AUS Tertiary Update
Complaint over OI request
A formal complaint is to be laid with the Attorney-General and Minister for Tertiary Education accusing the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canterbury, Professor Roy Sharp, of misleading the Ombudsman over an Official Information Act request made by the Association of University Staff (AUS). It is also alleged that the Vice-Chancellor’s refusal to provide the information prevented proper consultation over a proposal to cut academic staff numbers in the University’s College of Arts.
The dispute arose after the Vice-Chancellor refused to provide financial information to the AUS Branch President, Dr David Small, citing concerns about the way in which the information would be used. Earlier, another University official told Dr Small that he would be required to provide reasons for wanting the information, something not required by the Act.
As a result of an appeal brought under the Act by Dr Small, the Vice-Chancellor advised the Ombudsman that the information being sought “does not exist”; that is, despite its existence being common knowledge and it being an important factor in calculating the financial performance of the University’s five colleges. On the basis that the requested information did not exist, the Ombudsman then advised Dr Small that he could not take his enquiry further unless there was proof to the contrary.
Next, Dr Small wrote directly to individual University heads of department, asking them for the data from their departments. Within an hour of those requests, the Vice-Chancellor offered to provide the “non-existent” information. By that time, however, the consultation period related to the staff cuts had ended.
Dr Small described the University’s behaviour, particularly in telling the Ombudsman that the information did not exist, as “thoroughly reprehensible” and almost certainly unlawful. He said the underlying principle of the Official Information Act is that public information is to be made available unless there are good reasons, such as prejudicing national security or damaging the economy, to withhold it.
“The University knew this information was needed for proper consultation over the redundancies, and withholding it appears to show a blatant disregard for the law,” he said. “It is our view that the Vice-Chancellor should be held to account.”
Meanwhile, University management yesterday announced that only three academic positions would be disestablished from the College of Arts as a result of the restructuring process. The final number is lower than earlier estimates, initially of twenty-three and later eight, of positions to be axed.
Also in Tertiary Update
1. SIS warns universities of terrorist dangers
2. Industrial action at MIT
3. Universitas heads gather in Auckland
4. PTEs step up lobby
5. Mixed messages in Australian Budget
6. UK pay talks break down
7. Group condemns book naming most-dangerous professors
8. Unions think of new ways to work
9. University imposes miniskirt ban
universities of terrorist dangers
Discussions involving the Security Intelligence Service and university heads have been confirmed by the Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control, Phil Goff, after media reports this week that government officials were briefing the heads of New Zealand universities on possible terrorist threats.
Officials from Foreign Affairs, the SIS and the Department of Labour are in the process of talking to universities to raise their awareness that there is a small potential risk of knowledge-acquisition that could contribute directly or indirectly to the spread of weapons of mass destruction, according to Mr Goff.
He said that the discussions, on the risk of misuse of research on developing weapons of mass destruction, are neither secret nor do they involve spying on anyone or reflect specific concerns about particular institutions or individuals. “It is a proactive initiative to ensure that we and the universities are aware of any work that might be done here that could be inadvertently contributing to developing expertise and knowledge related to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction,” Mr Goff said. “There is a small risk that non-state actors, as much as countries, could seek to develop that knowledge by sponsoring students, and we need to adopt some precautionary measures to prevent that from happening here.”
Mr Goff said that groups like al Qaeda have publicly expressed the ambition to develop nuclear and other weapons. “We need to ensure they do not get the knowledge about weapons or delivery systems, or the materials to achieve that outcome,” he said. “The potential for universities to be misused is an international issue, and our discussions match what is being done in like-minded countries around the world. The dialogue supplements the more traditional leadership role New Zealand plays in the area of non-proliferation and disarmament, as well as the checks we have to prevent export of materials that pose a threat to security elsewhere.”
Industrial action at
Union and management representatives are meeting today at the Manukau Institute of Technology following industrial action during the week resulting from a breakdown in collective-employment-agreement negotiations.
Irena Brorens, Assistant Secretary in Auckland for the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE), said that union members at MIT voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action, the first time in over ten years that such action had been taken.
In response to a union claim for a salary increase of 4.0 percent for the next year, MIT management initially offered a 3.8 percent increase staggered over an 18-month term. Following lightning strikes on Tuesday, during which the Institute was picketed by more than 120 ASTE members, MIT management revised their offer, to increase salaries by 3 percent, effective from 1 March 2006 to 1 March 2007, with a further 1.75 percent effective from 1 March 2007 to 1 September 2007.
That offer was rejected yesterday, but negotiations will continue today.
Ms Brorens said that, at a time when the Consumer Price Index is running at 3.3 percent, and with the petrol price predicted to rise to more than $2 a litre, union members at MIT want a real salary increase. “ASTE members have worked hard over a number of years which has helped MIT to achieve the substantial financial reserves it has,” she said. “It is our members’ view that it is now time to invest in staff who are the greatest resource of the institution”.
Universitas heads gather in
Universitas 21 (U21), a global network of twenty leading research-intensive universities, is staging its annual meeting in Auckland this week. Among them, these universities have more than 500,000 students, over two million alumni, 100,000 staff and a turnover of more than $US10 billion.
The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s only member of U21, whose membership spans twelve countries across Australasia, Asia, North America and Europe. As well as collaborating on research, U21 members exchange staff and students, share resources and learning materials and engage in entrepreneurial activities.
University of Auckland Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), Dr Christopher Tremewan, says that, by working together, U21 members have become an influential force in higher education internationally. This week’s meetings are looking particularly at the challenges of internationalisation and ways of capitalising on these. “The key issues facing our societies in the coming century, such as population health, energy, environmental sustainability, people flows and security, will need to be tackled collectively among nations,” he said. “Therefore, it makes sense for the world’s leading universities, which have a great responsibility in helping to find solutions to the problems which we face, to work collectively as well. By collaborating intensively, the members of U21 are able to achieve collectively that which would be impossible to achieve in isolation.”
PTEs step up lobby
The private-tertiary-education group, Independent Tertiary Institutions (ITI), has stepped up its lobbying efforts with the recent launch of a new website and monthly newsletter aimed at enhancing the role of private-tertiary-training establishments in New Zealand. ITI’s Executive Director, Dave Guerin, says that, with the Government putting the squeeze on quality private-tertiary-education providers, they need to put their side of the story. “ITI members have traditionally gone about our work quietly, so while individual students and employers value our work, many others are not aware of what we do,” he said. Members are proud of their contribution to New Zealand and want to share it with the wider community.”
ITI says that PTEs have an important contribution to make to New Zealand, and that their role needs to be recognised and a level playing field provided. Not surprisingly, it says that public funding should be made available on the basis of performance, not ownership, and that government processes should be fair and transparent, with reasonable consultation, timelines and appeal processes.
Mixed messages in Australian Budget
Universities will get $A95.5 million more over the next four years for infrastructure and medical research will receive $A735 million more funding in measures announced in the Australian Budget on Tuesday night. The Australian reports that the Australian National University (ANU) is by far the biggest winner in what it describes as a budget thin on great news for higher education outside the fields of health and medicine.
ANU will receive a $A125 million funding injection for capital works, including $50 million earmarked for its School of Medical Research. Deakin University will get 120 out of the 400 new medical places for its medical school in Geelong, which receives capital funding of $18 million; and Bond University and Monash University’s Gippsland Medical School will get $5 million and $4.5 million respectively towards construction costs.
A call by universities for the indexation of funding grants to reflect the true cost of rising salaries has gone unheeded. So too have pleas for permission to use a special government fund of $A81.6 million to help universities manage the loss of income through the abolition of compulsory student-union fees, to be spent on “sporting and recreational facilities”. Regional universities in particular had lobbied hard to be allowed to use the money for services such as health, welfare and transport. Instead, the Government will provide $A10 million over four years to help small businesses provide student services on regional campuses.
While the Government has set aside $A3 million for the development of the Research Quality Framework, universities have not been funded for the estimated $A50 million cost of preparing for the RQF, expected to be implemented in 2008.
The New Zealand Budget will be delivered next Thursday.
UK pay talks break
Universities in the United Kingdom are set for further disruption as pay talks between staff unions and the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association broke down. The Education Guardian reports that thousands of students may not graduate this summer and others will miss crucial final exams after lecturers rejected what their employers described as their “best and final” pay offer.
The unions, led by the Association of University Teachers and the college lecturers’ union, Natfhe, say the employers’ offer, to increase salaries by 3.5 percent per year over the next three years, is less than the guaranteed funding increase of 5.8 percent which institutions in England will receive in the 2006/07 teaching and research grant, and does not utilise most of the new income from tuition fees for basic pay increases.
The unions have claimed a salary increase of 23 percent over the next three years.
According to the unions, the offer seriously misjudges the mood of university staff, and they say that industrial action will continue until universities recognise that union members will not accept another year of broken promises on pay. The action is expected to include a national demonstration of university staff and continuing bans on marking and examining students’ work.
Meanwhile, managers at Northumbria and Bournemouth Universities yesterday issued threats to withhold the entire pay of lecturers engaging in marking and assessment bans, despite those staff only suspending a small proportion of their duties. The unions have responded, saying that withholding the entire pay would amount to a lock-out and have promised to escalate their industrial action if that occurs.
condemns book naming most-dangerous professors
A coalition of students, faculty staff and civil liberties groups in the United States has this week roundly lambasted a new book by conservative activist, David Horowitz, which, it says, condemns university professors for actions which are entirely within their rights to academic freedom and entirely appropriate in an environment that promotes the free exchange of ideas.
According to the coalition, Free Exchange on Campus, Horowitz’s new book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, contains numerous errors, misrepresentations and distortions, with conclusions based on faulty premises and sloppy and manipulative research. The book charges 101 academics with indoctrinating students with their left-wing political views.
Mr Horowitz is also the architect of a so-called “academic bill of rights” which has been introduced to more than twenty state legislatures intended to limit discussion by faculty members on a wide range of new or controversial topics.
According to the American Federation of Teachers, a member of Free Exchange on Campus, many of Horowitz’s writings and remarks have been filled with outright deceptions. “Normally, we’d write them off as just the rantings of a political ideologue, but given that some version of [his]academic-rights bill has been introduced in more than twenty state legislatures, we can't allow these charges to go unrefuted,” a spokesperson said.
Unions think of new ways to work
The British Trade Union Congress (TUC) is appealing to academics from across the world to sign up to a new, free information-sharing network. The Union Ideas Network (UIN), launched on 24 April, plans to bring together researchers, policy makers and trade unions with the aim of breathing fresh ideas into the union movement. The web-based network is hosted by the Centre for Industrial Relations at Keele University and the Work and Employment Research Centre at the University of Northumbria.
The TUC is keen to recruit academics with expertise in fields such as equalities, economic regeneration and pensions to the UIN. More information can be found at
University imposes miniskirt
Shanghai Normal University is to enforce a regulation that bans miniskirts and other “inappropriate” clothes among its female teachers, according to a report this week in the Oriental Morning Post.
Although some see the regulation as a restriction of freedom, many staff apparently support the move. Qian Jianping, a director from the Women’s Commission in the University, told the Post that more than 270 women teachers in the University have signed a proposal to campaign for better classroom etiquette, stating that they will abide by the regulation concerning “appropriate” clothing. About 60 male teachers also signed the proposal.
“The ban on miniskirts in classrooms is not equal to the restriction of personal freedoms,” one academic said. “Every occupation has its own distinctive feature, which may pose specific requirements for those who do the job.”
As part of the campaign, launched in mid-April to improve teachers’ etiquette in classrooms, the regulation also bans halter tops, sandals and all sleeveless shirts. The campaign will extend the ban to students as well, and will also prohibit them napping and using mobile phones in classrooms.
While many students have expressed their discontent with the regulation, saying that they prefer their teachers in more fashionable attire, a teacher supporting the campaign is reported as saying that, while halter tops and miniskirts may reflect the vitality of young female teachers, knowledge, etiquette and personality are more important factors.
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: email@example.com