AUS Tertiary Update
Warning over politicisation of research
The Association of University Staff (AUS) has warned that academic research must be free of political interference in response to the announcement on Tuesday by the Government that it is to seek a report from the Marsden Fund into the background of its decision-making processes.
The decision to seek the report follows criticisms of Marsden from National Party Science spokesperson, Dr Paul Hutchison, including comments that that funding is going towards research on topics associated with sex and that $9 million of the $38 million in funding this year went to projects associated with nine members of the judging panel.
The Marsden Fund annually allocates public money from a contestable pool to researchers in order to build New Zealand’s fundamental research-knowledge base, contribute to the global advancement of knowledge and broaden and deepen the research skill-base in New Zealand.
AUS National President, Professor Nigel Haworth, said Dr Hutchison’s assertion that research funding appeared to be going to “nebulous” subjects rather than to others such as Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, was an ill-judged and regrettable attack on the credibility and reputation of some of New Zealand’s leading academics, and was perilously close to an attack on academic freedom. “Academic staff and students in New Zealand have the duty and right to engage in research and to regulate the subject matter of academic courses free from political interference” said Professor Haworth. “Academic staff conform to the highest ethical standards in exercising their academic responsibilities and it is an affront to those standards and people for Dr Hutchison to make claims which, on the face of things, seek to direct Mardsen funding allocation to subjects approved by the National Party. This type of politicisation of research will be noted internationally and will rebound on New Zealand in terms of its ability to recruit top-class scholars and become involved in international research efforts”
Meanwhile, the Marsden Fund Council has issued a statement saying that recent criticism of the ethics and the research of some of New Zealand's leading academics is highly regrettable. “The research of these brilliant individuals is one of the most important sources of the future competitive advantage of the New Zealand economy, and critical to the knowledge we need to achieve positive environmental and social outcomes,” it said.
The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (NZVCC) has also come out in “strong support” of the Marsden, saying it enables cutting-edge, investigator-initiated research by the country’s top researchers. NZVCC Research Committee Chair, Professor David Skegg, says it needs to be appreciated that top-level research is best assessed by leading academics operating through a system of international peer review.
Similarly, Professor Ken Strongman, Chair of the Council for Humanities, has hit back at criticism of Marsden’s funding process. “It is unfortunate that a fund which is so critical to New Zealand’s research community has been attacked in this way,” he said.
Also in Tertiary Update this
1. Staff, students question Lincoln review
2. AUS warns of National’s leap backwards
3. Universities not part of state sector, say VCs
4. Former VC picks up honorary degree
5. Government fails top apprentices, says English
6. US higher education set for major jolt
7. Academic freedom under threat in Australia
8. Muslim scholar denied visa
9. University leaves messages on toilets
Staff, students question
Staff and students have joined together to call on the Vice-Chancellor of Lincoln University to withdraw current proposals to axe a number of academic courses and are petitioning him to engage in a review process that is “genuine, consultative and inclusive”.
The call for consultation follows the recent release of a confidential memo to staff in which the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Roger Field, has proposed that the University withdraw from a number of Bachelor degree programmes and reduce subject delivery at undergraduate and postgraduate level in other areas. It has been estimated that, if implemented, the proposals will cost at least fifteen academic jobs.
Association of University Staff Lincoln Branch Co-President, Clare Simpson, says that union members at the University have raised a number of concerns about the rationale and processes used to identify the proposed cuts to academic courses and about the overall impact on staff, students and the institution as a whole.
Dr Simpson said that neither affected staff nor the union had been involved in the development of the current proposals, and were now being given a limited time to respond. “We are dealing with advanced proposals which will have far-reaching consequences for this University, but staff have not received any information or evidence which would provide a foundation for genuine consultation,” she said. “It appears that management has embarked on a course of action which will limit rather than add to the academic performance and reputation of the University.”
“It is important that any proposed changes are well developed and that long-term implications for the University are properly considered,” Dr Simpson said. “We will be asking the University for a considerable amount of information on which to base consultation, including the impact of the proposed changes on the interdisciplinary nature of Lincoln and how it will attract more students.”
Dr Simpson said it was unfortunate that the University had released the proposal at the busiest time of the year, when many staff were engaged in examination-related duties and not in a position to respond to the proposals in a considered and thoughtful manner.
AUS warns of National’s leap backwards
The Association of University Staff says that the National Party is gearing up to return tertiary education to the uncontrolled free-market approach of the 1990’s, encouraging competition rather than cooperation among public tertiary-education providers and making them less accountable for their actions.
In a major speech to the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic yesterday, National Party Leader, Dr Don Brash, said that, if elected, National would reduce the education bureaucracy and allow institutions alone to make decisions according to what he described as a “high-trust” model with fewer rules about how they operate.
AUS General Secretary Helen Kelly said that, while Dr Brash noted that governments owe it to taxpayers and students to ensure that the tertiary-education dollar is being spent wisely, it was naïve to believe that institutions acting in isolation from each other would make decisions in the best national interest.
“Recent history shows that deregulation of tertiary education resulted in the unnecessary duplication of courses, an escalation of student-tuition fees and the breakdown in cooperation and collaboration among tertiary-education providers,” Ms Kelly said. “National’s proposals would mean that current policies aimed towards a clearly defined, long-term strategy and planned direction for tertiary education in New Zealand would inevitably break down.”
Ms Kelly said that current policy proposals, such as recognising and funding different types of tertiary-education providers on the basis of their distinctive roles, rewarding constructive behaviour and regulating student-tuition fees would result in better and more productive education outcomes for the country as a whole, and that these would be compromised if Dr Brash’s free-market approach prevailed.
Ms Kelly also said that paring back the tertiary-education “bureaucracy”, as proposed by Dr Brash, would allow a return to such types of behaviour as the funding rorts and enrolment inducements that had been evidenced from the likes of the Christchurch Polytechnic and Institute of Technology in the last few years.
Dr Brash’s speech can be found at:
not part of state sector, say VCs
In one of the more curious statements of the year, the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee has told the Government that universities are not appropriately described as being a part of the “wider state sector” and are “unconditionally opposed” to being described as such.
In a submission to a working group looking at extending the State Sector Retirement Saving Scheme beyond the core public service and into other publicly funded areas, such as the health and post-compulsory-education sectors, NZVCC says that, although universities are crown entities, the classification is for specific purposes only.
The NZVCC submission, obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA), which applies only to State Sector organisations, says that universities are established with statutory autonomy and are not part of the State Sector. With respect to including university staff in state-based superannuation schemes, NZVCC says that any superannuation arrangements for university staff would have to be handled separately from superannuation for government and state-sector employees.
Association of University Staff General Secretary, Helen Kelly, said she believed it is unusual that vice-chancellors would consider that universities are not part of the state sector, given that many of their main statutory powers are derived specifically from the State Sector Act, and that universities are subject to many other legal requirements applying only to the State Sector, including judicial reviews, the Ombudsmen Act and the OIA.
Ms Kelly said that, although university staff currently have access to superannuation benefits, the present university scheme design did not suit many employees, and this was evidenced by a very low take-up. She said she was disappointed and embarrassed that vice-chancellors had used the opportunity of their submission not to argue for support to improve the current scheme, but instead to run some bizarre argument that they are not even part of the State Sector.
Former VC picks up
Former Waikato Vice-Chancellor, Bryan Gould, will be awarded the degree of Honorary Doctor of the University of Waikato at the University’s Law School Graduation Ceremony on 19 October.
Professor Gould was Waikato University’s Vice-Chancellor from 1994 to 2004, during which time several major initiatives were undertaken, including the construction of the City’s WEL Energy Trust Academy of Performing Arts, the establishment of the School of Maori and Pacific Development and the creation of the Waikato Innovation Park. In 1995, Professor Gould shepherded the University through the process of returning to Tainui the lands on which it stands.
According to Waikato University Chancellor, John Jackman, the University’s current profile is in no small part the result of Bryan Gould’s leadership as Vice-Chancellor. “He was always comfortable in the public domain and became a regular and influential commentator for education. His voice was often heard on the radio and he regularly wrote columns for various publications.”
Among the more interesting of his achievements, Professor Gould instigated the annual rowing-eights “Great Race” between Waikato and the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which now also includes the University of Washington in the United States.
The Honorary Doctorate degree is among the most meritorious granted by the University of Waikato, being conferred only upon those described as exceptional individuals who are distinguished scholars, who have shown strong interest in the well-being of the University or have been of outstanding service to the community.
fails top apprentices, says English
The Government is failing top apprentices and should help fund excellence in apprenticeships, according to the National Party Education spokesman, Bill English.
Mr English’s comments come after his visit to the SkillEX national finals in Wellington last weekend, a competition for the nation’s top apprentices.
Mr English said that Labour wastes millions on bureaucrats achieving very little, but won’t help our top apprentices lift standards in the trades. “They could start by offering to help fund the SkillEX winners and their support teams to the WorldSkills international competition in Japan next year,” he said. “SkillEX is a showcase of skills that drive our economy. This competition sets national standards of excellence in the trades. This year, Aussie competitors provided a benchmark for trans-Tasman excellence.”
Mr English said that the competition has strong support from trades industries but deserves better backing from the Government. “I am advised that it wouldn’t happen at all without strong support from armed services. They should be congratulated for their generosity,” he said.
Since the late 1940s, the Worldskills competition has showcased a range of skilled competitors on the world stage. The SkillEX national event is run by Youth Skills New Zealand, a trust dedicated to encouraging young people to excel in vocational skills.
US higher education set for major jolt
A major report from the Commission on the Future of Higher Education in the United States has been labelled as incomplete and flawed by the two main unions representing university staff in that country. Both the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) say that, after a year of hearings and consultation, the Commission’s recommendations fail to address the academic-staffing crisis and the overall decline in public funding.
In a speech on Tuesday, the US Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, said the report recommends a number of higher-education reforms, including helping finance state universities that administer standardised tests, establishing a national database to track students’ progress toward a degree and cutting the red tape surrounding Federal student aid.
Ms Spellings said that the intended measures would help jolt American higher education out of a dangerous complacency. “This is the beginning of a process of long-overdue reform,” she said, adding that the Commission’s report warned that American universities were losing their edge against heightened global competition.
AFT President Edward McElroy said, however, that the report largely avoided funding issues and should have strongly condemned the decline in state support for higher-education institutions. He also said that one of the biggest changes in the US college and university system in recent years had been a shift from using full-time staff to part-time instructors, but that had not been addressed. “Today, only 30 percent of instructional staff hold tenure-track jobs,” he said. “If the Commission had included at least one representative from a faculty organisation, an issue like the staffing crisis would not have been ignored.”
What is described as a pre-publication version of the report can be found at:
freedom under threat in Australia
Academic freedom is under threat from increased Australian Federal Government interference in university affairs and the country’s reaction to the “war on terror”, according to the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).
NTEU National President, Dr Carolyn Allport, said that the Union was particularly concerned by the fall-out from the Federal Government’s counter-terrorism measures which, she said, threaten to stifle research and critical debate, and place university staff at risk of being questioned by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. She said that staff would also be subject to control orders or, in extreme cases, being gaoled, simply for doing their jobs.
Ms Allport said that the potential for new laws to stifle the ability of academics to undertake research and engage in debate was highlighted by the controversy over a Flinders University researcher awarded a significant grant by the Australian Research Council for a study on suicide bombers. “The academic in question has been forced to scale back the project after being informed by the Federal Government that his plans to interview leadership figures of several terrorist organisations could contravene the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005,” she said.
“Academic freedom is also under attack from mounting Federal Government interference in the day-to-day operations of universities, changes to the Australian Research Council and its independent peer review process and making funding contingent on meeting workplace-relations-policy objectives,” said Ms Allport.
“Academic freedom, including the ability of staff to freely teach, assess, publish and research, engage in debate and participate in professional and representative bodies without fear or harassment, is absolutely essential to the work of universities and is increasingly being eroded.”
Muslim scholar denied visa
In a well publicised case, the United States Government has refused to grant an entry visa to a Muslim scholar, Tariq Ramadan, but has dropped earlier charges against him of supporting terrorism. In June, a Federal judge ordered the Bush administration to decide by September whether to approve a visa for Professor Ramadan, after a work visa was revoked under the Patriot Act on the basis of unspecified public-safety or national-security interests. Professor Ramadan, currently a visiting fellow at Oxford University, was prevented from taking a tenured teaching position at the University of Notre Dame in 2004.
Last Thursday, Professor Ramadan received a letter from the United States Embassy in Bern informing him that his visa had been denied. The letter cited several donations by Ramadan to Palestinian relief organisations that, the Government alleges, in turn gave money to Hamas, a designated terrorist organisation.
According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Ramadan had himself informed consular officials about these donations during interviews months ago.
AAUP says that the letter from the US Embassy does not explain the Government’s two-year delay in either acting on the visa or providing a rationale for its own intransigence. It is not yet clear what further legal avenues of appeal are available.
Ramadan, in the meanwhile, says that he will continue to speak about issues including the Iraq war.
University leaves messages on
A university that has been searching for more effective ways to get out student information is taking its message to the toilets. Palm Beach Atlantic University’s newsletters, called Stall Talk, now hang above urinals and on stall doors in most campus restrooms.
Administrators at the Christian-based school said emails, posters and campus bulletin boards were just too easy to ignore.
Among the more profound headlines in this month’s issue of Stall Talk was “Getting Along with your Roommate”, “Top Five Places to Eat Off-campus” and “Top Ten Reasons to Consider Joining Campus Recreation Activities”.
One student was reported as saying that students don’t always have time to read the campus newspaper but they never miss Stall Talk. “Everyone goes to the bathroom,” she told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “It’s right there. You have no other choice but to read it.”
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