AUS Tertiary Update
$3 million spent on employment disputes
Almost $3 million was spent last year by five universities to settle employment relationship problems, according to information provided to the Association of University Staff (AUS) under the Official Information Act. Of the three universities which refused to provide the information, Lincoln and Otago Universities did so on the basis that it is either not kept or that it would identify an individual. Massey replied that, while the information is not kept in a centralised place, it could be collated, but at an estimated cost to AUS of $1,140.
All eight New Zealand universities were asked a series of questions by AUS relating to the resolution of employment-relationship problems, including the types of problem, average settlement figures and the average levels of payment made. Few, apart from Victoria, provided detailed information across the range of questions asked, with most either refusing to answer or providing a minimal response. Others offered to provide more information, but only if they were paid.
In response to a request for the amount of money each spent in 2006 on external lawyers, advocates and consultants for advice and representation in relation to settling employment-relationship problems, only two universities, Victoria and Massey, provided an actual answer at $71,000 and nothing respectively. Some advised that the information could be collated and handed over, but at a charge to AUS of $38 an hour to gather the information. In the case of Canterbury, it was estimated it would take twenty-five hours.
AUS General Secretary, Helen Kelly, said the information was requested because, in recent years, universities are increasingly taking a more litigious approach to employment-relationship problems and, despite having an array of human-resources staff, are increasingly engaging solicitors or consultants to handle even minor matters. “The University of Canterbury’s 2006 financial reports listed $836,000 as having been paid out as compensation, while the University of Auckland, which has taken a particularly aggressive stance towards employment and industrial issues, paid out more than $780,000 last year to settle problems it listed as including personal grievances and disputes,” she said. “We would estimate that external legal and consultancy bills would be at least as much again.”
AUT University recorded the highest overall total to resolve or settle employment-relationship problems,, at $1.378 million, but indicated that much of this was incurred in restructuring rather than employment-related disputes. AUT also recorded the smallest amount to resolve a single issue, at $0.
Also in Tertiary
Update this week
1. Confusion continues to play out at Massey
2. AUS Council to discuss next amalgamation move
3. Otago’s funding below expectations
4. Fee-setting process perverts democracy, say students
5. Massey sets fees, pledges to lobby on funding
6. UCU cops it, this time from Palestinians
7. Government assault on academic freedom
8. Universities abusing young researchers, say government advisors
9. Legal Studies student seeks gentlemanly A
Confusion continues to play out at
Confusion apparently continues to plague the relationship between Massey’s governing Council and its senior management with another curious twist in the saga over decisions in relation to the future of the Engineering programme at the University’s Wellington campus. It is understood that the Council, after asserting its right to make such decisions, has now reversed its decision to maintain the programme at Wellington and has, instead, directed the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Judith Kinnear, to close it.
A fortnight ago, it was reported that the Council had overturned a senior-management move proposing to close the University’s Engineering courses at its Wellington campus, with the Chancellor and Pro Chancellor determining that the programme would not be withdrawn and could be supported for another five years. At the time, Professor Kinnear responded, saying that the question of which courses are offered on a particular campus are a management matter and ceasing the intake into a particular course the Vice-Chancellor's decision.
In the closed part of its meeting last Friday, it is believed that the Council directed Professor Kinnear to close the programme. In turn, however, it is understood the Vice-Chancellor has told the Council that she cannot comply with the direction because of the requirement to consult before any decisions can be made that would impact on staff.
Association of University Staff (AUS) Branch President, Karen Rhodes, said that reports of factions within the Council and of tension between the Vice-Chancellor and the Council were causing disquiet among staff and that these issues need to be resolved as a matter of priority. “Of particular concern, however, are reports that the Council may be issuing directives to the Vice-Chancellor that ignore or impinge on the requirement that the University fully consult with AUS before such decisions as closing Engineering are made,” she said. “These issues cannot be pre-determined and the Council must act in accordance with its legal obligations.”
Massey University declined to respond to questions from Tertiary Update.
AUS Council to discuss
next amalgamation move
The national Council of the Association of University Staff will consider further decisions around an amalgamation with the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE) later this month following the decision of the Tertiary Institutions’ Allied Staff Association (TIASA) not to join with the other two unions to form a single tertiary-education-sector union.
While AUS and ASTE members voted strongly in support of the proposal to form the new tertiary-education union, TIASA members have decided not to be part of this new union.
At its meeting on 26 October, the AUS Council will discuss possible recommendations to the AUS Annual Conference, to be held in late November on how to enable the process of amalgamation to continue between AUS and ASTE, including the possibility of a second ballot of members in March next year.
AUS National President, Professor Nigel Haworth, said that any new, two-union proposal is likely to include a structure that offers full membership to both academic and general staff members across the tertiary-education sector in a manner that is consistent with the current proposal. “AUS members may be interested to know that ASTE already represents general staff in the polytechnic sector and, in at least three institutions, has more general staff members than TIASA,” he said It also has coverage of those members in collective employment agreements.”
Otago’s funding below expectations
In a move which has been described as a shock, the University of Otago has been told this week that it will not get the level of government funding that it expected for next year. According to the Otago Daily Times (ODT), the University’s Investment Plan was due to be signed off by the University’s Council on Tuesday. Three hours before the meeting, however, the University learned that it would not received the expected level of funding based on its Plan.
The Investment Plan is part of the new funding system in which institutions are required to negotiate course-delivery and funding arrangements with the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). As part of its Plan, Otago had expected $180 million in government funding for next year.
The ODT reports the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Skegg, as saying that, while the figures are preliminary and confidential, the money previously indicated by the TEC would no longer be available. The report says the dollar amount would be relatively small and that the University would have to revise its budget and provide a course mix appropriate to the funding it received.
Professor Skegg is also reported as saying that the TEC had told him the money lost by Otago would be diverted to three other universities that had predicted large increases in enrolments next year. He would not name the universities.
The TEC Tertiary Networks Director, David Nicholson, said university funding for 2008 had not been finalised, but all universities would receive more in 2008 than this year.
Professor Skegg told Radio New Zealand yesterday that he hopes the funding difficulty is a “teething problem” and is hoping that discussions could resolve the matter.
Fee-setting process perverts democracy, say
Controversy has again dogged the student-tuition fee-setting process at Victoria University, with allegations by students of a perversion of democracy and transparency. The claim follows what students describe as the premeditated moving of the University Council’s fee-setting meeting to a smaller-than-usual venue and the issuing of pre-signed trespass orders against two students and exclusion notices against another eight.
The Council shifted the fee-setting part of its meeting to a room which allowed an audience of about forty rather than remaining in the 150-person-capacity Council Chamber, a move which Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association Campaigns Officer, Tai Neilson, said had relied on a pre-printed resolution for the change of venue.
Mr Nelson said that, as a result, students had occupied the Council Chamber, calling for an end to fee rises and voting in support of free education and universal allowances. He said that the exclusion and trespass notices which were then issued had been pre-signed by Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh, with the obvious intention of intimidating the public.
One of those given a trespass order was Nick Kelly, a former VUWSA President and current mayoral candidate, who was issued with a two-year ban from the University premises. He said it was outrageous that he had been banned for taking part in a peaceful protest against another attack on students through fee increases, adding that he had no intention of complying with the “draconian” ban. “This notice is clearly ridiculous and I have no intention of obeying it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Council passed the resolution to increase undergraduate fees by 5 percent, the highest possible without an exemption from the Government, and by $500 for postgraduates, with the exception of nursing.
In a further development, the University subsequently withdrew its trespass notice against Mr Kelly. In a letter from the University’s General Counsel, Victoria Healy, Mr Kelly was advised that the Vice-Chancellor considers that his presence on campus presents no risk and that he should be permitted re-entry.
Massey sets fees, pledges to lobby on
Massey has joined the ranks of universities increasing student tuition fees by the maximum 5 percent permissible under the Government’s fee-maxima policy, but says it supports a sector-wide initiative to ask the Government to dig deeper into its funding pockets.
The undergraduate fee increases equate to between $24 and $29 per paper, excluding Veterinary Science at, $79. An Arts or Business degree will now cost $3976 per year, Education $3667, Science $4515 and Agricultural Science and Nursing $4698. Postgraduate taught and research fees will increase by $500.
The increase is expected to increase revenue from fees by about $4 million.
University Chancellor Nigel Gould says that, assuming other universities choose to increase fees by 5 percent for 2008, 94 percent of Massey domestic undergraduate students will pay between 4 and 10 percent less than the sector-average fees for the equivalent-full-time course of study next year.
Endorsing concerns raised by the students’ associations, the Council approved a recommendation to note the inadequate levels of government funding of the university sector when benchmarked internationally, and to continue to work with all stakeholders in the university sector to seek further improvements in the level of investment by the Government.
The University is not expected to achieve the Government-defined target of 3 percent return on revenue in 2007.
Meanwhile, University of Auckland students are mobilising against planned fee rises, with that University’s Council meeting next Monday to decide on its domestic and international student fees for 2008. The Auckland University Students’ Association says that the University should put its foot down and lobby the Government for more money, rather than simply taking the easy way out and charging students more fees.
UCU cops it, this time from Palestinians
Showing that, sometimes, you just can’t win, Palestinian academic leaders have launched a bitter attack on the United Kingdom’s University and College Union, accusing it of suppressing debate and undermining academic freedom. The Federation of Unions of Palestinian University Professors and Employees says it is dismayed by news that the UCU has cancelled a tour of its university branches to discuss whether the union should impose a national academic boycott of Israeli universities in protest against that State’s treatment of Palestinians.
UCU members passed a resolution at the Union’s Annual Congress in May calling for the National Executive to circulate, for debate, a Palestinian call to boycott Israel and to organise a UK tour by Palestinian trade unionists to discuss a potential boycott.
After seeking legal advice, the UCU said that neither action could go ahead as the call to boycott Israeli institutions would run a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation and the action was considered to be outside the aims and objectives of the UCU.
Amjad Barham, President of the Palestinian Federation, said that it is disappointing to see that the leadership of a prominent organisation of academics has not defended the right of its members to engage in debate on the matter. “Open debate and discussion are the foundations of academic freedom, and thus we cannot understand why the door to open consideration of controversial ideas has been so abruptly closed,” he said.
Since passing the resolution at the Congress, UCU has been subject to sustained international criticism for its decision to consider the academic boycott.
From The Times Higher Education Supplement
Government assault on
An attack on academics responsible for a study on the impact of WorkChoices, the Australian Government’s workplace-relations polices, and the Sydney University research centre that produced it, is part of a broader assault on academic freedom, according to the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).
NTEU National President, Dr Carolyn Allport, says the attack by Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey includes the vilification of past studies critical of Government workplace policies, interference in the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) independent grant-funding process and an attempt to demean the report’s authors because of their links to the union movement. “His comments that the Workplace Research Centre at Sydney University is ‘not known for its academic rigour’ are the responses of an increasingly arrogant Government more comfortable resorting to smear than debating the issues,” Dr Allport said.
Dr Allport said that the NTEU defended the right of universities and the academics who work in them to undertake independent research to inform the public without fear or favour. “We call on the peak body representing universities, Universities Australia, and the Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University, to join in condemning the Government’s unwarranted political interference,” she said. “To effectively accuse the academics concerned of politicising their study only highlights the Minister’s ignorance of the rigorous standards that apply to research within universities as well as the approval processes of the ARC, which helped fund the study.”
Universities abusing young researchers, say
A group of government advisers in the United Kingdom has called for a radical overhaul of the way the university system treats young researchers, warning that the strength of research could be under threat if action is not taken immediately. The Council for Science and Technology, the Government’s chief advisory body, says it has a number of “fundamental concerns” about the way young researchers are treated. It says there are “worryingly high levels of dissatisfaction” among early-career researchers and that many feel they are being treated as “lab rats”. Universities are also accused of not regarding young researchers as proper employees, with many forced to go from one research project to another for anything up to ten years before acquiring their first permanent post. Career advice and professional development is poor.
Wendy Hall, one of the report’s authors, says that postdocs live in an uncertain world. “Their progression is tied to the success or failure of the principal investigator of the project they are on. The mindset in universities is still that postdocs are employed on a grant-by-grant basis, and when it is finished they are made redundant. This is the model; there is no permanency. They are lost souls,” she said.
The report calls on universities to give research staff greater independence at an early stage in their careers, so they can take on more responsibility for projects and staff. It says this could be achieved through a wider use of research fellowships, which provide young researchers with longer-term funding. It also suggests that research councils should use future budget increases to fund more fellowship programmes.
From the Education Guardian
Legal Studies student seeks gentlemanly
A University of Massachusetts at Amherst student unhappy with his grade in a course responded in the American way and filed suit, but a court has now dismissed the case. The student, Brian Marquis, a fifty-one-year-old paralegal pursuing a BA in Legal Studies and Sociology, was outraged over a teaching assistant’s decision to scale grades that transformed Mr Marquis’s A minus in a political-philosophy course into a C.
In a fifteen-count lawsuit, against the teaching assistant and seven other defendants, Mr. Marquis alleged that the un-gentlemanly C violated his civil and contractual rights and intentionally inflicted “emotional distress”.
Last week a United States District Court judge in Springfield, Massachusetts, threw out the case.
Mr Marquis is reported to be considering an appeal.
Chronicle of Higher Education
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: firstname.lastname@example.org