AUS Tertiary Update
Decision-making under way on two fronts
Starting on Monday, AUS members throughout the country will enter the decision-making process on two of their major issues for 2008: MECA (multi-employer collective agreement) bargaining and amalgamation. For a fortnight from 10 March, they will join members from other university unions to hear and discuss the case for continuing with national MECA bargaining and the tripartite process again this year.
Following that, AUS members will go on to discuss their second amalgamation ballot. That ballot, for a merger between AUS and the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education Te Hau Takitini o Aotearoa, is the result of the TIASA decision not to proceed with the three-union proposal for amalgamation.
Those meetings will be followed by a ballot process covering both issues extending from 31 March to 11 April. The combined ballot is intended to avoid the possibility of “ballot fatigue” in this case where two critical decisions must be made within a very short period.
The ballot pack that goes out to members will contain information on both national bargaining and amalgamation, a voting paper for each ballot, and a single addressed envelope which must be returned by internal mail to the local branch office by noon on Friday 11 April. The return envelopes are numbered solely to identify for follow-up those who have not yet voted; numbering is not used to identify how individuals have voted.
In the case of the bargaining framework, the MECA decision will be followed by combined union claims meetings and the nomination of branch bargaining team members in the second half of April, final decisions on claims and process in May, and the commencement of bargaining.
If the second ballot again endorses amalgamation, rules for the new union will be drafted in close consultation with representatives of the two existing unions and go to a combined rules conference in mid year. The new union would then hold its first conference in November 2008 and become fully operational by 1 January 2009.
Stressing the importance of maximum membership participation in the ballots, AUS national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery, said, “The AUS annual conference and council have strongly endorsed both national bargaining and the proposed amalgamation and are, therefore, recommending that members vote in support of them.”
Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Chance for a fix to PBRF
2. Treble the Marsden Fund, say researchers
3. NZUSA depressed by debt statistics
4. Cheating on the rise again
5. Expanded performance-based funding proposed in Australia
6. Some progress for women professors
7. Dangers in naming rights
Chance for a fix
The Association of University Staff has welcomed a review of the Performance-Based Research Fund currently being undertaken by an international expert and involving extensive consultation across the tertiary-education sector. The union sees the review as an excellent opportunity to put right major flaws in PBRF operation.
The review, being carried out by Dr Jonathan Adams of the United Kingdom, is intended to examine the PBRF process and, in particular, the experience of staff involved in preparing evidence portfolios on which research-performance assessments are made. The PBRF provides $230 million annually in research funding.
AUS national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery, said that the review will look at problems that had arisen with the PBRF and how they might best be resolved. She added that current assessment and reporting models used for the PBRF are inappropriate and that the improper use of individual PBRF ratings in staff-performance appraisals not only creates anger and disillusionment among academic staff but also compromises the integrity of staff-development procedures already in place.
“AUS has always rejected the individual unit of assessment as the basis for the PBRF model and, equally, has consistently opposed the reporting of results at that individual level,” said Associate Professor Montgomery. “Such is the depth of feeling about these flaws that the possibility of a boycott of future rounds of the PBRF by union members was raised at the recent AUS annual conference.”
AUS will also be offering the reviewer alternative models for determining the distribution of research funding. They will not, however, include the so-called metrics-based measurement system that employs citation indices and impact analyses.
Associate Professor Montgomery concluded that AUS would also bring to the attention of the reviewer the international move away from PBRF-style models.
Treble the Marsden Fund, say
In an open letter to the minister of science, Steve Maharey, more than 430 of New Zealand’s most distinguished researchers have called for a trebling of the Marsden Fund over the next few years. The fund, which disburses $40m per annum, is one of the few New Zealand sources for the funding of undirected basic research and is well-known internationally for its high productivity per dollar and its role in value creation.
According to the researchers, however, the fund has only a 7 to 10 percent success rate for applicants and does not cover capital equipment. They say that they have grown weary of outstanding, internationally leading research proposals being turned down year after year, of the deep cynicism engendered among young and emerging researchers towards their prospects, and of statements from successive ministers that the fund should be substantially increased, while increasing only incrementally, at best.
A trebling of the fund, they argue, would reduce the failure rate from an “absolutely unacceptable” 93 percent to around 75 to 80 percent while still maintaining the high quality-threshold expected of the fund.
The open letter reaffirms the vital significance of basic research and “its fundamental role in revolutionary discovery” and notes that many of the recent outstandingly successful New Zealand start-up companies have emerged from it. “If New Zealand is serious about cultural and economic transformation, it must have the right balance between applied research and basic research yielding, in the long term, a right balance between incremental and revolutionary discovery.”
Seeking collaboration rather than confrontation, the researchers say they seek to create an innovative environment that will feed wealth creation, enhance the nation’s welfare, and better protect the environment.
NZUSA depressed by debt
The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations is urging the government to take heed of the depressing statistics revealed in Student Loans and Allowances: 2006, the latest in a series of recent reports highlighting growing student debt and the lack of access to student allowances. The report shows that, in 2006, the number of students receiving an allowance and not having to rely on a student loan actually fell by 10 percent while the number of borrowers and the increase in loan borrowing were the largest since 2001.
“The fact that the biggest proportion of borrowers dependent on debt was aged 20 to 25 years clearly shows that means-testing students on parental income until the age of 25 to determine allowance eligibility is deeply flawed and discriminatory,” said Liz Hawes, NZUSA co-president.
“With this policy, Labour is saying families can and will support their children until the age of 25. Students and their parents know this simply isn’t possible: low incomes, the high cost of living, and extra expectations such as KiwiSaver leave many families with nothing at the end of the week”, said Ms Hawes.
This report is the latest in a number highlighting students struggling financially. The Westpac Tertiary Banking 2008 study revealed a staggering 42 percent whose primary worry heading into study this year was money. And NZUSA’s own 2007 Student Income and Expenditure Survey showed students’ key concerns are financial, with 59 percent citing financial stress as damaging their study and over three-quarters calling for a living allowance for all.
The introduction of such a universal allowance is a longstanding NZUSA policy to address what is seen as the ever-growing problem of student debt.
Cheating on the rise
The latest issue of Education Review reports that cheating rose in most New Zealand universities rose in 2007 after several years of decline in numbers of cases. It identifies 499 cases of student academic misconduct at the six largest New Zealand universities in 2007, almost half of them, 228, in the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) business school.
The weekly cites the business school dean suggesting, by way of explanation, that it had recently improved its performance in detecting misconduct. Emphasising the seriousness with which cheating is taken, it quotes him as saying, “What we have got better at over the last five years is explaining to students what plagiarism is, what are the things that they’re allowed to do and what they are not.”
AUT’s total number of cheats was 269, followed by Victoria with 96, Auckland with 69, Otago with forty-one, Massey with sixteen in exams, and Canterbury with just eight. It is not entirely clear from the story, however, if all universities record misconduct in the same way.
Exam offences included illicitly introducing unauthorised materials, calculators, and cell phones. Penalties for misconduct included reference to a learning development centre, reduction in marks (the most common punishment for plagiarists), fines of up to $1,000, and course failure.
Plagiarism, by far the biggest problem according to Education Review, is increasingly being combated by software such as Turnitin and other steps being taken include specific training in the principles of academic integrity and the introduction of academic misconduct registers and, in the case of exam cheating, random seating and the use of coloured paper for exam sheets to confound note-smugglers.
Expanded performance-based funding proposed in Australia
Some Australian universities are being threatened with funding reductions if they do not succeed in such activities as developing innovation and engaging with their communities. The proposal comes with a number of other radical initiatives in an unofficial discussion paper apparently mainly written by Group of Eight (Go8) universities executive director, Michael Gallagher.
The discussion paper is described as “an attempt to build consensus and seize the initiative on how Labor’s new funding compacts would work”. The new Australian government’s compacts appear to resemble New Zealand’s investment plans and are apparently intended to assist each university to improve its performance by the introduction of individually tailored benchmarks around which universities can take an increasing level of responsibility.
Hopes have been expressed that compacts will serve the national interest better than has the market model and protect nationally important areas of study threatened by low student demand. There remain, however, concerns about the “rules of engagement” for the new model.
Among the initiatives proposed in the discussion paper are the deregulation of what it describes as “template university funding” and the extension of performance-based funding to teaching, research, innovation, and community engagement. Funding would be at risk if universities fail to measure up in such areas. If, for example, a university performed poorly in research, it would be expected to transfer funding to an area such as community engagement.
Go8 chair Alan Robson is cited as saying that it is essential that performance be measured broadly and that compacts would have to recognise university differentiation. University of Tasmania vice-chancellor, Daryl Le Grew, however, cast doubts on the model, calling for respect for individual university autonomy and doubting that performance could be measured fairly because of differences in make-up.
From The Australian
progress for women professors
Figures published late last week have been described by the Education Guardian as reaching record levels of numbers of women professors in United Kingdom universities. While the increase has been welcomed, it has also been observed that progress remains somewhat glacial: the proportion of women professors reported in the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s staff record rising from 16.7 in 2006 to 17.5 percent in 2007. That amounts to 2,885 women compared to 13,600 men.
The proportion of women at all levels has also increased from 41.9 to 42.3 percent but with a much greater proportion of women than men working part-time, 41.8 against 26.8 percent. The total number of academic staff rose by 3.1 percent. The numbers of non-academic staff also rose, by 1.9 percent, with the great majority, 62.6 percent, being women.
Responding to the figures, University and College Union general secretary, Sally Hunt, said, as head of a union with women in its two most senior positions, that she was pleased to see higher-education institutions catching up: “There is no reason why more women should not be in the top jobs in our universities and being properly paid for their work. Fair, open and transparent recruitment and promotion procedures are in everyone’s interests, not just women,” she added.
“What is equally important for the future is that institutions act to ensure equality of opportunity at every point so that women who are at the start of their academic career will face fewer obstacles in getting to the top.”
From the Education Guardian
Dangers in naming rights
Naming rights have become part of the university landscape and placing the names of benefactors on campus buildings, programmes, fellowships, even a piano bench in the music faculty, have become a very normal part of fundraising, according to Philip Fine in University World News. As a result, in almost every university in the United States, researchers have the name of a rich, local person or that person’s corporation, before their title.
There may be unforeseen dangers in the practice, however. In 1986, for example, Villanova University in Philadelphia accepted money from John du Pont, the heir of the wealthy du Pont family, and named a new basketball arena the du Pont Pavilion. A decade later, du Pont was convicted of murder. Villanova took the du Pont name off the arena, and simply renamed it “The Pavilion”.
Another case is that of Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco, who had a building and rotunda named after him at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Now in prison, he is one of the more famous US white-collar criminals after being convicted of stealing $150 million from his company. Fortunately for Seton Hall, he told them they could take down his name.
The University of Houston showed more fortitude in retaining its Enron Teaching Award. Perhaps alarmed by such developments, however, at least one university is bucking the trend. When the University of Madison-Wisconsin was soliciting support for its business school, it finally abandoned individual naming rights on the grounds that other supporters may be alienated. In an era of continuing corporate scandals, it may yet be grateful that it has decided simply to call it “The School of Business”, at least until 2028.
From Philip Fine in University World News
More international news
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 inquiries should be made to the editor, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.