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AUS Tertiary Update

PBRF should be delayed, say staff
As universities gear up for this year’s round of the Performance-Based Research Fund assessment, concerns about the fairness of the scheme have been unveiled in new research published by the Centre for Labour and Trade Union Studies at the University of Waikato. More than one-half of the academic staff surveyed thought that problems in the PBRF process were sufficient to warrant delaying the round, and almost two-thirds felt that its effect on academic staff morale and collegiality had been negative. Just 10.2 percent believed it had a positive effect overall.
The 2003 PBRF Experience: A Survey of Academic Staff at the University of Waikato reveals that the issue of fairness, or at least the perception of fairness, was a significant one for staff who participated in the 2003 round, with female participants reporting considerably worse experiences and perceptions than their male counterparts.
Association of University Staff (AUS) Academic Vice-President, Dr Tom Ryan, says that this survey-based research project represents the most detailed analysis to date of the views of participants in the PBRF exercise, and that the responses reflect the views of New Zealand university academics at large. “These results should send a clear message to the Tertiary Education Commission that participants believe the process needs to be improved if the PBRF is to be considered a credible and fair process for measuring research performance,” he said.
Dr Ryan, who along with William Cochrane and Michael Law carried out the research, said that one of the most decisive concerns to emerge was the perception that researchers focused on New Zealand, Maori or Pacific topics were disadvantaged by the fact that the PBRF system tends to rank European and North American publications more highly than local ones. Almost 50 percent of respondents thought that there was a disadvantage, while only 2.6 percent thought there was an overall advantage. More than 47 percent did not know.
Almost 80 percent of respondents considered that emerging researchers should have their own particular PBRF category, a change that already has been instituted for the current 2006 exercise, while a significant majority believed that the next round should be based on the research performance of academic units rather than individuals.
Dr Ryan said concerns consistently expressed by AUS about the danger of PBRF results being misused as a measure of individual performance seemed to be well-founded, with 28 percent of respondents reporting that they were aware of instances where PBRF scores or grades had been deployed, against the express intention of the scheme’s architects, in university promotions or appointments exercises.
The full report can be viewed at:
http://www.aus.ac.nz/branches/waikato/2006/PBRFsurvey.pdf

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. NZQA research worthless, says AUS
2. Tertiary numbers down
3. Mixed report for contact within sector
4. CPIT appoints new boss
5. Pay dispute heads to mediation
6. Two-year degree on cards in UK
7. French students to resume lessons
8. Texan VC sacked for lavish spend-up

NZQA survey worthless, says AUS
The Association of University Staff has labelled as worthless survey results released yesterday by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, purporting to show that New Zealanders have what is described as a “middling” level of confidence in the quality of tertiary education provided.
A year-old telephone survey of 750 New Zealanders aged eighteen years or over conducted by UMR Research indicated that 36 percent of those surveyed have a positive view of the quality of tertiary education, 36 percent a neutral view and 24 percent a negative view. Few respondents hold strong opinions, with 9 percent saying they have a lot of confidence and an equal number having “hardly any confidence”.
AUS National President, Professor Nigel Haworth, said today that the publication of these results was disappointing and contributed little to the current debate about the future of the tertiary sector. In particular, the report failed to define tertiary education or to distinguish between a wide range of tertiary-education providers, or the types of education or the qualifications each provided.
Moreover, Professor Haworth said that public confidence in some areas of the tertiary-education sector may have been undermined because of the politicisiation of some high-profile incidents over the past few years.
“This information fails to provide any basis on which to improve quality,” Professor Haworth said. “The report tells us nothing that can be of use whatsoever in improving and ensuring the quality of tertiary education, and it seems extraordinary that a public-sector education agency would distribute information of such poor calibre.”
The Minister for Tertiary Education, Dr Michael Cullen, could not be reached for comment.

Tertiary numbers down
Most of New Zealand’s universities, polytechnics and institutes of technology are reporting lower student numbers than last year, following the processing of the first semester’s enrolment figures. According to Education Review, at least five universities have suffered a decline in both domestic and international equivalent full-time students (EFTS) so far this year, but two have bucked the trend and increased domestic enrolments sufficiently to outweigh a decline in international numbers. A fortnight ago, Victoria reported a 4 percent increase in domestic students, of around 483 EFTS, giving it a net student gain of 2 percent after taking into account a 9 percent decline in international numbers. Like Victoria, AUT reports that it has experienced strong growth in domestic numbers, but a decline in international numbers, giving it an overall increase of 441 EFTS from last year.
Education Review reports, however, that the University of Auckland is more than 1,000 EFTS down on last year, Massey down by about 685, Canterbury and Waikato down by 444 and 448 respectively, while Otago is down by 333. Although Lincoln figures were not supplied, it had forecast a decline in international EFTS but an increase in domestic ones.
The decline in international students has hit universities hard, with Canterbury reporting, at the end of March, a 15.6 percent decline compared with the same time last year. Auckland’s international numbers have dropped by 14 percent, Waikato by 12 percent and Otago by 11 percent over the same period.
Meanwhile, the country’s nineteen institutes of technology and polytechnics are reporting only a slight overall decline in core student numbers for the year. According to Chair of the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand, Dr Neil Barnes, it is likely that most will “catch-up” later in the year. While enrolments for community education and from overseas students are down, core subjects taught by the polytechnics and institutes of technology are reported as holding up well, with some areas, such as nursing, adding classes to cope with the demand.

Mixed report for contact within sector
A new report from the Ministry of Education shows that contact between tertiary education providers and stakeholders is wide-ranging, but that stakeholders generally perceive providers as too busy and/or under-resourced to have intensive and positive contact with them. Providers, for their part, perceive contact to be satisfactory.
The report, which is based on research conducted in 2005, looks at how much contact there is between New Zealand’s tertiary-education providers and their stakeholders, and how good it is at producing results. In order to form their views, the researchers examined the charters and profiles of providers, conducted a postal survey of providers to obtain details of their contact with stakeholders and held focus-group interviews with what they describe as key stakeholder groups.
Not surprisingly, a major finding of the report is that information about provider/stakeholder contact varies in quality and content, and that industry in-house trainers have very little contact with tertiary-education providers and stakeholders. Surprisingly, stakeholders appear to comprise mainly of industry groups and did not appear to include students or staff or their representatives.
Among the recommendations arising from the study are that “inspired advisory committees” be developed by providers to form the hub around which contact with stakeholders is created, that providers develop a simple way of collecting stakeholder information and that stakeholders regularly review their training needs while working in partnership on tertiary education and national social and economic goals.
There was also a perception reported from the stakeholders consulted that the focus of providers is more on completing their reporting requirements, “ticking the right boxes”, than on engaging in creative contact.
AUS National President, Professor Nigel Haworth, said that, while the report may be useful in looking at ways to improve communication within the sector, it needed more than a postal questionnaire of tertiary-education employers to provide a substantive analysis of what is needed to enhance the quality of education for students.
Professor Haworth also said that, if a stakeholder analysis is to be carried out, then it should include all stakeholders, not simply those few favoured by some within the Ministry of Education.
The report can be found at:
http://educationcounts.edcentre.govt.nz/publications/tertiary/research-stakeholders.html

CPIT appoints new boss
The troubled Christchurch Polytechnic and Institute of Technology (CPIT) has announced the appointment of Dr Neil Barnes as its new Chief Executive Officer. Dr Barns, currently CEO of Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), will take up his new position on 10 July.
Dr Barnes will replace the current CEO, John Scott, who announced his retirement after the high-profile Cool-IT scandal at the Polytechnic, and statements from the then Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary), Steve Maharey, that Mr Scott had failed to meet the expected standards of judgement and decision-making expected of senior executives leading public-education institutions.
Hector Matthews, the CPIT Council Chair, says he is delighted that Dr Barns has taken up the position as the new CEO. “Dr Barns has a proven track record at NMIT,” he said. “Neil has applied his academic skills to lead a financially sound and educationally excellent institute of technology that’s well regarded by the local and national community.”
Mr Matthews said that, with substantial changes to polytechnic sector funding expected over the next few years, having a CEO who is aware of both the history and current issues facing the sector was a critical factor in the decision to appoint Dr Barns.
Dr Barns is also Chair of the Board of the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand.

Worldwatch
Pay dispute heads to mediation
University unions in the United Kingdom have agreed to mediation in a bid to restart stalled pay negotiations following what has been described as an emergency meeting between representatives of AUT and Natfhe and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA).
The unions have claimed a 23 percent pay increase over the next three years, while the employers have offered 6 percent over two years. Union members have been engaged in strike and other protest action over the last month, the latter including a refusal by AUT members to set and mark examination papers.
Although UCEA has previously said it will not negotiate while the unions’ members continue to take protest action, it has come under increasing pressure as a number of universities threaten to deal directly with the unions in order to break the impasse. The Times Higher reports that vice-chancellors’ frustrations with UCEA are expected to grow as the continuing boycott of exams and assessments by the academic unions was about to enter a crucial phase and cause serious damage to students.
AUT General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said that, while the unions are pleased that discussions are taking place, “talks about talks” are not going to resolve the dispute. “It is vital we get back around the table to agree to a deal that delivers real increases for staff whose pay has declined so dramatically over the years,” she said.
Mediated talks are expected to get under way next Tuesday.

Two-year degree on cards in UK
Universities in the United Kingdom will press the Government to increase funding so that they can deliver fast-track degrees, after suggestions from the Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell, that the introduction of two-year degree courses could provide a way of attracting more students from poorer backgrounds into university study.
In a speech to the annual conference of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Mr Rammell said the suggestion follows a pilot scheme launched in five universities to see if three-year degrees could be compressed into two-year programmes.
Mr Rammell said that two-year degree courses could offer opportunities for students who cannot afford to take three years to study. “We are awaiting the outcomes of how more intensive courses could operate in order to decide how to move forward,” he said. “Universities have to be radically different in the way they meet the needs of students. More flexible models are required, reforming how people access higher education provision.”
While students and lecturers welcomed the greater flexibility, concerns were raised that universities could lose out over the shorter courses without government compensation. Michael Driscoll, Head of Campaigning for Mainstream Universities and Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, said that universities would not be keen to run these programmes if they were purely a cost-saving measure.
From the Times Higher Education Supplement

French students to resume lessons
Students at most of France’s eighty-four universities are expected to return to classes this week after two months of protests over the Government’s ill-fated labour reforms disrupted courses and caused millions of euros in damage. However, in a final act of defiance, student representatives of thirty-one universities voted at the weekend for another day of protest to demand the withdrawal of further labour initiatives and immigration reforms. Last week, the French Government was forced by widespread national opposition to back down on its “first job contract” reform, which would have allowed companies to fire young workers without justification within a two-year trial period.
Times Higher Education Supplement

Texan VC sacked for lavish spend-up
The Board at the Texas Southern University has voted to sack its Vice-Chancellor after an internal audit disclosed that she had spent $US647,949 of the University’s funds on personal expenses over the past seven years. Most of the money in question was used to furnish her home and landscape her garden. It includes a $9,000 bed, a $14,000 couch and $138,000 worth of landscaping at her personal home.
The Vice-Chancellor, Dr Priscilla Slade, claimed that the landscaping charges were an accidental payment.
In a letter published last week by the Houston Chronicle, Dr Slade argued that all of the questioned expenses had been covered by her expense account (about $50,000 per year) and by her annual office budget of $450,000. In the letter, she said the investigation had begun after a Board member complimented the choice of furniture at her home, and was told by Dr Slade that the furniture was owned by the University.
Dr Slade, who is contesting the audit’s findings, also faces a criminal investigation.
Also cited in the audit, according to the Houston Chronicle, is the University’s former Chief Financial Officer, Quintin F. Wiggins, who resigned under pressure last month. Mr. Wiggins allegedly violated University policy while purchasing items for Dr Slade’s home, according to the newspaper.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education

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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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