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AUS Tertiary Update

Mediation fails to bridge Auckland dispute
Mediation has failed to resolve a deepening industrial rift between the Association of University Staff (AUS) and the University of Auckland after its Vice-Chancellor, Stuart McCutcheon, told AUS that the University would not participate in negotiations for new national collective employment agreements, and offered non-union staff a 4.5 percent salary increase from 1 May. The Employment Relations Authority is now expected to rule later today on an application by AUS to have the matter referred to the Employment Court for an urgent hearing.

In legal proceedings filed earlier in the Employment Relations Authority, the AUS has alleged that Auckland 's Vice-Chancellor acted unlawfully and was undermining bargaining, not just by his refusal to participate in multi-university negotiations, but also by offering the salary increase to non-union staff on the eve of the union negotiations.

The mediation, which took place in Auckland yesterday, failed to resove the matter. AUS Lawyer Peter Cranney said the union wanted the issues to be decided in the Employment Court rather than by the Employment Relations Authority. “These are important questions of law which have not yet been considered in New Zealand ,” he said. “There is no good reason the matter cannot now be referred directly to the Court, particularly given that the University of Auckland has agreed that it would be appropriate for the matters to be heard before a judge.”

The AUS is seeking an order requiring the University to participate in the national bargaining process, a declaration that the Vice-Chancellor has acted unlawfully and a ruling that, by offering non-union staff the 4.5 percent salary increase, the Vice-Chancellor has unlawfully undermined the bargaining.

Union members at the University of Auckland will hold a stop work meeting next Thursday at which recommendations will be made for industrial action if the dispute is not resolved.

New figures show that debt forces young doctors overseas
Medical students have called for a decrease in their tuition fees, an increase in trainee-intern grants and a living allowance for all students after a new research report, released today, shows that the average debt of medical graduates was more than $65,206 and two-thirds of them plan to head offshore within three years.

The report, Doctors and Debt: The Effect of Student Debt on Students , found that 92 percent of medical students had some form of debt at graduation, with twenty having a debt of more than $100,000. Of the 158 respondents, 85 percent owed money to the Government Loan Scheme at an average level of $60,644, with 68 percent also having borrowed from other, private-commercial organisations. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents said they were forced to work part-time while studying.

New Zealand University Students' Association Co-President Camilla Belich said that, at $11,000 per year for their first six years of study, New Zealand medical students pay some of the highest fees in the world. “As a result, 75 percent of doctors owed over $50,000 at graduation, while 13 percent of respondents owed over $100,000,” she said.

Jesse Gale, President of the New Zealand Medical Students' Association said the report also showed the various negative impacts of debt on doctors' lives. “Eighty-eight percent of respondents reported increased levels of stress because of their student debt, and 42 percent said their debt would influence when and if they had children,” he said. The report also showed that 48 percent of the respondents considered moving overseas because of their student debt.

The average debt for Maori graduates was $81,250, $68,682 for Pakeha and $48,180 for Asian graduates.

Mr Gale said that unless the Government did something to address the costs faced by medical students, “massive debts will continue to drive young doctors overseas, and away from general practice and rural areas”.

Victoria , Canterbury post increased surpluses
Victoria University of Wellington and University of Canterbury have between them posted operational surpluses of more than $15 million for 2004, according their Annual Reports. Victoria 's university-only surplus was $9.9 million, while its consolidated surplus, which includes the University's wholly-owned subsidiary, Victoria Link Ltd, and its philanthropic charitable trust, the Victoria University Foundation, was $11.3 million. It was down from a record operational surplus of more than $16 million in 2003.

The University of Canterbury 's surplus for the year was $6.08 million, up $1 million on the previous year and $1.4 million ahead of the target set in the University's Financial Recovery Plan, implemented after several years of poor financial performance culminating in a loss of $4.2 million in 2001.

Victoria reports that, in 2004, its total student enrolments increased by 5.6 percent to 19,179 compared to the year before, while its equivalent full-time students increased by 5.9 percent to 14,286. The number of domestic students increased 2.3 percent to 15,935.

Victoria 's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pat Walsh, said that 2004 was a year of significant achievements that reflected the commitment of academic and general staff. “The release of the first Performance-Based Research Fund results in 2004 confirmed Victoria's status as one of New Zealand's top three research-led universities and that a high percentage of our staff are internationally distinguished,” he said.

Professor Walsh warned, however, that the years ahead posed significant challenges as both domestic and international enrolments levelled out. “The trend at all New Zealand universities for static or declining domestic enrolments is starting to affect the Wellington market, with 2005 enrolments at Victoria showing signs of levelling out,” he said. “As well, we've largely achieved our self-imposed limit for international students accounting for no more than 16 percent of enrolments, through raising entry standards for international students and actively recruiting from a broad mix of countries.”

Government shelves private tertiary education savings scheme
The Government has shelved a controversial private tertiary education savings scheme, saying that it is off the agenda for this year's national Budget because of policy design issues. Earlier, the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, said that “intense policy work” was under way to help people save for their children's tertiary education, understood to be through private insurance schemes or individualised savings accounts. Under the plan, which was being developed by a group of business people and public officials led by Retirement Commissioner Diana Crossan, money would be put into accounts which families could not then touch until their children enrolled in tertiary education study.

AUS General Secretary Helen Kelly welcomed the move to back away from the implementation of the scheme. She said that any private savings scheme to fund individuals into tertiary education would erode the idea that education is a public good, and strengthen the notion that tertiary education is a private benefit which would increasingly be funded through individual contribution. “Individualised savings schemes would be used to disguise the effect of the student loan scheme, but without reducing the burden on individuals of paying for their tertiary education,” she said. “Adequate funding is a State responsibility, and the Government's priority should be to properly fund tertiary education.”

Helen Kelly said that AUS is committed to a publicly-funded, high-quality education system which provides access for all people, and not just those who could afford to pay. “A private savings scheme is highly regressive and would not only favour those who could afford to save but also would discriminate against low-income families and groups such as women who take time out from paid employment to meet family responsibilities.”

A spokesperson for Dr Michael Cullen, the Minister of Finance, said that the scheme would not go ahead in this year's Budget because of “some design problems”, but did not specify what the nature of the problems were.

Export education innovations projects funded
The Minister of Education, Trevor Mallard, has announced the first four projects to be funded by the Export Education Innovation Programme. The contestable fund is designed to provide assistance to educational institutions that demonstrate they have a viable and innovative offshore education plan, with any funding for the programme to be matched dollar-for-dollar between applicant and government.

The University of Auckland will receive $73,265 to assist with the integration of Advanced English Studies with the Jinan University in the People's Republic of China; Christchurch College of Education will receive $42,975 towards its professional development programmes for English and bi-lingual school teachers from the People's Republic of China; Victoria University will receive $75,000 to assist with the delivery of foundation studies programmes in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and Heursiko Limited will receive $57,690 towards a programme providing a virtual New Zealand education experience across Asia.

Announcing the funding, Trevor Mallard said the Government is committed to supporting what is a very important and valuable industry in New Zealand . “This limited and targeted funding will provide tremendous leverage in developing New Zealand 's off-shore education presence,” he said. “Offshore education is rapidly growing internationally, and it is important that New Zealand develops its capability in this area. These projects will play a small but vital part in that development.”

UK moves to stem flow from academic medicine
An initiative to stem the steep decline in the number of young doctors taking up careers in research or teaching medicine was launched by the Government in the United Kingdom this week. Ministers have backed recommendations in a report which set out a clear training pathway for doctors and dentists, and is intended to eliminate the obstacles that deter them from taking up a career in academic medicine.

The report, Medically and Dentally Qualified Academic Staff – Recommendations for Training the Researchers and Educators of the Future , is a response to the rapid decline in the number of academic clinicians in the UK , from 4,000 in 2001 to only 3,500 at present.

The report recommends a number of measures to encourage medical students to take up a career in research, including encouraging a new generation of clinical academics, partly through the creation of “new blood” senior lectureship posts, the removal of financial disincentives to undertaking research, clear pathways to pursue academic research, the promotion of academic dentistry and ensuring family-friendly work practices.

The Medical Research Council said that the report would complement its policy of fostering clinical research, and it would work to increase the number of clinical researchers.
The Times Higher Education Supplement

Australia to introduce research-based funding
The Australian Government appears poised to introduce a Research Quality Framework (RQF), similar to Britain's Research Assessment Exercise and New Zealand's Performance-Based Research Fund, with the release yesterday of a research funding paper, Research Quality Framework: Assessing the Quality and Impact of Research . It proposes a method to allocate public funding to universities and other agencies on the basis of research performance in a manner familiar to New Zealanders.

While the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee has welcomed the report, saying it sets the agenda for the debate on assessing the quality and impact of Australian research and government funding, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has said the new framework must be backed by increased investment. Dr Carolyn Allport, NTEU National President, said the Union believed that the proposed RQF would only be successful in delivering greater research quality if it simultaneously tackles the inadequate level of investment in research conducted at universities and at publicly-funded research agencies. “Not only is Australia 's expenditure on research and development well below the OECD average, Australia 's share has declined since 1996,” she said. “It is imperative that we avoid a situation in which the RQF merely redistributes existing funding or leaves researchers to deal with even more red tape with less resources.”

Submissions on the paper will close on 2 May.

Cambridge bans kilts
In a move which has been condemned by Scottish MPs, Cambridge University has banned Scottish students from wearing kilts at graduation ceremonies. The University says it enforced the ban because Scottish students were flouting its dress code, which says that male participants in graduation ceremonies must wear a tie and women a dress. National and military dress is banned, apparently to underline that all students are equal. A parliamentary motion has been tabled by Mike Weir, a Scottish Nationalist MP, who hopes to make Cambridge rethink the ban.
The Times Higher Education Supplement

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