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UK research assessment discriminatory
A report just released in the United Kingdom has fueled concerns raised by women academic staff about the impact of Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) assessment in New Zealand. The report, UK academic staff 2002-3 – gender and research activity in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise, shows that male researchers are almost twice as likely as female academics to be designated as “research-active”, one of the prime criteria for promotion in universities.
The Association of University Teachers (AUT), which produced the report, says its findings show shocking evidence of discrimination at the very heart of the UK higher-education system, and issue a wake-up call to policy-makers to give equal opportunities a high priority.
The key findings reveal that for academics in 2002-03 doing both teaching and research, males were 1.6 times more likely than their female colleagues to be counted as research-active. It shows how female academics are left in a vicious circle in which they are often denied research opportunities and are then excluded from the RAE which, in turn, rules them out for senior roles in universities and colleges. The research says that evidence of discrimination can be found across all grades, job types, subject areas, age groups and institutions.
AUT General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said the findings confirm what the AUT has been saying for years, that there is stark evidence the RAE is resulting in discrimination against women. She says the report refutes claims by higher education funding councils, which run RAE, that those staff who have taken maternity leave or other career breaks would not be disadvantaged.
A spokesperson for the Association of University Staff, Dr Liz Poole said that for women the years that are viewed as the most productive for research output often coincided with time out of the full-time workforce to tend to family responsibilities. “That has the potential to significantly diminish the assessment results for women staff, and it is difficult to believe that these will not have an influence on promotion,” she said.
Dr Poole said the failure of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) to ensure universities provided demographic data meant that analysis would initially be difficult in New Zealand. “I expect, however, the results in New Zealand to be similar to those in the United Kingdom, just as they have shown to be with promotion statistics where there is clear evidence of gender-bias,” she said.
The full AUT report can be found at:

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Subcontracting rules tightened
2. Auckland University plans technology park
3. Student President bails out
4. Canterbury projects secure new funding
5. British select committee endorses open access to scientific literature
6. Students lack basic skills
7. Spider-men take over Peru University

Subcontracting rules tightened
A number of private training establishments (PTEs) have been told their subcontracting agreements are no longer acceptable, even though some have been in place for as long as seven years, according to a report this week in Education Review. It says the TEC has told PTEs that they cannot subcontract education or training to organisations that are not registered or accredited with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).
Subcontracting arrangements exist where tertiary education providers receive public EFTS-based funding and then engage other providers to provide the teaching for which the funding is received. Last year it was revealed that some public institutions were subcontracting their teaching to PTEs in an effort to evade the Government’s cap on PTE subsidies. The practice was commonly referred to as EFTS laundering.
The TEC says it has been unable to quantify the level of subcontracting, but expects this year’s tertiary sector profiles to enable it to assess the level and scope of subcontracting at both private and public institutions.
Education Review reports that one PTE, Framework Solutions, had subcontracted teaching to an unspecified number of unregistered organisations for the past seven years and was seeking an exemption from NZQA to allow the practice to continue. Framework Solutions’ website lists fourteen “Associates”, and says becoming an associate allows organisations to access government funding.
The TEC’s General Manager, Ann Clark, said it was a long-standing policy that PTEs could not contract to unregistered providers.

Auckland University plans technology park
The University of Auckland and the Auckland City Council have combined to launch a plan to create a technology park based around the University’s Tamaki campus. The New Zealand Herald reports that the development is aimed at transforming a “fairly rundown” industrial area adjacent to the Tamaki campus into New Zealand’s answer to Singapore, or to Britain’s Cambridge Science Park. The Council’s Development Manager, Ian Maxwell, said their vision was to create 10,000 jobs, five times the number that exist now.
The planners propose three separate zones in the park: thirty-two hectares on the Tamaki Campus for public and private sector partners to have close access to university researchers; a ten-hectare “technology park” which can be leased to companies which fit into the campus’s six research themes; and one hundred hectares where business development will be aimed at attracting “knowledge workers”.
A University spokesperson said the six research themes would be based around health, sports and community; information and communication technology and electronics; information management; food and biotechnology; energy and resources; and material and manufacturing.
Mr Maxwell said the City Council was about to appoint a Development Enterprise Board to buy land in areas earmarked for the Technology Park, and lease it to appropriate businesses. “The aim of being able to vet firms locating in the precinct, so they can contribute to links with the University and downstream commercial research, is important,” he said.

Student President bails out
University of Canterbury Students’ Association (UCSA) President, Pete Martin, resigned his position on Friday last week after accidentally signing the organisation up for membership of the New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA). By resigning, he has avoided a planned vote of no-confidence in him by his Executive.
The UCSA Executive had decided to hold a referendum on re-joining NZUSA after an earlier decision in 1998 to leave the national body, but Martin signed UCSA up as an associate member before the referendum was held. Membership of NZUSA costs $23,000 per year.
Martin is understood to have believed he could withdraw UCSA’s membership if the referendum went against joining, but NZUSA has held to its rule of requiring one year’s notice to withdraw membership. NZUSA Co-President Fleur Fitzsimons said that members are required to give one year’s notice so that there was some certainty about membership and operational planning.
Martin acknowledges he didn’t follow the right procedures but says despite his best efforts to correct the mistake, the Executive decided to move a motion of no-confidence in him. He said he had always been 100 per cent honest and open with them, and had never acted for personal gain.
Curiously, UCSA joined NZUSA as an associate member last year, unsanctioned, with the then-President, Richard Neal, standing unsuccessfully for the NZUSA presidency.

Canterbury projects secure new funding
Major new funding to close skill gaps in Canterbury’s information and communications technologies (ICT) were announced yesterday by the Ministers of Economic Development, Jim Anderton, and Information and Technology, Paul Swain. The $1.76 million ICT in Canterbury project is a partnership between local businesses and tertiary education organisations, including the University of Canterbury, Lincoln University, the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology and the Christchurch College of Education.
The project will conduct industry-based research to identify current and future IT skill demands, and will be used to develop what is described in a media release as “a talent pipeline that will ensure an adequate supply of suitably qualified graduates”.
Jim Anderton said the groundbreaking project would deliver major benefits to the ICT sector and the Canterbury economy. “This project will help ensure we meet the challenges of building tomorrow’s ICT workforce by aligning courses, qualifications and training with the industry’s skill needs,” he said.
Paul Swain said the project is funded from the Government’s Growth and Innovation Fund which was set up after industry taskforces said new investment and attention was needed to develop qualifications relevant to the needs of businesses in targeted sectors, including ICT.

British Select Committee endorses open access to scientific literature
The Science and Technology Committee of Britain’s House of Commons has endorsed the principle of open access to research results and has criticised the scientific-publishing industry for the escalating price of its journals. In a report which dealt with the budgetary tension between academic libraries and publishers over journal subscription prices, the Select Committee has encouraged ways of making articles freely available by publishing them on the internet or in journals where the authors pay the publishing costs.
The report recommended that all British academic institutions establish on-line repositories for researchers’ published papers and that government agencies require all researchers to place copies of articles arising from publicly-funded research on those on-line repositories.
The report comes only days after a United States Congressional committee recommended free access to papers based on research financed by the National Institute of Health.
Supporters of open-access argue that publicly-funded research should be available to everyone, not just those who can afford to purchase journals. The report discounts criticism of author-pays journals, recommending that the Government finance authors’ fees.
The British Government’s Office of Science and Technology is expected to respond to the 114-page report, possibly by issuing new requirements or regulations early next year.

Students lack basic skills
More than half of vice-chancellors say that first-year students lack the basic skills needed for study for a degree, according to a new report in the United Kingdom. Fifty-four percent of vice-chancellors who responded to the survey, on which the report was based, raised concerns about the mathematical abilities of students on technical courses, with two-thirds saying they had to provide remedial courses in numeracy to bring students up to speed. Almost one-half say they have been forced to provide special classes in literacy, claiming that students are struggling with basic grammar and are unable to write essays.
Many universities are saying that the problem is more widespread than expected. One said there is not a university in the country that has not experienced a gradual decline in writing and mathematical skills, while another said that all universities have to offer special teaching in Maths and English, “whether or not they admit it”.
The findings of the report are expected to fuel the claim that standards in higher education are falling because of the Government’s policy of trying to get half of all school leavers to university by 2010. Critics claim the “bums-on-seats” approach is forcing universities to recruit students who do not possess the academic skills and aptitude to undertake degree-level study.

Spider-men take over Peru University
Students wearing red Spider-Man masks have taken over buildings at Peru’s National Engineering University this week to demand the removal of the Dean, whom they accuse of mishandling funds. The students wore the masks so they would not be identified by police or security cameras.
The Dean, Roberto Morales, told news reporters that about fifty masked “delinquents” had broken down doors and taken over the University. The students responded that they were trying to re-organise the University.

********************************************************************************AUS Tertiary Update is compiled weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the Association of University Staff and others. Back issues are available on the AUS website: . Direct enquires should be made to Marty Braithwaite, AUS Communications Officer, email:

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