AUS Tertiary Update
Culture clash at Victoria
Victoria University’s change proposal to disestablish its film programme and create a new visual culture “cluster”, tying a truncated cinema studies programme to the university’s art history and museum and heritage programmes and its Adam Art Gallery, is a huge leap backwards, say staff and students.
The proposal, released by university management without prior consultation with staff of the film and other programmes, would end the teaching of film production at undergraduate level and see film studies replaced by cinema studies. The five academic positions in the programme would be disestablished and replaced with three new ones.
Dr Russell Campbell, associate professor in the film programme, describes the proposal as profoundly retrograde, adding that it will severely weaken the contribution film studies can make to other disciplines. “Cutting the programme back completely ignores the need for a fully fledged, contemporary film programme at university level that can provide graduates with a strong grounding for future careers in film and related industries,” he said.
Student numbers in the programme have grown by 26 percent in the last three years and the postgraduate programme is flourishing. In the last two years, film has had 70 students enrol for double majors with media studies, forty-nine with theatre studies, forty-six with various other disciplines and just three out of a total of 168 double majors with art history.
Dr Campbell is very concerned at the precedent the proposal sets following the negotiation of an investment plan between the university and Tertiary Education Commission. “This cannot be what the government had in mind when it called for a forward-looking, more strategic, and differentiated university sector,” he said.
AUS national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery, shares that concern, adding that when a change proposal imposes major disruption on students’ courses of study, it is to be hoped that there is a sound academic and financial rationale. “The current proposal, however, to reduce film studies, relocate it from one interdisciplinary cluster to another, and rename it cinema studies reveals seriously flawed logic,” said Dr Montgomery. “It impoverishes the concept of interdisciplinarity by turning it into a management tool to resolve non-academic problems.”
The Association of University Staff will be asking members throughout the university to make submissions against the proposal and advocating much greater staff participation in any developments arising from the investment plan.
Tertiary Update this week
1. PM urges Canterbury rethink on film studies
2. Students question Labour’s credibility
3. Women returning to work
4. Limited entry at Auckland?
5. ₤880 missing from university salaries
6. Managers ease out academics
7. Peer review under fire
8. Enemies pure and simple
Canterbury rethink on film studies
Following a half-hour meeting on Tuesday with affected University of Canterbury students, Prime Minister Helen Clark has urged the university to retain its department of theatre and film studies. Her particular concern was that a number of the students, including nine PhD candidates, had not yet completed their degrees and faced being left stranded by the decision to close.
The Press reports that the prime minister, referring to Christchurch’s “proud arts and culture tradition”, of which the department is part, called on the university to find another way to make savings, given the high regard in which the department is held.
The Press also reports one of the PhD students, George Parker, as saying that the students felt more confident as a result of the prime minister’s “support and backing”, though a number are also taking legal advice. Rejecting the university’s claim of a lack of research culture in theatre and film, he pointed to the remarkably high number of research students for any programme and particularly for such a small one.
Vice-Chancellor Roy Sharp is reported to have been unwilling to respond to the prime minister’s comments, saying that the closure option is only being proposed at this stage and all comments will be considered.
The Association of University Staff is in the process of preparing a briefing paper to go to the prime minister.
Students question Labour’s credibility
In response to a recent statement by the Minister for Tertiary Education Pete Hodgson, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) has questioned the Labour government’s record on accessibility and affordability in tertiary education.
The minister had claimed that students could “trust a Labour-led government to keep making improvements in the quality, accessibility, and affordability of tertiary education” and he referred in support to its record of stabilising fees and increasing allowance eligibility.
NZUSA co-president, Paul Falloon, however, questioned the validity of the minister’s remarks. “It is highly ironic and deeply concerning that Mr Hodgson chose limited access to allowances and rising fees to illustrate Labour’s commitment to students, as this is precisely where Labour has failed most miserably,” said Mr Falloon.
A major Student Income and Expenditure survey released by NZUSA last month revealed that the average student debt is now 147 percent higher than it was in 1998, a year before the Labour government came to power. Only 37 percent of students receive an allowance that is $70 per week on average, forcing many to into bank and credit-card debt as they struggle to meet basic living costs. The study also revealed that students are now paying the highest fees New Zealand has ever seen.
“The minister is attempting to paint a rosy picture of student support but it just won’t wash. How can students be expected to trust Labour when student debt has skyrocketed under its watch and the student-loan scheme will shortly hit a massive $10 billion?” queried Falloon.
“It’s time to stop ignoring the issues and deliver a positive solution for the economic success and development of students and the nation by introducing a living allowance for all students,” he concluded.
Women returning to work
Last week saw the launch of the report of a pilot Women Returning to Work Project at the University of Auckland. Jointly conducted by the Association of University Staff and the university between 2006 and 2007, the project was undertaken to analyse university women’s experiences in returning to work from parental leave and to make recommendations on strategies to eliminate barriers.
Its goals were to maximise retention of skilled staff and on-going participation of women in the university’s workforce; to reduce, where possible, the costs of engaging temporary employees; to enhance the job satisfaction of current employees; and to provide an incentive for the recruitment of new staff.
A total of twenty-three recommendations came out of the project and a small team has already begun work on the implementation of a number of initiatives from auditing research provision to considering parking needs.
Furthermore, a number of the recommendations have already been carried out. These include the establishment of a quarterly, lunchtime, network meeting and the purchase of two mini-fridges which can be loaned to breastfeeding mothers. Other initiatives being explored include assigning parental-support people within the university, obtaining a legal opinion on the deduction of childcare fees from salaries, and compiling a fact sheet of relevant information for women returning to work.
Further information on the project and copies of the report can be obtained from Jane Adams, AUS, email@example.com; Prue Toft, EEO Office, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Kerryn Patten, Human Resources, email@example.com.
Limiting equity entry at
Decisions taken by the University of Auckland senate and council late last year, in the face of strong and well-reasoned opposition from student representatives on council, saw the introduction of a policy giving the university the power to limit entry to its undergraduate qualifications. The rationale was that government policy would no longer meet the costs of teaching all enrolled students because of the removal of previous years’ EFTS-based funding.
Currently, Māori students make up fewer than 7 percent of the student population at Auckland, though participation rates vary widely across faculties, as do mechanisms for entry into them. In its strategic plan, the university states that it is “committed to recognising a special relationship with Māori” and “seeks to promote Māori presence, participation, and achievement in all aspects of University life”.
The question remains, however, can Māori presence be achieved when limited entry is likely to have its most significant impact on Māori? Helen Charters, Auckland AUS branch president and also a member of the faculty of arts equity network, says that many factors can contribute to a low grade point average and that it is questionable how reliable it is as a measure of aptitude, ability, or ultimate achievement.
“Applying a grade point average as a selection criterion could well have equity implications that directly contravene the university’s stated equity goals of enhancing participation from under-represented groups, including Māori, Pacific, men and women in some disciplines, and students with disabilities,” she added.
A taskforce has been established to examine the equity implications of limiting entry on all of the university’s degree programmes. Submissions to the taskforce close tomorrow, Friday 29 February.
$NZ2.13m missing from university salaries
If university staff were paid for their unpaid overtime they would collect an extra £877,794,850 per year, according to statistics issued last week by the British Trades Union Congress (TUC). Two in five do unpaid overtime and, on average, university staff do 8.4 hours of unpaid overtime every week and are missing out on almost £10,000 a year each.
The figures were released in association with the TUC’s Work Your Proper Hours Day last week in which staff were urged to take a stand for one day a year by taking a proper lunch break and going home on time. The TUC also suggested to managers that they should take staff out for a cocktail or coffee.
University and College Union general secretary, Sally Hunt, in supporting the campaign, said, “It comes as little surprise that university staff are working extra hours to get the job done. Rising class and seminar sizes, increased bureaucracy and ever greater pressure to compete make a mockery of the work/life balance for many.”
“Their continued commitment to the profession must be properly recognised by our universities and colleges and they must understand that we cannot build a world class education sector on the goodwill of staff.”
Among the statistics released by the TUC are: total university teaching professionals: 215,627; those who report working unpaid overtime (UNPOT): 87,911; percentage that report working UNPOT: 40.8%; average weekly UNPOT for those who do it: 8.4 hours; mean hourly pay excluding overtime: £22.86 per hour; value of UNPOT per person per week: £192.02; value of UNPOT per person per year: £9,985.04; value of UNPOT for all higher-education teaching professionals: £877,794,850.
University and College Union
Managers ease out academics
A recent study into management and success in higher education in the United Kingdom by University of Warwick research fellow Amanda Goodall has concluded that, if a university aspires to be world-class, it needs a world-class scholar at the top.
The UK experience, however, is that the number of employees working in management, professional and administration roles who have backgrounds outside education has shot up, rising from just 19 per cent of non-academic professional staff in 2003-04 to 35 percent in 2005-06. Intake from the private sector has also increased, rising from 9 percent to 15 percent of those staff over the same period.
Dr Goodall ascribes the change partly to the UK government’s push for more professionalisation and partly to the drive to become more businesslike in management in response to student calls for demonstrable value for their tuition fees, the explosion of choice in higher education, and the need to meet growing regulatory demands.
She concludes that the professionalisation agenda has led to structural and, in turn, cultural change in most universities. Key decisions are now being taken at a higher level by a smaller group of people. The changes have placed a premium on the expertise and skills of professional managers, be it in leadership, marketing, or human resources, and this has moved them a few rungs up the status and salary ladders. This is seen by many as a challenge to the traditional position of academics at the top of the university hierarchy.
From The Times Higher Education
Peer review under fire
Weaknesses in the system of peer review universally accepted in the academic-research publication process have come under fire after a “misstep” was acknowledged by the respected journal Proteomics in publishing an article containing both creationist argument and plagiarism.
The controversial paper, “Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul: proteomic perspective evidence”, referred to “a single common fingerprint initiated by a mighty creator”. The Times Higher Education has reported that its publication has caused a furore among scientists and the publisher, Wiley Interscience, has issued a statement saying that the article, by two scientists at Korea's Inje University, has been withdrawn on the grounds that “it contains apparently plagiarised passages from several previously published articles”.
At the same time, an international survey of 3,040 academics has established that 79 percent of reviews are carried out by only 44 percent of the total number of reviewers. That 44 percent carried out an average of fourteen reviews a year compared to their preferred figure of thirteen and the peer-review process took an average of 80 days.
The survey also reviewed peer-review methods and found that single-blind review, where the identities of authors are known to reviewers, is the most common method but is supported by only a quarter of respondents. More than half of them preferred the double-blind method, where both authors and reviewers are anonymous.
From The Times Higher Education
Enemies pure and simple
While many US universities and colleges have been expanding their Arabic and Middle East programmes, at one college such a proposal elicited an anti-Arab and anti-Muslim tirade from one member of its board of trustees.
At the College of the Siskiyous in California, Dorris Wood objected to the plan, saying that, “When I look at this proposed class, my one thought is that we know all we need to know about the Arabs and Islam. They are our enemies: pure and simple.... They have declared war on the United States and are committed to our destruction.”
“When our schools fail the citizens of this great country by undermining the basic principles of democracy and support the sworn enemies we will fail completely.... Study history and understand how the Muslims have over the centuries invaded other countries and forced their religion by killing, plundering, and ravaging,” she added.
“Now they are invading Christian countries of the world from inside, one method being through our schools and universities.... If you want to give yourselves to Islam, you have the right and freedom to do that. But don’t give my country to them.”
The new course was, nonetheless, approved by the board and the college president issued an apology to staff and students but Wood attacked the apology, saying that it went way beyond the president’s authority.
From Inside Higher Ed
More international news can be found on University World News:
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 the editor, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.