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NZVCC Electronic News Bulletin - Vol. 7

NZVCC Electronic News Bulletin Vol. 7 No. 20 6 November 2007

Lead item

Fudging the funder:purchaser split?

While many commentators have welcomed the combination of the tertiary education; research, science and technology and economic development portfolios under one minister in the Cabinet reshuffle, the move to incorporate Crown Research Institutes within the RS&T portfolio has gone relatively unnoticed. However, NZVCC chair Professor Roy Sharp says that having the new RS&T minister Pete Hodgson also responsible for CRIs is not ideal. When the institutes were created in the science reforms of early 1990s, the need to separate responsibility for funding (mainly through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology) and science providers like the CRIs was the fundamental policy consideration. The fact that an element of competition for a large component of public research funding has now been removed adds to the Committee's concerns, as does the fact that university access to the funding involved could be further restricted.

The Government policy responsible for this situation was initially called "Picking Up the Pace" but has more recently been referred to as "More Stable Funding Environment" (for CRIs). The Association of Crown Research Institutes last week issued a media release which welcomed the combination of the three portfolios under Mr Hodgson's responsibility.

Late last month Vice-Chancellors met with CRI chief executives to discuss issues related to the funding of RS&T. Those issues included the need for quality research teams supported by appropriate infrastructure in this country and retaining the ability to produce teams of an international standard. However, the CRI representatives present thought the Performance-Based Research Fund prevented collaboration between university and CRI staff as university researchers placed increased emphasis on building up their portfolios. This was strongly disputed by Vice-Chancellors who said that while the introduction of the PBRF had made academics realise the importance of research, they understood that in order to produce the best research they needed to collaborate with other researchers and that if anything, the introduction of the PBRF had enhanced collaborative research. Vice-Chancellors explained that the greatest part of the PBRF was not new money but a reallocation of money from Vote Education.

Those present at the meeting agreed the real necessity for RS&T funding was to "grow the size of the pot". Political enthusiasm for a economy based on innovation now had to translate into an enlarged Vote Research, Science and Technology. The NZVCC and ACRI have agreed to work together on that agenda.

Other items

Reform Bill back in Parliament

The Education (Tertiary Reforms) Amendment Bill was reported back by the Education and Science Select Committee on October 23 and was listed at number nine on this week's parliamentary order paper for its second reading debate. The select committee responded to a number of points raised by the NZVCC and universities in submissions on the Bill, including a clause change to make it explicit that new functions conferred on the minister and Tertiary Education Commission do not affect academic freedom and institutional autonomy provisions in the principal Education Act.

Other changes in the Bill as reported back included the replacement of parts of section 159P with new clauses which separate programmes and activities for which funding is sought (and associated performance indicators) from those where funding is not sought. A requirement has been added that TEC must give reasons and act collaboratively where it is imposing serious alterations to a tertiary education institution's investment plan. TEI Councils have a new function to undertake long-term planning while the duplication of risk assessment by both the Ministry of Education and TEC has been eliminated from the Bill. A Crown claim to a proprietary interest in TEIs has been deleted from the legislation.

The select committee did not agree to a number of changes recommended in submissions; specifically the reinstatement of charters for TEIs, retention of parliamentary scrutiny of the Tertiary Education Strategy and the removal of some directive wording in the Bill.

The commentary to the Bill as reported back contained a National Party minority view which stated in part: "We are relieved the committee has agreed to insert the reference to the relevant section of the Education Act 1989 dealing with academic freedom. This goes some way to allaying the concerns in the submission from the NZVCC where they stated that 'none of the world's leading universities are subject to the degree of control proposed in the Bill', and that 'in no other western democracy has a state sought this degree of control over a university's teaching and research'."

Phase two evaluation for PBRF

The Tertiary Education Commission recently published draft terms of reference for the second evaluation phase of the Performance-Based Research Fund. Among the issues to be examined are potentially undesirable consequences of the fund, particularly for new and emerging researchers; humanities/social sciences and professional schools (especially health); the impacts on Māori/Pacific people researchers; the weightings for the fund's three components (quality evaluation, research degree completions and external research income); and the individual as the unit of assessment.

A sector review group has been established by TEC to reflect on the 2006 PBRF Quality Evaluation (assessment). This group will be chaired by Professor John Hattie of the University of Auckland and will also look at the issue of the appropriate unit of assessment. At their recent meeting, Vice-Chancellors expressed concern that the review group's work could overlap with that of the PBRF sector reference group on which the NZVCC is represented by Otago University Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg. The Committee has told TEC it strongly supports retention of the individual unit of assessment. Professor Skegg warned fellow Vice-Chancellors against taking the views of any overseas expertise involved in the phase two evaluation as definitive, especially given NZVCC concerns over the high-level nature of the evaluation and the brief timeframe involved.

Kiwi Research Information Service (KRIS)
nzresearch.org.nz is a gateway to open-access research documents produced at universities, polytechnics, and other New Zealand research institutions. It harvests research document metadata from institutional repositories established primarily by New Zealand academic libraries. Researchers in this country can now access and share their research with peers both in New Zealand and overseas through the Kiwi Research Information Service.
CONZUL (Council of New Zealand University Librarians) has taken the lead in sharing expertise on the development of institutional repositories. The National Library was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission to develop the harvesting service. A governance group for KRIS has been set up, chaired by Ainslie Dewe, University Librarian & Director of Knowledge Management at the Auckland University of Technology
KRIS will be officially launched in November but it is already publicly available for search at http://nzresearch.org.nz/

Woolf Fisher Scholars for 2008 announced

Three graduates from the New Zealand university system have been awarded 2008 Woolf Fisher Scholarships for doctoral study at either Cambridge or Oxford universities. The awards mean that honours graduates Deidre Cleland and Reed Roberts from the University of Otago and Joel Harrison from the University of Auckland will each receive up to $100,000 a year for three years of study. The scholarships, administered by the NZVCC, involve full payment of university and college fees, an allowance of $27,000 a year and a London - New Zealand return airfare for each of the three years.

Deidre will work towards a PhD at Cambridge and her research interest (optoelectronics) has applications in developing more energy-efficient lighting and improved display technology. Reed is also off to Cambridge where he will undertake a PhD that will investigate the synthesis of biologically active compounds for drug and chemical methods for disease treatment. Oxford is Joel's destination where he will study towards a DPhil in the law faculty with research on the impact of law on religious doctrine, beliefs and practices. The awards are made available through the Woolf Fisher Trust which rewards excellence in education.

Formal launch for Ako Aotearoa

Ako Aotearoa, the Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, was formally launched by Tertiary Education Minister Dr Michael Cullen at a function at Massey University's Wellington campus last Thursday. The centre is part of a $20 million Government initiative to boost the quality of tertiary education teaching. A consortium headed by Massey won the contract to establish the centre which comprises the national centre at Massey Wellington and regional hubs in Christchurch, Palmerston North and Auckland. Other consortium members are AUT, the University of Canterbury, UCOL and the Manukau Institute of Technology. Dr Peter Coolbear is the centre's director.

ENDS

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