutions named are Imperial College, King’s College and Queen Mary.
The AUT has been advised that meetings are taking place at Imperial with individual academic staff who will be offered redundancy if they fail to improve their research performance. Similar processes are understood to be underway at Kings College and Queen Mary.
The British Medical Council is quoted saying that academics at Imperial’s medical school had received letters threatening disciplinary procedures if they did not generate external research grants of at least £75,000 a year and have at least three papers accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
The Times Higher Education Supplement quotes a faculty head at a “major research university” saying “We have a list of people we might approach to take early retirement or transfer. Everyone is doing it. The difference is we aren’t all doing it very publicly.”

Go8 expands base to Europe
Members of the Australian Group of Eight (Go8) universities are raising their profile in Europe with a new centre in the Australian Embassy office in Berlin. The Australian Centre Europe, to be opened in July, is expected to promote business links between the research-intensive universities, their European counterparts, governments, and business.
The new centre would promote exchange of staff and researchers, be a focal point for meetings and enable the universities to branch out in Europe.
Go8 Chairman and Australian National University Vice-Chancellor, Ian Chubb, said it was an important presence for the universities to have. “As Australia’s leading universities we think it particularly important that we do something as a group and Europe is a good place to start that,” he said.

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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: marty.braithwaite@aus.ac.nz

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