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AUS Tertiary Update

AUS calls for clearer differentiation
The Association of University Staff (AUS) is calling for clearer differentiation among the different types of tertiary-education providers and for more national planning among universities as a way of increasing collaboration and reducing competition in the sector, and as a means of providing increased support to established public tertiary-education providers.
In a submission to the Tertiary Education Commission, the AUS contends that reduced competition would enable institutions to plan more effectively for the future and allow them to make a better contribution to the national interest by more effectively specialising in their identified areas of expertise.
AUS National President, Professor Nigel Haworth, said that union members have consistently expressed concern at the duplication of tertiary-education courses as institutions compete with each other, and would welcome moves to consolidate resources and gain better outcomes for students.
Professor Haworth said that universities should continue to be primarily concerned with advanced learning and intellectual independence, with a strong interdependence between research and teaching. He added that AUS would vigorously oppose any move to diminish or separate the link between research and teaching in universities, either through weakening current legislative requirements or through practices adopted by universities. “Universities must ensure a high educational standard and be able to contend with international benchmarks for excellence,” Professor Haworth said. “They have a responsibility to provide postgraduate education and this should be recognised through additional funding which reflects the higher cost of providing postgraduate programmes.”
Professor Haworth said he also believed that the quality of the university sector would be enhanced through such things as sector-wide planning to ensure the viability of strategically important academic disciplines such as the Islamic Studies courses recently axed at Canterbury.
In its submission, the AUS says that adequate funding to universities should not be to the detriment of other parts of the public tertiary-education sector. “Polytechnic education is a valued part of our education system and should focus on its core role of vocational training and sub-degree and short-course provision,” the submission says. “AUS members also see a valuable role for the three wananga in leading tertiary education from a tikanga Maori perspective.”
Professor Haworth said that AUS would continue to oppose the public funding of private training establishments, saying that public funding should be used for public education, not to underwrite the “bottom-line” of private, for-profit organisations.
The AUS submission on the differentiation of the tertiary education sector can be found at:
http://www.aus.ac.nz/policy_professional/Differentiation/SubmissionTEC.pdf

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. ASTE launches campaign on fixed-term appointments
2. MP lays complaint with Auditor-General
3. Weather forces exam postponement
4. Changes to “approved subjects” list for UE
5. Statistics to dominate research assessment
6. Mixed report for audit watchdog
7. Legal challenge to ban on university travel to Cuba
8. AAUP adds one, removes five from list of censured administrations

ASTE launches campaign on fixed-term appointments
The National Secretary of ASTE Te Hau Takitini o Aotearoa, Sharn Riggs, announced yesterday that the union was launching a campaign against the use of fixed-term employment agreements in tertiary education institutions.
Expressing views consistent with those of the AUS, Ms Riggs said that for too long employers have used fixed-term appointments to hide shoddy employment practices. “Changes to the Employment Relations Amendment Act with regard to the use of fixed-term appointments mean that employers now have to be very clear about the purpose of a fixed-term appointment and the reasons for them ending,” she said.
“We have had situations where ASTE members have been employed on fixed-term agreements that have been rolled over four, five and six times with no genuine reason for their existence, or any reason why the job shouldn’t be permanent. This is not acceptable and needs to change,” she said.
Ms Riggs went on to say that the union’s field officers would be working with members in doing an audit of fixed-term appointments to make sure that they comply with the Act. She also said that the union had written to employers advising them of this campaign. “We know that many of them are undertaking their own audits, so between us we should be able to ensure that staff are employed appropriately and in accordance with the law. This could result in a number of our members finally having permanent employment status,” she said.

MP lays complaint with Auditor-General
National Party MP Nick Smith has laid a formal complaint with the Auditor-General over computer courses run by the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) over the last three years, in which it is alleged there has been no tuition, no assessment and no qualification. NMIT received $4.985 million in government funding for running the “DIY computer courses”. It is also alleged that prospective students were offered inclusion in a free draw to win their own computer, in breach of the 2006 Tertiary Funding Guide, which specifically prohibits the opportunity to win items like computers.
Dr Smith said that he is hopeful the Auditor-General can establish just how much taxpayer money has been wasted and put the heat on the Government to get on and fix the tertiary-education-funding mess. “I have no problem with these computer courses, where they were actually completed,” says Dr Smith. “The rort is that more than 90 percent of students never completed them but the institute still got paid.”
Dr Smith said that it is already clear that NMIT broke the rules by offering a draw for a free computer for those who enrolled in the course.
NMIT Chief Executive, Neil Barnes, is reported as saying that the computer programme in question was legitimate, and funded in the same way as similar courses run by other polytechnics.
Last week, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Dr Michael Cullen, asked for further information and a report from the Tertiary Education Commission in relation to the claims.
At this stage, it is not known if and when the Auditor-General will investigate the complaint.

Weather forces exam postponement
Student examinations at both the University of Auckland and Lincoln University were postponed on Monday as a consequence of the adverse weather conditions which covered most of the country. The snow-affected Lincoln University rescheduled Monday’s exams until tomorrow, with Auckland delaying its examinations until Tuesday 27 June. The University of Auckland was without power following high winds.
Students at Lincoln who are unable to sit examinations at the rescheduled times have been advised that they must provide evidence on or before Friday that they cannot attend their exam, in which case normal aegrotat provisions will apply. They have also been told that examiners may set a special exam which will take place at the start of semester two.
Auckland students unable to sit examinations at the rescheduled time may be able to attend an out-of-time examination.

Changes to “approved subjects” list for UE
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is extending the list of “approved subjects” for university entrance following consultation with universities and the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee. Changes include the addition of Health Education, Technology and Dance to the list, a modification to Music Studies to include a practical music unit and achievement standards and a minor modification to Computing to include two additional unit standards.
The new areas of study have been added following approaches from within the education sector and because they meet the criteria for inclusion. The decisions were made after a formal consultation process, including a review by a panel that included representatives of the universities and secondary schools. The changes have been endorsed by the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee.
The amended “approved subjects” list will apply for entry to university from 1 June 2007.

Worldwatch
Statistics to dominate research assessment
Radical changes to the way academic research in Britain is assessed and funded were announced this week by the Higher-Education Minister, Bill Rammell.
The current Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), in which the work of every active researcher in British universities is assessed by one of sixty-seven different subject panels, will be carried out for the last time in 2008. After that, the quality of research, and consequently the amount of funding universities receive from the government, will be judged largely on the basis of statistics such as grant income and contracts.
Described as a “metrics-based” approach, it will allow the Government to build on the RAE in concentrating funding on the best recorded research over the past twenty years. The Minister says the new scheme is intended to remove the burden of the RAE, which involves enormous time and effort in universities.
Next year, the Government plans to allocate £1.45 billion for research in England on the basis of RAE results.
The proposal to abolish the RAE in favour of a metrics-based system has been condemned by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), which argues that it will be more expensive and will lead to an increasing separation between research and teaching. It says that some universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, would gain millions of pounds from the proposed change, while others would lose out on a large scale.
HEPI Director, Bahram Bekhradnia, fears the increased competition for research grants that will result could lead to more compliant behaviour by academics and the suppression of unpopular research.
From the Education Guardian

Mixed report for audit watchdog
The Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) has been subject to an external audit and is not entirely happy with the findings, according to a report in The Australian. AUQA, which will finish the first round of auditing of Australia’s universities in mid-2007, had the fine-tooth comb run over it in February. Last week it released the report of its review panel.
While the review panel found that AUQA was “a sound, efficient organisation that has a robust and well-documented quality system,” it made a number of recommendations, including that AUQA speed up the release of its audit reports into universities, that each university be allowed to respond within their AUQA report and that it look at ways of involving students more in the reviews.
AUQA’s official audit-to-publication target is four months, but it has not managed to achieve a better turnaround than 5.4 months against an international standard of between three and five months.
AUQA Executive Director, David Woodhouse, said the agency was determined to shorten the time between audit and report. “It’s something we know about, something we've been working on and something we’ll be redoubling our efforts on,” he said.
Dr Woodhouse also said that including universities’ input would “change the nature of the report ... it would be less clean”, but the greater involvement of students is something AUQA would encourage. AUQA typically interviewed about seventy students out of 250 to 300 people at each university.

Legal challenge to ban on university travel to Cuba
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this week against a recently passed Florida law that it says essentially bans university travel to Cuba. The group, which claims the new law is unconstitutional, is also seeking a temporary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect while the case is before the court.
The issue at hand is a State Bill, signed into law in May, that prohibits State universities from using any public money or resources to promote, plan, administer or fund travel to Cuba or any countries on a US State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Other countries covered by the new law are Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
The new law means that any support services, such as help from secretaries, computers or fax machines at State universities can’t be used for Cuba-related travel. Critics say that the law makes it almost impossible for professors and researchers to travel to Cuba, even when using donations from private organisations.
The Bill has put prominent Cuban-American academics who support academic freedom at odds with Cuban-American State lawmakers who want to maintain a hard line against the Government of Fidel Castro.
Florida International University Professor, Lisandro Perez, one of several professors named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that the new law was a blow to academic freedom.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education

AAUP adds one, removes five from list of censured administrations
The American Association of University Professors has added New Mexico Highlands University to its list of censured administrations, a list of colleges and universities it says violate its standards of tenure and academic freedom. At the same time it removed five other universities from the list.
Censure by the AAUP informs the academic community that the administration of an institution has not adhered to the generally recognised principles of academic freedom and tenure jointly formulated by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and endorsed by more than two hundred professional and educational organisations. With these changes, forty-three institutions are now on the censure list.
An AAUP investigating committee found that Highlands had dismissed a professor of Mathematics and banished him from the campus, without a hearing, notice or severance pay, because he had made statements that were critical of the University’s administration.
In a separate tenure case, the Association found that the Highlands administration had violated AAUP standards by not giving another professor a statement of the reasons for denying him tenure. The investigating committee found that inadequate consideration had been given to the professor’s qualifications and that numerous procedural inadequacies had occurred in the evaluation of his candidacy.

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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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