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AUS Tertiary Update

American unionist to address AUS Conference
A leading American proponent of what has been described as social-capital unionism or relational organising will address the Annual Conference of the Association of University Staff (AUS), which will be held in Wellington on Monday and Tuesday next week.
Kris Rondeau, a lead organiser with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, which is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, will also run a conference workshop on a style of union organising which seeks to empower and activate union members by uniting people around relationships rather than issues.
Ms Rondeau, originally employed as a laboratory assistant at Harvard University, became a key activist and workplace leader in campaigns, which started in 1973, to unionise workers at that University. During those campaigns, Rondeau and her fellow activists broke new ground in developing organising tactics and strategies which radically departed from conventional union organising practice. These strategies were based on the belief that successful organising should be based on establishing relationships and common values and building staff communities within workplaces rather than being focused solely on “issues”. Ms Rondeau says that building and maintaining an organisation with sufficient power to resolve collective employment issues, including identifying and developing leaders, is a key to the success of the relational style of organising.
The first-ever union-negotiated employment contract at Harvard, in which Ms Rondeau was involved, resulted in the establishment of “joint councils”, allowing union and University management to work through workplace issues together.
AUS National President, Professor Nigel Haworth, said that the style of union organising promoted by Ms Rondeau was compatible with the approach taken by the AUS during the last bargaining round where, as a result of tripartite discussions among the Government, vice-chancellors and the unions, a platform had been built, not only for on-going salary increases, but also for constructive and high-level engagement in tertiary-education policy areas.
Other speakers at the AUS Annual Conference include the Minister for Tertiary Education, Dr Michael Cullen, and Carolyn Allport, the National President of the Australian National Tertiary Education Union.

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Submission identifies universities’ distinctive contribution
2. TEC suggests cutting most area offices
3. Course and qualification-completion data available in new report
4. Sir Paul Reeves to chair next CoRE selection round
5. CPIT embarks on wave of austerity
6. Pennsylvania rejects anti-academic-freedom legislation
7. RQF flawed, says NTEU
8. Conference to hear of growing stress in colleges and universities
9. Morale-boost bid backfires

Submission identifies universities’ distinctive contribution
The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee this week published its submission, The Distinctive Contribution of Universities, one of a number of documents commenting on the current tertiary-education-reform process. The submission also constitutes the Committee’s response to the Tertiary Education Commission paper, The research-based nature of degrees: a TEC discussion document, published in October.
Research and research-led teaching constitute universities’ distinctive contribution and the submission recommends that the key outcomes of the reform process should reflect and support that. Noting that postgraduate study should occur in an environment of proven research expertise and high-quality research facilities, the submission says postgraduate-level education should be confined to universities. Further, the university-education-investment system should appropriately reflect the higher costs of international-quality postgraduate education.
The submission then deals with the statutory requirement that all degrees in this country, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, should be taught mainly by people engaged in research. It says that evidence from the 2003 Performance-Based Research Fund assessment exercise shows that this statutory obligation is not being adhered to in institutions outside the university sector. Accordingly, the submission recommends that government and its agencies ensure that the legal requirements for degree-level education are applied, and that the new university-investment mechanism adequately acknowledges the additional costs incurred by research-led institutions.
The need to protect the national and international reputation of New Zealand tertiary-education institutions is the fourth consideration covered by the submission. Consistent messages on the distinctive roles and quality of all institutions are required. The submission recommends on-going protection for the term “university” and for “university degrees”. It refutes claims that the establishment of a “university of technology” category of institution would be in the national interest. Specifically, the Government is urged to maintain its emphasis on the distinctive contributions of institutions and not permit the blurring of boundaries through such practices as the confusion of research-informed (university) degrees with other “degrees” and the introduction of a new category of institution.
The submission can be downloaded as a PDF from:
http://www.nzvcc.ac.nz/files/geninfo/The_Distinctive_Contribution_of_Universities.pdf

TEC suggests cutting most area offices
Redundancies look likely at the Tertiary Education Commission, which has proposed restructuring that would close ten of its fourteen area offices and open a new national service centre in South Auckland, according to a report in Education Review. It says that staff and union representatives have until the end of this week to comment on the restructuring proposal, with a final decision on the plan expected in the first week of December. If the proposal goes ahead, implementation will happen in the first six months of next year.
TEC has fourteen regional or area offices. The proposal is to close all but those in Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington and Christchurch. The restructuring also proposes the creation of new senior positions, those of an investment manager and twelve stakeholder-engagement managers.
TEC currently has about 340 full-time-equivalent staff, including about ten from the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit, which recently moved from the Ministry of Education. It is estimated the Commission would have about 330 FTEs if the restructuring goes ahead.
Education Review reports TEC Communications Manager Andrew Bristol as saying that the restructuring was not aimed at cutting costs or jobs, but was about realigning resources. “We don’t really expect the size of the organisation to change significantly,” he said. He added said that existing staff could reapply for new positions created by the changes, but some redundancies were expected as not all staff would want or be able to move to a new location.
In a letter to tertiary-education providers, TEC Chief Executive Janice Shiner said stakeholder-engagement managers would be based in the regions. They would work at a local level with groups including other government agencies, economic development agencies, local councils and employer forums. They would also work with key national stakeholders such as industry and professional associations, business, iwi, Maori, Pacific groups and students.
Ms Shiner said the managers would be experts in tertiary policy, able to provide detailed knowledge of TEC initiatives, and would be fully connected with the TEC and the investment process.

Course and qualification-completion data available in new report
In 2005, tertiary-education students passed 72 percent of the courses they were enrolled in, with those at university enrolled in bachelor-level courses having a pass rate of 82 percent and those enrolled at postgraduate-level having a pass rate of 86 percent. The course pass rates are, however, almost double the rate at which students complete qualifications, which ranged from 30 percent at diploma level to 58 percent at postgraduate level for those who started and completed their qualifications in the five years since 2001.
A new report from the Ministry of Education, Passing Courses, provides new information on how many students pass courses in tertiary education, covering the period 2001 to 2005. The report finds that many students pass all of their courses without necessarily gaining a qualification, suggesting that many undertake tertiary study with course-related, rather than qualification-related, goals.
Nearly 30 percent of students who began courses in 2001 were estimated to have passed all courses they enrolled in between 2001 and 2005, but not to have gained a qualification at the level at which they started by the end of 2005. This ranged from 21 percent for students starting courses at bachelor-degree level to 28 and 31 percent for students starting courses at certificate and diploma levels.
The report says that, if measures of tertiary-education performance are extended beyond qualification completions to include students who pass all of their courses without necessarily gaining a qualification, then the proportion of students who are “successful” increases from 39 to 68 percent.
Other key findings include part-time students passing courses at the same rates as, or even higher ones than, full-time students, university students completing bachelors degrees at a much higher rate than polytechnic students and older students having higher course-pass rates at certificate and diploma level, while younger students have higher pass rates at degree level and above.
The full report can be found at:
http://educationcounts.edcentre.govt.nz/publications/tertiary/passing-courses.html

Sir Paul Reeves to chair next CoRE selection round
The Minister for Tertiary Education, Dr Michael Cullen, has announced that Sir Paul Reeves will chair the next Centres of Research Excellence contestable-funding round. The 2006-07 funding round is the third since the Government established the Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs) in 2002 to produce world-class research that is focused on New Zealand’s future development.
Each centre has a number of partners, including other universities, Crown Research Institutes, wananga and private research groups. Massey, Auckland, Victoria and Lincoln universities host the existing centres. Dr Cullen said that these partnerships impact positively on the economy, driving it forward. “The research community provides New Zealand with an enormous opportunity to become an innovation-led country,” he said.
Sir Paul is the current Chancellor of the Auckland University of Technology, and chaired the CoRE Fund Committee for the selection rounds in 2001 and 2003. Dr Cullen said that his deep understanding of the tertiary sector, as well as his extensive experience, brings significant value to this important selection round.
The Government announced in August that another two CoREs would be added to the existing seven and that an additional $10 million of operating funds and a further $20 million for capital purchases would be made available to the fund.
In this round, the seven existing centres will be able to apply for funding for a further six years and applications will also be invited to establish new centres.
The Royal Society of New Zealand will conduct the funding round on behalf of the Tertiary Education Commission. Proposals are due in December, with final decisions to be made by June 2007.

CPIT embarks on wave of austerity
As if atoning for past excesses, the Christchurch Polytechnic and Institute of Technology appears to have embarked on a new wave of austerity. Yesterday, The Press reported that CPIT’s Council has abandoned its usual Christmas function, opting instead for a bring-your-own barbeque at the home of one of the Council members. The report says that Council members no longer have reserved parking spaces on meeting days and a meal that used to be served before a meeting has been replaced by tea, coffee and (water?) biscuits.
Council members have also voted to reduce next year’s budget for Council operations to $220,000, from $337,000 this year.
Council Chair Hector Matthews is reported in The Press as saying that it was important to cut costs at all levels of the institution. “It’s really only small potatoes, I guess, but we’re trying to send a message that the Council is trying to keep its costs down,” he said.
Earlier, it had been reported that the Council may cut its numbers amid fear that, with its current eighteen members, it had the potential to become cumbersome. Mr Matthews told The Press that a review of the size and composition of the Council is scheduled for next year. The smallest number allowed to comprise the Council is twelve, the largest twenty.
Last week, it was reported that the new Chief Executive, Dr Neil Barns, will have to apply in writing or by email to the Council Chair to take annual leave and seek approval before he takes sick leave or bereavement leave, unless it is not possible to do so.
Mr Matthews told The Press that the new policy was not a reaction to the way Dr Barns's predecessor, John Scott, had taken leave.

Worldwatch
Pennsylvania rejects anti-academic-freedom legislation
The Pennsylvania House Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education has voted to reject legislation restricting what the State’s higher-education faculty can teach and what their students can learn in the classroom.
Pennsylvania becomes the twenty-first American state to reject what has been described as a “so-called” Academic Bill of Rights, which opponents have characterised as a political tool to deny the academic freedom and free speech of faculty and students.
The Select Committee's vote follows four public hearings on the issue of academic freedom in Pennsylvania's higher-education system. The hearings included testimony from seventy-seven witnesses, including twenty-eight students, twenty-nine faculty members and eight administrators. The testimony overwhelmingly supported the finding conveyed in the Committee’s minority report to the effect that academic freedom is alive and well in Pennsylvania.
William Scheuerman, President of New York’s United University Professions and head of the American Federation of Teachers’ Higher Education Program and Policy Council, said that the vote was an important recognition of the professionalism that characterises America's higher-education faculty and staff. “In education, there is no need for the thought-police,” he said.

RQF flawed, says NTEU
The National Tertiary Education Union says the proposed introduction of the Research Quality Framework (RQF) in Australia should be put on hold because the model is flawed and its planned introduction by the Government ignores a recent report into science and innovation by the Productivity Commission that suggests delaying the exercise pending a further investigation of its costs to universities.
The RQF is a research-based funding model similar to the Performance-Based Research Fund in New Zealand and the Research Assessment Exercise in the United Kingdom
NTEU National President Dr Carolyn Allport said that the recommended RQF model was flawed in a number of areas, including uncertainty about what will actually be assessed in relation to RQF ratings, inconsistency between the reporting requirements and the objectives of the policy, the lack of separate assessment panels for multidisciplinary and indigenous research and the absence of any clear formula for how the RQF’s quality and impact ratings will relate to funding.
Dr Allport said the Union was also unclear why the Government had chosen to ignore recommendations contained in the draft report of the Productivity Commission’s review of public support for science and innovation. They include a proposal that the RQF be put on hold until it can be clearly demonstrated that its benefits outweigh its negatives in terms of implementation costs and problems associated with universities manoeuvring in attempts to maximise their institutional outcomes from the exercise.
“A key question now is how the Federal Government intends to meet its mid-2007 deadline for the commencement of pre-implementation trials at universities, with the exercise starting in earnest in the first quarter of 2008,” said Dr Allport.

Conference to hear of growing stress in colleges and universities
Disturbing levels of sleeplessness, anxiety and exhaustion among lecturers in colleges and universities will be revealed at a conference on tackling stress at work to be held in London later today. The conference has been organised by the University and College Union (UCU) in conjunction with the new College and University Support Network, which provides confidential advice and support to staff in colleges and universities.
Provisional findings from new research into the experiences of over 1,000 staff in higher education reveal high levels of stress as workloads increase. Only 16 percent of staff, however, thought their institution was addressing the causes of stress.
The conference will focus on recognising stress, identifying the sources and developing an action plan to improve employer responses.
Roger Kline, head of Equality and Employment Relations at UCU, said that the new research reveals disturbing levels of anxiety and ill-health symptoms amongst the workforce in further and higher education. “We shall hear more at the conference, but it is clear that one cause is the diminishing control which academics have over their job. Another is the job insecurity amongst lecturers and researchers with part-time and short-term contracts,” he said. “The conference will enable UCU to develop a national strategy to help combat stress and ensure that every employer is doing their bit. We need more enlightened management practices which will increase academics’ autonomy and reduce excessive administration.”

Morale-boost bid backfires
Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom has taken the unusual step of bringing in an external mediator to try to boost morale after relations in one of its departments hit rock bottom. The move, however, is reported to have backfired completely and made the situation worse.
Serious concerns about professional and academic working relationships, internal relationships and dynamics, relationships with senior management and relationships between the department and the student body and other stakeholders in the University’s Law Department were intended to be eased with appointment of a facilitator.
Unfortunately, the move backfired, as the facilitator’s appointment caused considerable suspicion and disquiet among some staff after they were required to write what they liked and disliked about their work on Post-it notes, and list reasons for not wanting to come into work.
One member of staff, who asked not to be named, said that people had been asked to name colleagues who they feel are not “professional” and to pass on gossip. “No one trusts the motives, and people feel it is a secretive investigation; they are out to get dirt on staff,” the staff member said.

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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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