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AUS Tertiary Update

University investigation a sop, says QPEC
The Quality Public Education Coalition says that a decision by the University of Auckland Council to set up an investigation into the impact of its decision to restrict entry to undergraduate degree courses is a sop, and students say they are outraged that the University’s taskforce to look at these implications may have only one student representative.
These reactions follow a decision by the University Council on Monday night, by fourteen votes to two, to give itself the power to restrict entry to all undergraduate courses from 2009. The decision pre-empts an expected announcement by the Tertiary Education Commission of new three-year funding allocations for tertiary-education institutions which are widely expected to cap public funding on student numbers.
Since announcing its intention to limit undergraduate entry, the University of Auckland has come under widespread criticism, with many alleging that it could became a “university of the advantaged” in which disadvantaged communities, especially Māori and Pasifika and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, would miss out.
The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, is reported as saying that the University would continue to seek a diverse range of students with the ability to succeed at an institution that prides itself on excellence. To this end, he says, a taskforce has been set up to ensure prospective students from all backgrounds have equal opportunity to achieve their potential.
However, QPEC says that the establishment of a taskforce had only come as an afterthought and shows how distanced the institution is from the public it is supposed to serve. “An investigation such as this should have been conducted well before the decision,” said QPEC spokesperson, John Minto. “The University has been blinded by self-importance and the mythology that it must compete with overseas universities. Kiwi kids with the greatest capacity to benefit from university education are to be sacrificed.”
Students are demanding that they have three representatives on the taskforce, saying that being limited to one would shut out the input of Māori and Pasifika students, who would be most disadvantaged by these schemes. “We call on the University to give students a fair say on this issue by allowing more than one student representative on this taskforce,” said Reina Harris, Auckland University Students’ Association Co-Māori Students Officer.
Meanwhile, the University of Otago has become the latest university to announce it will consider further limits on student numbers.

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Tertiary-education reforms become law
2. AUS member New Zealander of the Year
3. AUS asks for Court to consider dismissal case
4. New Zealand university research measures up
5. Impact of PBRF on retention of doctoral students analysed
6. Ministerial briefings
7. A regal president for Waikato?
8. Academics warn of physics-funding crisis
9. Privatisation opponents speak out
10. Iranian students protest at university
11. Coffee rings not best marks

Tertiary-education reforms become law
Reforms that will change the way in which tertiary-education institutions are funded were passed into law on Tuesday night with the passing of the third and final reading of the Education (Tertiary Reforms) Amendment Bill. Under the amended legislation, tertiary-education institutions will be funded on the basis of three-year investment plans rather than the current model, which has been described as the “bums-on-seats” approach, where funding is allocated on the basis of enrolments.
Future funding will be based on set numbers of students, rather than allowing for the unrestricted growth of the past, and it is this that has prompted the University of Auckland to adopt, and other universities to consider adopting, restrictions on their future intakes of undergraduate students.
In his speech for the final reading of the Bill, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Pete Hodgson, told Parliament that, under the reforms, tertiary education would make the shift from participation to achievement, focus on the long-term needs of New Zealand and ensure that tertiary-education organisations are able and motivated to adapt to changing needs.
Mr Hodgson said that government expenditure on tertiary education would no longer be driven just by “bums on seats”, but will be set as a three-year funding path that takes account of inflation pressures, expected demographic change, student demand and competing priorities within and outside the education sector.
A key aspect of the reforms will be the role of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) in working with organisations to approve and develop their three-year plans and to ensure the qualifications that result are relevant and useful to students and stakeholders and that taxpayers are getting value for money from their contribution to the tertiary sector.
The reforms will take effect from 1 January 2008.
The TEC is expected to publicly release the three-year investment plans for tertiary institutions tomorrow afternoon.

AUS member New Zealander of the Year
Professor Philip Bagshaw from the University of Otago has been named as New Zealander of the Year by North and South magazine. The award was announced at a breakfast in Christchurch last Thursday by the magazine’s editor Virginia Larsen.
Professor Bagshaw, a medical academic at the Christchurch School of Medicine, was adjudged the top New Zealander from more than fifty nominees and described by the magazine as a surgeon, humanitarian and reluctant activist.
The award follows the opening this year of the Christchurch Charity Hospital which has been the culmination of a career in which Professor Bagshaw has been renowned for fighting for the rights of hospital patients and working people. “Some call him a saint, others a Samaritan, while he labels himself a socialist,” says North and South.
In 1997, Professor Bagshaw was one of three Christchurch doctors to receive an Association of University Staff Academic Freedom award following the publication of a damning report, Patients are dying, which outlined chronic failures at Christchurch Hospital.
In accepting his award, Professor Bagshaw said that, in the 1990s, social engineers tried to destroy the community spirit of New Zealanders and replace it with a selfish, self-centered view. “But the message is clear,” he said. “They failed. The flame of community spirit is still alive and I hope it will spread like a contagion throughout society.”
AUS National President, Professor Nigel Haworth, congratulated Professor Bagshaw on his award, saying that his actions were in the best traditions of academic freedom and engagement, particularly in his willingness to confront politicians and bureaucrats with powerful, evidence-based arguments in favour of the public-health system, and medicine in general. “Added to that, he is recognised as a superb university teacher, taking out top teaching awards on a number of occasions,” he said.

AUS asks for Court to consider dismissal case
The Association of University Staff is applying to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) this afternoon to have a personal grievance action being brought by a senior staff member against Lincoln University transferred to be heard in the Employment Court. The application follows the summary dismissal of Associate Professor Stewart, a highly respected scientist with a more than thirty-year career in Ecology and Conservation, in late July after an investigation by the University into a complaint of alleged serious misconduct.
At the time of Dr Stewart’s sacking, the AUS says that the University acted unfairly and that the Vice-Chancellor should not have dismissed.
The case was set down to be heard in the Employment Relations Authority last week, but was delayed in order that the application for removal to the Court could be heard. In its application, the AUS says that Associate Professor Stewart was a senior employee and, while the allegations made against him were of a serious nature, the University did not disclose vital information prior to the dismissal and has continued to make fresh allegations since. It also says that the University has failed to respect its obligations of natural justice towards Associate Professor Stewart, including being late to file documentation in the ERA. AUS says the University must now seek the leave of the Court or Authority to defend its actions.
It is likely this case will now be heard in the New Year.

New Zealand university research measures up
New Zealand universities perform above the world average in their areas of research specialisation and at a level comparable with the leading Australian universities, according to a Ministry of Education report released late last week.
The report, Comparing the academic impact of research by New Zealand and Australian universities 1981-2005, examines the number of times New Zealand university research publications are cited by subsequent researchers over a twenty-five-year period. Citation counts are an internationally recognised way of assessing the academic impact of research publications.
The report is one of a series that explores a newly available bibliometric database to analyse the research performance of New Zealand universities. This report complements an earlier one, (ex)Citing research, which examined the academic impact of research by New Zealand universities.
According to the new report, the academic impact of the research at New Zealand universities was, on average, below that of the Australian research-intensive Group of Eight (or G8) universities but above the non-Group of Eight universities. In a number of individual universities and in narrow subject areas, New Zealand universities outperformed the G8 university grouping. This would imply that the New Zealand universities have several specialised pockets of high-impact research.
The Ministry of Education Manager, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis and Reporting, Roger Smyth, said that the report shows that New Zealand universities do very well in selected areas but tend to be more specialised in their research than the leading Australian G8 universities.
The report can be found at:
http://educationcounts.edcentre.govt.nz/publications/tertiary_education/16362

Impact of PBRF on retention of doctoral students analysed
Since the introduction of the Performance-Based Research Fund, there has been a higher likelihood of doctoral students continuing with their studies, particularly for younger full-time students, according to another new report published by the Ministry of Education.
The report, Persistence in doctoral research: analysing the impact of the PBRF on the retention of doctoral students, examines the factors that influence the retention of doctoral students in tertiary study, where retention is defined as a doctoral candidate continuing in study in the next year or completing the doctorate. In doing so, the study analyses what initial impact, if any, the introduction of the Performance-Based Research Fund has had on the retention of doctoral candidates in study.
A summary of key findings of the report suggests that the introduction of the PBRF has been associated with a small but statistically significant impact on the likelihood of the retention of doctoral students in New Zealand; that the likelihood of a higher retention rate for younger full-time students may reflect better pastoral care and/or selection of doctoral students; that Pasifika and Asian students had a slightly lower likelihood of retention than European students; and that students who studied in the fields of science, agriculture and health had a slightly higher likelihood of retention than students in the subject area of society and culture.

This study has been developed by the Ministry of Education as part of a larger evaluation of the effects of the PBRF on research performance being led by the Tertiary Education Commission. The report can be found at:
http://educationcounts.edcentre.govt.nz/publications/tertiary_education/16344

Ministerial briefings
Briefings to the new Minister for Tertiary Education from the Tertiary Education Commission and the Ministry of Education are now available on line.
The briefing from the Ministry of Education is described as providing a snapshot that outlines the tertiary reforms that have been planned over the last two years and the associated implementation process taking place for the system to operate from 2008; setting out the Government’s strategic vision and priorities for what it wants to see achieved by the tertiary-education sector as set out by the Tertiary Education Strategy and Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities; providing an overview of central agency roles in tertiary education and how these agencies relate to each other; and including summary information on the overall performance of the tertiary-education system.
The Ministry briefing also provides an overview of the key issues facing the sector, including the implementation of the tertiary reforms, the role of fees and student support in the new tertiary system, management of funding within a constrained baseline, monitoring progress against the Tertiary Education Strategy, skills, especially the upskilling of the workforce and realising youth potential, research and Māori education.
The TEC briefing describes the tertiary-education reforms that the Government has introduced over the last two years and outlines issues relating to each tertiary-education sub-sector, particularly in relation to the implementation of the reforms. It also discusses what it describes as a number of pan-sector issues and the role of TEC within the tertiary-education system.
The Ministry of Education briefing can be found at:
http://www.minedu.govt.nz/index.cfm?layout=document&documentid=12411&data=l
The TEC briefing can be found at:
http://www.tec.govt.nz/upload/downloads/bim-november-2007.pdf

A regal president for Waikato?
In what must rate as one of the more curious decisions of the year, the University of Waikato Council has agreed to let its Vice-Chancellor, Professor Roy Crawford, use, at his discretion, the title “President”.
If the decision seems curious, the explanation is positively odd. In a broadcast email, staff have been told that the term vice-chancellor is not understood in many Asian countries and in North America and that, in those countries, it is assumed the chancellor is the chief executive and that the vice-chancellor deputises for the chancellor. “This can cause confusion and embarrassment,” the email reads. “The title of President is commonly used and understood in tertiary education sectors globally, and its use serves to eliminate the potential for misunderstanding in international contexts. Consistent with our Vision, its use would also reinforce the concept of international connectedness for the University of Waikato.”
One wag has suggested to Tertiary Update that, as the name Roy is derived from the French word Roi, meaning King, there is good reason for Professor Crawford to set his sights on a regal rather than a presidential title.

Worldwatch
Academics warn of physics-funding crisis
A group of thirty-six physicists from the United Kingdom’s leading universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have voiced concern over a funding shortfall they say has resulted in physics departments facing their worst funding crisis in twenty years. They say that the Government has left the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) with an £80 million ($NZ209m) shortfall.
The STFC was formed earlier this year by the merger of the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.
The deficit will result in a 25 percent cut in the number of grants the STFC can award for research projects and reduce the number of new PhD students and post-doctoral researchers universities can enrol. The United Kingdom’s involvement in international projects in astronomy, space exploration and particle physics will also be affected.
Physicists say the Government gave assurances that the merger to form STFC would be properly funded and would not adversely impact on research in university departments. The groups says, however, that the 25 percent reduction in grants and the cancellation of existing research programmes will adversely affect the finances of many of the country’s leading physics departments at a time when the Government is encouraging an expansion in physical sciences.
From The Times Higher Education Supplement

Privatisation opponents speak out
Educators in Vietnam say they are opposed to a proposal by the Government to “equitise” state-owned universities, equitisation being a synonym for privatisation. Following a resolution at recent Communist Party Congress, which included a plan to equitise state-owned universities on a trial basis, a Ministry of Education and Training conference in February, chaired by the Prime Minister, will discuss an equitaisation proposal
The Government had previously assigned the Ministry to draw up a detailed equitisation plan, which proposed to privatise fifteen universities, but it now says that privatisation will first be tested on one or two universities.
The University Teachers’ Association sent a dispatch to the Government, strongly protesting the idea, saying that the purpose of universities should be education, not money. Equitised, or privately owned, universities, like enterprises, will seek profits. The Association says that, while non-state universities report fat profits, their education quality remains low and their students pay high tuition costs.
Similarly, Professor Pham Phu, a member of the National Education Committee, said that, once universities are equitised, their operating goal will be profits and that is not good. “Some universities that operate for profit exist in the world, but they are few and do not have very good reputations,” he said.
Tien phong

Iranian students protest at university
Hundreds of Iranian students, angry over a crackdown on activists, have protested at Tehran University, according to Iranian news media. Tehran’s state-run radio reported this week that students chanted slogans against officials and the station said that a group of non-students entered the University after breaking one of the gates.
The protests were held to mark National Day of Students, which has been celebrated since 1953 when three Iranian students were shot to death by police during a protest against a visit by then United States Vice-President Richard Nixon.
State television also announced that Iran’s Intelligence Ministry had detained a group of activists it described as hecklers who planned to stage an illegal gathering at Tehran University. Quoting a statement by the Ministry, the TV report said the activists, who came from various cities, entered the University using fake identification cards before they were detained. The report said intelligence officers confiscated concussion grenades, illegal books and alcoholic beverages from the detainees.
Last week, thirty-three students and activists were detained after they staged a protest on the Tehran University campus.
Students were once the main power base of Iran’s reform movement but have faced intense pressure in recent years from President Ahmadinejad’s hard-line Government, making anti-government protests rare. Since October, students from different universities have staged occasional protests over educational shortages, firings of liberal teachers and detention of activists. About 100 students staged a rare protest in October against Ahmadinejad, calling him a “dictator” as he gave a speech at Tehran University marking the beginning of the academic year.
Associated Press

Coffee rings not best marks
Academics at the University of the West of England have been warned about the dangers of providing students with “subliminal feedback” after one undergraduate complained when her essay was returned with a coffee stain.
In a case held up as an indication that students’ enthusiasm for making complaints has reached “ridiculous” proportions, a nursing student made a written complaint to her course leader, claiming that she was offended by a coffee ring on her essay. The student said it showed a lack of respect for her work.
An academic within the Healthcare division who saw the complaint said that she was surprised at students’ ability to complain about pretty much everything. “The student saw this as a slight on her work, which had been treated with blatant disrespect in someone’s home. She would have expected an apology to have been appended to her essay when it was returned and was now seeking one from the course leader,” she said.
After circulating the student’s complaint, the course leader asked all staff to ensure that this particular form of subliminal feedback was avoided in future
The Times Higher Education Supplement

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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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