AUS Tertiary Update
Unitec threatens legal action
For the third time in four years the Government has drafted legislation to block Auckland’s Unitec from being assessed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) for university status. Unitec now says it is considering legal action to stop the Government, with its Chief Executive, Dr John Webster, saying that Unitec is entitled to have its application considered under the law prevailing at the time the application was made.
The Education (Establishment of Universities) Amendment Bill was tabled in Parliament last Friday, setting out what are described as better processes for determining whether an organisation can be established as a university. The Bill provides that the relevant Minister must make a decision on the strategic implications of establishing a new university, for both the nation and the tertiary education system, before a detailed assessment of the criteria can be carried out by NZQA. It also ensures that any current applications to become a university will be considered under the new processes set out in the Bill. The legislation will give the Minister the sole authority to make a decision on whether any application for university status will proceed to NZQA for assessment.
The Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary), Steve Maharey, said the step is being taken to streamline the processes so that valuable resources are not wasted. “Under current legislation, NZQA is potentially wasting a great deal of time and money considering whether an organisation should become a university, when it is clear that the proposal is not in the national interest,” he said. “The issue being addressed by the Bill has been highlighted in Unitec’s request to be reclassified as a university. Its case will still be considered if it wishes, but it will need to be done under the new procedures with issues of national interest addressed first.”
It is the retrospective nature of the legislation which has infuriated Unitec. It first applied for registration as a university in 1996; consideration of a renewed application, made in 1999, was postponed in 2000; and in June this year it requested that NZQA resume consideration of its application. It appears that request has resulted in the new Bill.
Dr Webster said that the Minister has obviously decided that Unitec now meets the criteria for university status so comfortably that, if a fair assessment was conducted, he would find it hard to turn down the application. “The process adopted by the Government has been unfair and, we have been advised, unlawful,” Dr Webster said. “We do not want to take the Minister to court, and we had hoped that wiser counsel would prevail. However, our Council has a statutory obligation to act in the best interests of our students, and we will have to consider our options.” Dr Webster was unable to say what legal avenues are available, or when legal action may be taken.
Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. AUS welcomes tighter control on number of universities
2. Government lacks strategy on community education, says English
3. Massey to coordinate social sciences programme
4. Waikato scholarships again available
5. Global boycott of Nottingham begins
6. Ballarat to open in NZ
AUS welcomes tighter
control on number of universities
The Association of University Staff and the New Zealand Vice Chancellors’ Committee (NZVCC) have both welcomed the Education (Establishment of Universities) Bill. The AUS National President, Dr Bill Rosenberg, said that AUS had supported proposed legislation in 2000 to limit the number of universities to eight, and would strongly support the Government’s current intention to ensure that the national and tertiary education interests were the predominant factors in considering whether Unitec should be considered for university status. “Any move to increase the number of universities would extend the current two-tier structure in research capability revealed by the Performance-Based Research Fund results, and has the potential to threaten the international reputation of the New Zealand university sector,” he said. “We also believe that the Bill needs to go further in protecting the term ‘university’ which is currently being abused by some private establishments.”
Similarly, NZVCC Chair, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, said it was good to see the Government taking a strategic position in relation to the establishment of further universities. “What this Bill avoids is the potential waste in having NZQA spend large amounts of money assessing whether an applicant institution meets the characteristics of a university as defined by the Education Act,” he said. “Now the Minister will have to make a decision whether the application is in New Zealand’s interests.”
Both Dr Rosenberg and Professor McCutcheon said that New Zealand needs a greater level of investment in the existing universities rather than more universities. “Spreading funding even further with the establishment of more universities will only undermine the existing ones, whose funding is already inadequate,” said Dr Rosenberg.
Government lacks strategy on community
education, says English
When it comes to tertiary education, the Labour Party’s policy is driven more by media reports and Opposition attacks than by any coherent strategy of their own, according to the National Party spokesperson on education, Bill English. He was responding to an announcement by the Tertiary Education Commission that it is reviewing last year’s five biggest users of community education funding to identify issues that might be involved in the implementation of policy changes over funding. The institutions are the Manukau Institute of Technology, Eastern Institute of Technology, Tairawhiti Polytechnic, the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology and the Universal College of Learning.
Mr English described the review as a knee-jerk reaction. “He (the Minister) has punished almost every polytechnic because some of them bent the rules,” he said. “How can anyone take TEC seriously when it and its Minister lack the teeth to make any real decision until it’s far too late? There is a danger that polytechnics, acting on mixed message from Steve Maharey and the shambolic TEC, will cop the blame for an incoherent policy.”
While the review is primarily looking at community education funding, its reviewer, Joanna Beresford, has been asked to investigate any other related matter of concern.
The review is expected to be completed this month.
Massey to coordinate social sciences
Massey University is to coordinate an $8 million programme to improve the capacity of social sciences in New Zealand. Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary) Steve Maharey met the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN) this week to launch the project, which brings together thirty-six existing research projects. The Network is made up of senior researchers from the Auckland, Massey, Canterbury, Victoria and Lincoln Universities and the Family Centre in Lower Hutt.
The research projects being brought together are based on themes of new wealth creation and distribution systems in a globalised context; social justice and development; and sustainability of diverse households, communities and settlements. The SSRN was awarded funding under the TEC’s Building Research Capacity in Social Sciences programme in 2003 and will receive funding of $1.5 million per year over the next five years. It has been granted a further $500,000 to cover up-front capital costs. The funding will be used to develop research capability as well as encourage new research. New and emerging researchers will be mentored and helped to develop their skills.
Steve Maharey said that New Zealand has enormous research talent in the social sciences, but hasn’t been able to build an effective capacity that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. “This project makes a huge difference in building that capacity and delivering benefits for the country,’ he said. “It will contribute to understanding our society and the dynamics of our future well-being. It is a very important area because social systems are at the heart of tapping our potential in all fields of endeavour.”
Waikato scholarships again available
Waikato University is again offering an unlimited number of scholarships, worth $3,000 each, to students enrolling in full-time study for the first time, or who achieve sixty credits or more in NCEA level 3 or 4 in four approved subjects in 2004. The scholarships, which are being offered in conjunction with Tearaway magazine, can be used towards tuition fees or accommodation costs at the University’s halls of residence.
A similar scheme last year, introduced as part of the University’s fortieth anniversary celebrations, resulted in scholarships being awarded to 474 students for this year, a 17 percent increase in enrolments of A and B bursary students over the previous year.
“Our new Tearaway Waikato University Scholarships aim to make it easier for top students to study here,” said the University’s Chief Operating Officer, Geoff Balme. “If we can keep top students studying in Hamilton, and attract students from elsewhere in New Zealand to the Waikato, the scholarships should provide a variety of benefits to students, the University and their regions.”
Waikato University has also been developing a second scholarship scheme to assist students who are high performers both in academic study and non-academic activities such as sport and the arts. Recipients will be able to receive various forms of assistance, including academic support, and top quality coaching and training through partnerships established by the University with regional bodies.
Details of the new scheme will be announced on 1 October.
Global boycott of Nottingham begins
Academics began an international boycott of Nottingham University in the United Kingdom this week as a long-running dispute over pay and conditions escalated. The boycott comes after Nottingham University refused to adhere to a national pay and grading settlement in line with an agreement reached between university employers and the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in March this year. Nottingham’s latest offer introduces performance-related pay for staff, and would lead to reductions in career earnings of nearly £9,000 over six years for some, and remove the entitlement to belong to the national university pension scheme for others. AUT says it has repeatedly asked the University to return to the negotiating table, but those requests have led nowhere.
Now, in an effort to break the dispute, the AUT has called on university staff in the UK and across the world to “greylist” Nottingham by refusing to deal with it in any way. This includes refusing to carry out external examining or joint research projects, not applying for jobs there and refusing to attend conferences at Nottingham, including its campuses in Malaysia and China.
As the “greylisting” takes effect, AUT’s campaign has received growing international support with more than 2,000 people signing an on-line petition. “The University has totally misjudged the mood of its own staff and the global academic community,” said AUT General Secretary, Sally Hunt. “I find it amazing that the University is prepared to damage its own international reputation just for the sake of avoiding meaningful talks.”
More information on this dispute can be found at: http://www.aut.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=879
open in NZ
According to The Australian, Ballarat University has joined with Campus Group Holdings to open a campus near Wellington, and expects its first intake of students in November.
Campus Group Holdings runs Central Queensland’s international fee-paying campuses in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast. Its head, Mark Skinner, said the New Zealand venture has the capacity for between 8,000 and 9,000 students, with 500-bed accommodation already in place.
Through a wholly-owned company, New Zealand International Campus Limited, Campus Group will run the Wellington campus which will offer Ballarat degrees. The University would oversee quality assurance, teaching and assessment and provide the curriculum. Courses in business and information technology are currently being accredited by New Zealand authorities.
About 20 students are expected in the first intake, with more to come in March.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org