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AUS Tertiary Update

TEC’s report lets CPIT off the hook
A Tertiary Education Commission report, released this morning, on the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology’s Cool IT community education programme says that the objectives of the programme are consistent with the Government’s strategy for tertiary education and also with CPIT’s approved charter and profile. The report was commissioned after it was revealed that CPIT had received more than $15 million in public funding for running courses which involved little more than handing out CD-Roms to members of the public. Students, who were recruited at random, were not required to attend classes or complete course work, and had no contact with teachers. All that was required was to sign up and accept the CD-Roms, each of which contained four computer courses. The CPIT also paid schools and libraries $20 for every student they enrolled and spent $80,000 on book vouchers as rewards for people who signed up.
In what is the only effective sanction, CPIT will hand back $83,284 after the report concluded that there had been a breach of the Tertiary Funding Guide as a result of the institution offering rewards to students for engaging in the programme on-line and for completing the programme successfully. CPIT has agreed that the payments were not appropriate and has agreed to repay the money, even though it says it has no legal obligation to do so.
The review also raises questions about the number of the 18,502 students who, after enrolling, had effectively engaged in learning. Despite receiving $738 in public funding for each enrolment, CPIT was unable to show any further engagement and learning for 13,298 of the enrolments. As a result, CPIT has agreed to work with the TEC to develop a “robust” process to evaluate the learning experience of students. In response to questioning, TEC Acting Chair, Kaye Turner, said that TEC did not know how it would assess the learning rates for previously enrolled students, and that TEC had no authority to recover previous public funding if it could be established that there had been no learning outcomes for those students.
The report reveals that the Cool IT “initiative” achieved a surplus of $12.89 million on an income of $14 million, but excludes any analysis of developmental costs of contribution to infrastructure or overhead costs of any party.
A separate review by the Auditor-General into alleged conflicts of interests by staff members involved in developing the Cool IT programme, including former Christchurch Mayor, Vicki Buck, is continuing.

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. AUS, NZVCC to meet on White Paper
2. Students unimpressed with new fee maxima rules
3. Millions paid out in subcontracting
4. Degrees for sale
5. Private university snubbed by AVCC
6. Iranian professor freed

AUS, NZVCC to meet on White Paper
Representatives from the Association of University Staff and New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee will meet next Friday, 13 August, to look at proposals for a jointly prepared “White Paper” on university resourcing. Agreement to proceed with such a paper resulted from national negotiations between the university unions and seven universities, during which it was agreed that the Government had a responsibility to play a lead role in increasing university funding if salaries were to increase to internationally competitive levels.
In a letter to AUS, the NZVCC has outlined a number of points to be covered in the meeting including: the governance structure for the project; the terms of reference for the “White Paper”; the selection criteria and process to determine who will undertake the project; budget-setting and establishment of the way in which costs will be shared; agreement on a time-line; and determination of how the final report will be used.
AUS General Secretary Helen Kelly said that there is already a significant amount of material on which to base a report, including research carried out for AUS by researchers Guy and Helen Scott and the Massey University working party reports which investigated academic and general staff salary levels. “This is a good opportunity to work constructively with employers to examine a number of issues facing the university sector, and to find common ground on where the solutions might lie,” she said. “The issues facing universities, particularly with respect to the workforce, need to be resolved on a university-wide basis if we are to make the progress needed to remain an internationally competitive sector.”
The final report will be the basis for lobbying Government on the issue of funding and is expected to be completed early in the New Year, before the next bargaining round commences.

Students unimpressed with new fee maxima rules
Students have reacted with cynicism to the announcement this week by Government that about 10,000 tertiary students will have cheaper tuition fees next year as a result of new rules on fee maxima. Under the new rules, tertiary education organisations with course fees above the current maximum tuition fee levels allowed will be required to reduce fees by 5 percent in 2005 and by a further 5 percent in 2006. Those with fees less than 5 percent above the maxima will be required to bring them down to the maxima. A small number of courses have been exempted, including those that require high input costs to run effectively and those currently subject to a Funding Category Review.
Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary) Steve Maharey said that the new arrangements, which will result in tuition fee reductions for 10,904 equivalent full-time students next year, are fair to both students and providers. “The fee maxima system has established a solid middle-ground between the uncontrolled fee rises students faced annually during the 1990s and the take-it-or-leave-it fee-freeze deals negotiated with the tertiary sector in 2001, 2002 and 2003,” he said. “Fees have increased only modestly this year with the introduction of the maxima system and there are no indications providers are looking for anything other than modest increases next year. Students and their parents now have certainty about fees when they are thinking about beginning tertiary studies.”
Otago University Students’ Association President Andrew Cushen said it was a “limp policy”, and that while 10,000 students may pay less many more students would be facing increases. Similarly, New Zealand University Students’ Association Co-President, Fleur Fitzsimons, said that Mr Maharey’s claim about delivering certainty was “Government spin” that would not wash with students or their families “who are paying through the nose” for their education. “The only thing certain about tuition fees in New Zealand is that they are among the highest in the world,” she said. “This policy announcement is all about rewarding the bad behaviour of institutions that can continue to charge fees above the so-called maxima.”

Millions paid out in subcontracting
Tertiary institutions are subcontracting private education providers to supply tuition that will attract more than $46 million in government funding according to Education Review. The $46 million figure, up from $41 million last year, excludes two institutions which have subcontracting arrangements with only one private provider each, and which withheld information due to commercial sensitivity.
Largest among those institutions which subcontract courses is Te Wananga o Aotearoa which expects to deliver about 3,500 EFTS, worth around $20 million, through such arrangements. Tairawhiti and Tai Poutini Polytechnics each subcontract courses worth around $4 million, the Nelson/Marlborough Institute of Technology around $3.2 million, the Telford Rural Polytechnic around $2.6 million and Whitirea Polytechnic around $2.4 million.
Education Review asked a number of parties whether the subcontracting represents valid education provision or whether it is simply “EFTS-laundering” for private providers. The Association of Staff in Tertiary Education, which represents staff in polytechnics, said it is concerned that public providers are subcontracting tuition to organisations with lesser quality control and cheaper staff than their own.
Sandra McKersey, from the Association of Private Providers, said that subcontracting was driven by both the cap on the private sector’s EFTS and by the Government’s desire for collaboration. “In many cases it is a true partnership and there are benefits to both organisations,” she said.
Subcontracting will be a focus of this year’s profile negotiations between the Tertiary Education Commission and tertiary education providers to ensure that subcontracting not only complies with the TEC’s funding guide, but it is relevant and of sufficient quality to receive public funding.
Details of the amounts spent on subcontracting by all public institutions can be found in this week’s Education Review.

Worldwatch
Degrees for sale
In what is being described as a “degrees-for-sale” scandal, British universities are offering degrees to students who should be failed in return for lucrative fees, according to reports this week in the British media. The Observer describes the practice as stretching from the most prestigious institutions to the former polytechnics and including undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, foreign and domestic students. It claims to have evidence of a professor ordering staff to mark up students at risk of failing in order to keep tuition fees coming in. Lecturers at Oxford, London and Swansea have told The Observer that the scandal is undermining academic standards, but that they cannot speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs.
In one blatant example, the Head of Bournemouth University’s Design, Engineering and Computing Department told staff to “minimise” the number of failures because of a drop in applications. He gave examples of how marks can be increased and warned of the “likely consequences” of failing students.
A spokesperson for the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards said a blind eye was turned to practices ranging from direct plagiarism to lecturers doing their students work for them, or simply passing work that had not been examined properly.
Some universities are now offering lower qualifications, such as diplomas and certificates, rather than failing students outright.

Private university snubbed by AVCC
Melbourne University Private, an offshoot of the University of Melbourne, has been refused membership of the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, a decision its Chief Executive, David Lloyd, claims will be commercially damaging.
Mr Lloyd said the loss would undermine its efforts to establish its credentials in Australia and overseas, and he has lodged a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission claiming the decision is in breach of the Trade Practices Act.
The AVCC is understood to have rejected MUP’s bid to join on the basis that its owner, Melbourne University, would have two voices and two votes on the AVCC.
Melbourne University Private (NZ) Limited has registered in New Zealand as a private company, but is understood not to be operating.

Iranian professor freed
A dissident Iranian professor was released from prison on Saturday, ending a two year struggle after a conservative regional court had twice sentenced him to death. Hashem Alghajari, a history professor at Tarbiat Modarres University in Teheran, was jailed in 2002 after making a speech in which he called on Iranians to question the pronouncements of clerics and to press for reforms. A regional court sentenced him to death but the Supreme Court overturned the decision. Then, in May this year, the same regional court reinstated the death penalty and, in June, the Supreme Court again overturned the judgement.

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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: www.aus.ac.nz . Direct enquires should be made to Marty Braithwaite, AUS Communications Officer, email: marty.braithwaite@aus.ac.nz

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