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AUS Tertiary Update

Assessment unit missing from PBRF review
With the first PBRF assessment not long completed, the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) has announced details of the consultation process for the next round. Missing, however, is any reference to whether the unit of assessment for the PBRF Quality Evaluation should continue to be based on the research performance of individuals, or whether it should be changed to measure the performance of groups.
A document released by the TEC last week sets out an indicative timeline and process for the preparation and implementation of the 2006 Quality Evaluation, and identifies issues which have come to the TEC’s attention regarding the design and initial implementation of the initial PBRF exercise. The document invites feedback from the tertiary education sector on the proposed timeline and those issues identified as having come to the TEC’s attention.
The 2006 Quality Evaluation paper lists thirty-two separate re-design issues for consultation, but fails to make any mention of the individual unit of assessment. Included among the thirty-two issues are participation, staff-eligibility, assessment framework, evidence portfolios, moderation process, panels and funding.
AUS National President Dr Bill Rosenberg said that the unit of assessment based on individual performance had been a fundamental problem for the AUS, many staff and some of the PBRF panels, and it had been repeatedly raised with the TEC. “Many of the issues we have identified with the PBRF, whether they be disadvantage to emerging researchers, or equity or privacy concerns, could be partly or wholly addressed through the establishment of a fairer assessment unit,” he said. “That two of the PBRF panels have also called for such a change shows that we are not alone in those concerns.”
Despite declaring the timing of the 2006 process as an issue for consultation, Dr Rosenberg says the TEC has advised AUS that considering a change to the assessment unit had been deliberately excluded from the consultation document because it says it would not be feasible to proceed with the 2006 PBRF round if such a fundamental change was made.
Dr Rosenberg said it is vital that an examination of the unit of assessment is included in the consultation process and he urged university staff to ensure they make a submission to the TEC calling for this to be considered for the 2006 round. He asked all those making submissions to address this fundamental issue.
Submissions on the TEC consultation document close on 30 September.

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Skegg to build different bridge?
2. Trade negotiations put education control at risk
3. Council calls in loan for tertiary institution
4. International students confer at Lincoln
5. Saudis urge boycott of UK universities
6. Nottingham staff under continued attack

Skegg to build different bridge?
New University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg has taken little time to distance himself from his predecessor, Dr Graeme Fogelberg. Just weeks into his new job, Professor Skegg announced that the University would not proceed with replacing the historic Leith footbridge with a new vehicle-capable bridge as part of the University’s proposed new entranceway.
Replacing the bridge at a cost of almost $1 million had become something of a long-running fight between Dr Fogelberg and those opposed to the project and, in a parting shot, he told detractors that they had cost the University more than $300,000 in legal costs after taking steps to halt the bridge project. He was, he said, determined the project would proceed because more than $900,000 raised for the project was unable to be used elsewhere.
Professor Skegg said that the University Council had decided, however, to relinquish its resource consents because there was little chance that the University would proceed with the project in the foreseeable future. The move has been backed by Chancellor Lindsay Brown, who says he hopes everyone can now move on to more pressing matters. He said he believed the money raised for the project could be diverted to other projects.
Otago University Students’ Association President Andrew Cushen said he was delighted with the decision. “The University has previously ignored the concerns of all significant stakeholders in pursuing this project,” he said. “Students, alumni, staff and the wider Dunedin community have condemned the proposed new bridge, with the University proposing to ignore them to this point. The project never had any merit, it was simply an arrogant waste of money.” Mr Cushen is reported to have said he thought it was no coincidence that the decision was made so soon after the departure of Dr Fogelberg.
Professor Skegg has also sent a clear message to staff that Otago needs to lift its game if it is fully to recover its reputation after being placed fourth in the recent PBRF assessments. The Otago Daily Times reports that University staff have praised what they see as a new spirit of realism and openness shown by Professor Skegg in acknowledging the University’s PBRF shortcomings and his planning positive steps to overcome them.

Trade negotiations put education control at risk
Trade negotiations between New Zealand, Chile and Singapore, which began in Wellington yesterday, will put at risk local control of key social and public services, including health and education, according to AUS National President Dr Bill Rosenberg.
The “P3” talks are based on the New Zealand-Singapore Closer Economic Partnership Agreement, which takes a “positive list” approach to trade, specifying those services which it has been agreed will expressly be open to international competition and for which a government’s right to regulate is heavily restricted. In these talks, however, the Government has put up a “negative list”, specifying only those services where it wishes to preserve its right to regulate, either in the public interest or to provide a public service. Any unnamed services, including ones not yet thought of, are automatically subject to deregulation.
Dr Rosenberg said that a “negative list” approach should be opposed. He said it would be very difficult to analyse which of the services deregulated under such an agreement might affect the current provision of public education, let alone start to predict the effect of deregulating services not even in existence. “This is particularly important in areas such as telecommunications and information technology, both of which are vitally important to education given the widespread use of technology in universities,” he said. “Under any free trade agreement, creating new public services or regulating new services based on such technologies may well be impossible.”
Dr Rosenberg described as rubbish a claim by a spokesperson for the Trade Minister, Jim Sutton, that negative lists were the norm for trade agreements. Although Mr Sutton’s office said that the Government had ruled out public services, particularly health and education, being included in trade agreements, Dr Rosenberg said that we are yet to see how this would be done in an enforceable way, let alone how the Government proposes to protect potentially important services which don’t yet exist.

Council calls in loan for tertiary institution
The future of a proposed West Auckland tertiary institution looks to be in doubt following a Waitakere District Council decision to seek the full repayment of a loan to the Waipareira Trust, according to news website, Korero. The loan, granted in 1998, helped the Trust purchase 12.6 hectares of land in Glen Eden for the development of a Maori tertiary education institution. Korero reports that the Trust has been unable to secure government support for the proposal, and has been forced to build housing on some of the land to help pay interest on the loan.
The Council’s decision to rescind the loan comes after a report that showed the Trust had entered into a joint venture to develop three hectares of the land for residential housing. The Council says it breached its mortgage conditions and an agreement that the land would be used for a tertiary institution.

International students confer at Lincoln
Concerns over tuition fee increases, restrictions on working hours and the provision of insurance and pastoral care were the main issues aired at the first-ever national conference for international students held at Lincoln University last weekend. The conference, run by the New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA), reflects the changing demographic of the student population and the importance of international students to the New Zealand university system.
According to an organiser, Lincoln University Student President Josephine Newman, the conference was a huge success, with international students from around the country able to get together to network and discuss issues of importance on a national level. “The “grandparenting” of international student tuition fees was among the key agenda items, with students calling for international fees to be set for the full duration of study prior to that study being undertaken.
Delegates to the conference said that universities are failing to promote the Code of Pastoral Care for International Students, leaving them uninformed on grievance procedures against unfair practices.
As a result of the conference, NZUSA will be organising a national week of action to raise awareness on international student concerns and gather signatures for a petition to support the introduction of grandparenting of fees across all universities in New Zealand.

Worldwatch
Saudis urge boycott of UK universities
The Saudi Arabian embassy in London is to advise its students to boycott British universities in protest over financial irregularities, high fees and poor teaching. Other foreign embassies have told The Observer that they are unhappy with the way their students are treated by UK universities but are unwilling to speak out, fearing their students will face retaliation from the institutions.
Abdullah Anassah, the Head of Academic Affairs for the Saudi Arabian Embassy, said they are currently experimenting with sending students to universities in New Zealand and Australia instead of Britain and, if this proved successful, would advise students to go there instead of the UK. More than 2,500 new Saudi students come to Britain each year.
The UK is currently the second most popular destination for foreign students after the United States, with 270,000 foreigners studying at British universities. Foreign students pay as much as £16,000, up to six times the fees of their British counterparts.

Nottingham staff under continued attack
Staff at Nottingham University in the United Kingdom are under further attack this week after the University published plans to introduce new grading arrangements for academic and research staff. Following the University’s imposition of performance pay, new grading structures and inferior plans for academic-related (general) staff, the Vice-Chancellor has announced plans to extend the new arrangements to academic and research staff.
Despite the threat of a global academic boycott, Nottingham intends to press ahead with implementing new pay and grading arrangements which are outside a national deal struck by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) with university employers in March. Nottingham’s arrangement introduces performance-related pay, would reduce career earnings of nearly £9,000 over six years for some, and removes the entitlement to belong to the national university pension scheme for others.
AUT Deputy General Secretary Malcolm Keight has written to the University objecting to its plan to implement the new arrangements without negotiating and reaching agreement with the AUT. "We are extremely disappointed that the University has taken this route given our recent offers to engage in genuine negotiations to address the concerns of academic and related staff,” he wrote.

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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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