AUS Tertiary Update
University to refund overcharged fees
The University of Auckland is to refund more than $100,000 to students following an investigation by the Commerce Commission. The eighteen affected students will receive a total of $102,354.48 in overcharged fees, $7,222.36 in interest and $14,000 in compensation.
The Commission investigated allegations of overcharging of course fees for international students taking the Bachelor of Nursing course and, as a result, the University undertook an audit of international student fees paid in human biology courses for bachelors’ degrees in nursing, health sciences and pharmacy between 2001 and 2004.
“The University’s audit found that thirteen international students enrolled for the Bachelor of Nursing course during 2001, 2002 and 2003 were overcharged $67,994.94 in course fees,” said the Director of Fair Trading, Deborah Battell. “In addition, five international students enrolled in the Bachelor of Health Science course during 2003 were overcharged $34,359.54.”
Ms Battell said the University had advised the Commission that the overcharging arose unintentionally as a result of the students being charged for the course at the same rate as medical students who are charged a higher fee. “While the Commission accepts that the overcharging error in this case was not deliberate, and is satisfied that the situation has been resolved with the students being refunded and compensated for their loss, the Commission views such matters seriously,” said Ms Battell.
Ms Battell said it was particularly unfortunate that it took the Commission’s intervention before the mistakes were properly identified and rectified. “The Commission was, however, satisfied by the University’s response once matters were drawn to the attention of the Acting Vice-Chancellor.
Acting Vice-Chancellor Raewyn Dalziel said the overcharging was a genuine mistake which had been rectified. “Once the Commerce Commission brought it to our attention we reviewed the fees charged to all students in the relevant programmes, refunded the students affected and additionally compensated them for the overcharging,” she said.
Also in Tertiary Update this
1. Another audit for Wananga
2. Otago bumps up some fees, defers others
3. Student loans constrict potential of graduates
4. Bill puts West Auckland university at risk
5. Pressure to axe RAE
6. Harvard ranked world number one
7. Bring a brick
A second audit in just over a year will start next week at Te Wananga o Aotearoa, this time concentrating on possible conflicts of interest following disclosures that it has contracted the delivery of course programmes to a company owned by Susan Cullen, the daughter of the Wananga’s Chief Executive, Rongo Wetere.
Last year an audit report released by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority concluded that the Wananga needed to tighten contracts with other education providers, improve document control, internal audits and quality management and improve its enrolment process.
According to the Education Review, the Office of the Auditor General is looking at the relationship between the Wananga and Ora Ltd, a company owned by Susan Cullen. Ora Ltd, is contracted to provide a distance education programme, called Kiwi Ora, to new migrants, and is expected to enrol about 5,500 equivalent full-time students this year.
Education Review further reports that the Wananga also brought a programme, called Mahi Ora, from one of Susan Cullen’s companies, Mahi Ora Ltd., for $7 million in 2001. Her brother, Kingi Wetere, holds a management position in the Wananga and is also a director of MO1, a Wananga subsidiary set up to specifically purchase and run the Mahi Ora programme. Another brother, William Wetere, was a director of WO1 until earlier this year, and is currently involved in another company that provides services to the Wananga.
The Wananga says it is aware of the dangers of conflicts of interests and says that the 2001 purchase of Mahi Ora was conducted at arm’s length from Susan Cullen, and carried out with the full approval of the Wananga’s Council.
Rongo Wetere told Education Review that he was positive about the enquiry, saying that as New Zealand’s biggest tertiary institution, the Wananga must be open to scrutiny. He also said the Wananga had a very clear policy on conflict of interest, and that the involvement of his children had been looked at previously on an official level.
Last year’s audit praised the Wananga for its presentation of resources, focus on research, response to community needs and staff development, including providing them with a unique opportunity to learn Te Reo.
Otago bumps up some fees, defers others
Tuition fees for most domestic students at the University of Otago will increase by around 4 percent, or around $160, for 2005, but the University Council has deferred a decision on the fees for medicine, dentistry and physiotherapy.
According to Vice-Chancellor David Skegg, the decision to consider those programmes separately from the others arose from last-minute advice from the Tertiary Education Commission that applications for fee increases above the relevant fee-maxima would be accepted in exceptional circumstances. “Medicine, dentistry and physiotherapy are high-cost courses for which the University has been seeking additional government funding,” he said. “These are very expensive to run as they are intensive, have large clinical components, require high levels of teaching time and have low student-to-staff ratios. The University does not have the resources in its other academic faculties, nor would it be fair to other students, to cross-subsidise these high-cost programmes from other parts of the University.”
Professor Skegg said that, despite the fee increases already decided, Otago’s tuition rates are still amongst the lowest in the country. “It’s always a difficult decision raising fees, knowing the impact this will have on students and their families,” he said. “ But students also expect and deserve the quality education that Otago provides, and that cannot be maintained without adequate funding.”
“Despite a greater emphasis on government funding tied to research performance, and heightened efforts to secure funds from external research and private sources, the fact remains that the greatest single source of income for universities remains the same: EFTS-based funding,” said Professor Skegg. “This government funding has been declining in real terms, so universities have to rely on student fees to help meet the rising cost of tertiary education.”
constrict potential of graduates
Student loans are “constricting” the future potential of graduates and forcing graduates to leave New Zealand, delay home ownership and put off having children, according to new research conducted by AC Neilson on behalf of StudyLink and the Inland Revenue Department.
The conclusions are the result of a survey of a small group of students studying at the University of Auckland, Manukau Institute of Technology, Unitec and the Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design. All have, or have had, student loans.
“This is the first piece of research that confirms what students, demographers and economists have been saying for years, that student debt is wreaking havoc with our society and economy,” said Fleur Fitzsimons, Co-President of the New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA).
“The Government can no longer deny the devastating impact of student debt on home ownership rates and the ability of the country to meet workforce demands,” Ms Fitzsimons said. “The link between student debt levels and New Zealand’s social and economic future is very clear. Government must act urgently to reduce students’ reliance on the harsh Student Loan Scheme.”
The Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary), Steve Maharey, said, however, that the report was a very limited piece of qualitative research with a small group of students and undertaken to assess students’ views on a specific information booklet about student loans. “The intention of the research was to determine ways that the quality effectiveness of this publication for students could be improved,” he said. “It is inappropriate, based on this research, for NZUSA to draw the broad conclusions they have and to generalise them to the student population.
Mr Maharey said that the only statistical study in New Zealand that attempted to investigate the effect on having children found no evidence to suggest a connection between having a student loan and delaying having children.
Bill puts West
Auckland university at risk
West Auckland should have its own university, but may be forced to wait for years unless the community takes action, according to the Head of Unitec, Dr John Webster. The Education (Establishment of Universities) Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament, will almost certainly be used to block Unitec’s current application to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) to have it assessed for university status.
Dr Webster says that the Bill, which will give the Minister the sole authority to determine whether any application for university status will proceed to NZQA for consideration, will put at risk aspirations of having a university in Waitakere City. “Waitakere is the fifth largest city in New Zealand, with a population bigger than Wellington, Hamilton or Dunedin, yet it has no university,” he said.
“Our university of technology profile is perfectly suited to the unique needs of the city, and it would be a severe blow to Unitec, and to the region as a whole, if our university application was effectively blocked by this proposed legislation,” said Dr Webster.
Unitec first applied for university status in 1996, and renewed its application in 1999. The NZQA has just started processing its application, and a formal assessment is scheduled to occur in February next year. Final advice on whether Unitec has the characteristics of a university is due to be given to the Minister towards the middle of 2005. If the proposed legislation is passed, however, the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary) would have the retrospective power to veto the application.
The Education and Science Select Committee is accepting public submissions on the Bill until 19 November, following which it will sit in Auckland to hear oral submissions.
Pressure to axe RAE
Pressure is growing to axe the Research Assessment Exercise, the United Kingdom’s equivalent to the Performance-Based Research Fund, according to a feature in this week’s Guardian Weekly. The RAE assesses the research performance of every university department in the UK. In 2001, the work of 48,022 researchers was assessed by sixty panels covering sixty-nine subjects. Each department was then graded on a seven point scale, leaving funding councils to distribute money for research on the basis of those grades. It has led, inevitably, to manipulation as universities have jockeyed to position themselves in the competition for funding.
A growing number of academics, university heads and the unions are now calling for the proposed 2008 exercise to be the last. “What started as a sensible way of allocating funding to the best-performing research teams has become a monster with a life of its own that is distorting the research it was meant to fund and damaging universities, not to mention a lot of their harassed staff says,” the Guardian.
Michael Stirling, Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University and Chair of the Russell Group of big research universities, believes the 2008 RAE should be the last. “The distorting effects are getting worse,” he said. “There is now a danger that, if we keep running RAEs, the whole concept of a university in which teaching is informed by world-class research will be under threat because it will produce more and more specialists who have less and less contact with undergraduates because of the need to compete globally in research.”
Michael Driscoll, Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, said the RAE is a treadmill that is distorting the whole debate about research in the UK. “We are all on it and we can’t afford to get off,” he said.
world number one
Harvard has come out as the top ranked university in the world in the inaugural World University Rankings compiled by the Times Higher. It was some distance ahead of the University of California, Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology which were ranked in the next three places respectively. In all, eleven of the top twenty places went to universities in the United States.
The highest ranked institutions outside the US were Oxford and Cambridge at fifth and sixth. Included in the top twenty places were the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Tokyo University, the Australian National University, the National University of Singapore and Beijing University.
New Zealand was represented in the rankings with the University of Auckland placed at sixty-seventh, Massey University at one hundred and eighth and Otago University at one hundred and fourteenth.
The World University Rankings are derived from a survey of 1,300 academic staff in eighty eight countries and based on a number of measures of excellence. These include the number of times that research papers published by academics are cited by colleagues, staff to student ratios and the number of staff and students recruited from overseas.
Bring a brick
The small community of Villa El Salvador, Peru, is to begin building a university this week, one brick at a time. The shanty town in southern Lima plans to build its first higher education institution with a project called “One brick for your university”. It is in an effort to get 50,000 bricks, about half of what is required for the construction. The Government is to fund the other half of the costs.
Courses will initially be offered in engineering and business management, with classes scheduled to begin towards the end of 2005.
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