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AUS Tertiary Update

Buchanan dismissal unjustified, says Authority
The Employment Relations Authority has ruled that the dismissal of Dr Paul Buchanan from the University of Auckland was unjustified and it has awarded him more than $65,000 in lost wages and compensation. In the determination which was released yesterday, Authority member Vicki Campbell said that, while there was no doubt that there was misconduct on Dr Buchanan’s part, it was unreasonable for the university to have escalated the matter to one of serious misconduct. She concluded that a fair and reasonable employer would not have dismissed Dr Buchanan for the reasons it did and the circumstances that then prevailed.
In a remarkably high-profile case which attracted international attention in July last year, the university summarily sacked Dr Buchanan on the grounds of serious misconduct after sending what was described in the media as an angry email to a student, a United Arab Emirates national. In the email, which was widely reprinted, Dr Buchanan spoke bluntly of the student’s very weak academic performance and lack of aptitude for graduate study and said that he did not believe her excuse for not delivering her final assignment on the due date.
In her determination, Ms Campbell said that Dr Buchanan had breached the university’s misconduct rule by sending email correspondence which appeared to have little regard for the well-being of that student, but that his action had not amounted to serious misconduct. Ms Campbell also went on to say that suggestions made by Dr Buchanan which would go some way to ensuring that a similar situation did not recur were completely overlooked or ignored by the university. “It was open to the university to apply other sanctions and behavioural correctives and safeguards with a view to ensuring such misconduct would not recur,” she said.
Although Dr Buchanan’s dismissal has been held to be unjustified, the Authority has declined to reinstate him, saying that it was not practicable for the university to employ Dr Buchanan in a role where he has failed to demonstrate a fundamental awareness of how his own actions and conduct impact upon those he works with and teaches. Also taken into account were the publicly critical comments of the university made by Dr Buchanan following his dismissal. He was awarded $51,000 in lost wages and $15,000 for hurt and humiliation.
Association of University Staff deputy secretary, Marty Braithwaite, said that reinstatement was the primary remedy where unjustified dismissal had been established and the effect of dismissal on Dr Buchanan had been particularly profound. “Given that the dismissal has effectively ended Dr Buchanan’s academic career in New Zealand, we will be considering appealing that part of the decision,” he said.
The Employment Relations Authority determination can be found at:

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. “Raft of flaws” in proposed Canterbury closure
2. AUS welcomes breastfeeding action
3. TEC funding for innovation
4. Unit-standard degree knocked back
5. Financial strains in South Africa
6. “Education passports” on the way
7. Marking as easy as ABC
8. Watch out for the “Flutie effect”

“Raft of flaws” in proposed Canterbury closure
American studies staff at the University of Canterbury have identified “a raft of flaws” in both the academic arguments and business case put forward by the university in support of its proposal to close that programme as well as theatre and film studies. At the same time, they say that the change proposal lacks an adequate understanding of interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching in the humanities and social sciences today.
The staff add that the university’s proposal grossly overstates the potential financial savings from the closure and grossly understates its potential financial risks and losses. “American studies enrolments have in fact steadily increased at the University of Canterbury since 2006,” says Dr Jessica Johnston, a recent programme coordinator. “Moreover, the change proposal’s claim that the American studies programme is overstaffed is based in part on calculations that erroneously include a former staff member who died in 2005.”
When accurate figures replace the erroneous ones in the change proposal, analysis reveals that, during each of the last four years, the programme has generated enough income from student enrolments and research funding to pay the salaries of academic and general staff, cover operational expenses, fund university overheads (such as “rental” on office and teaching space), and still return $700,000 on average per annum to the university’s coffers.
As to the academic implications of the proposed closure, a number of international experts in the field have come to the defence of the programme. Rejecting the “antiquated” concept of core disciplines, Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff of New York University says that “ a university that considers American studies and theatre and film arts marginal enterprises but places classics at the core of its humanities practice while based in the South Pacific in 2008 risks making itself into a parody”.
Challenging the assertion that the programme is weak on research, Stanford University’s Professor Shelley Fisher Fishkin declares that it “boasts a distinguished faculty that is widely respected around the world and that continues to make important contributions to what is now a global cultural conversation about the United States. They represent a broad range of fields, work well together, and model interdisciplinary education at its best.”
Washington State Professor T.V. Reed asks the university to reconsider its proposal as it would “remove New Zealand from a key … effort to direct the United States in less imperial, more socially positive directions”.

AUS welcomes breastfeeding action
AUS national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery, has welcomed the National Strategic Plan of Action for Breastfeeding launched last week, especially in view of the increasing numbers of mothers returning to paid work following parental leave.
This, she says, is an issue for many women staff at universities who, as a socio-economic group, constitute a high proportion of New Zealand women resuming their employment following the birth of a child. In fact, Dr Montgomery points out, one of the key concerns identified in the AUS project at Auckland University on women staff returning to work was the need for support for breastfeeding in the workplace, both in terms of providing a positive environment and appropriate facilities.
“This can only result in a win-win situation for both the employer and employee,” she says. “The university does not lose the valuable skills and institutional knowledge of women staff, nursing mothers are able to have an unfettered choice about whether they wish to breastfeed their child or not, and working women do not have to undergo the economic disadvantage of extending their parental leave without pay or resigning in order to opt for something which is widely acknowledged as being of benefit to both mother and child.”
The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has also welcomed the package of reforms of which the breastfeeding plan forms part. CTU secretary, Carol Beaumont, said, “Breastfeeding mums need to feel confident that workplaces have policies in place and a culture that supports them and their babies in the workplace. Some employers have recognised the need for this, and a guaranteed work right will help ensure this is more accessible.”
“These provisions build on steady progress to improve the lives of working people, including better annual leave provisions, fourteen weeks’ paid parental leave, the right to request flexible work, and a $12 minimum wage coming into effect next week,” Ms Beaumont added.

TEC funding for innovation
The Tertiary Education Commission has announced the awarding of a total of $18.8 million to twenty-nine diverse projects from the Encouraging and Supporting Innovation fund. Announcing the funding on Tuesday, TEC chief executive, Janice Shiner, emphasised the importance of the fund to New Zealand’s economic transformation and ongoing social and cultural development: “We need to find more advanced and sustainable ways of doing things to ensure New Zealand continues to prosper in the increasingly competitive global marketplace,” she said.
“Our tertiary sector has a key role to play in this. The Encouraging and Supporting Innovation fund supports tertiary-education organisations to undertake new projects that will improve the transfer of knowledge between the tertiary sector and industry and encourage students to study at higher levels.”
As indicated by the number of successful applications with joint partners, the fund is intended to focus on collaborative projects in the hope that they will then yield the greatest gains for industry, students, and the wider community. To be awarded funding, therefore, projects must be new initiatives with strongly innovative elements.
Successful projects include: Te Ipukarea: National Maori Language Institute, $1,400,000 to AUT with Lincoln University; a knowledge hub to aid engagement between the manufacturing sector and universities to promote more targeted and responsible partnerships, $594, 871 to Massey University with AUT and NZ Trade and Enterprise; Nga Tamariki o Awatoru, $1,500,000 to Te Wānanga o Aotearoa with the business school of the University of Auckland and Unitec; increasing postgraduate study and research relevant to the seafood sector, $200,000 to the University of Canterbury with the University of Otago; establishment funding for the New Zealand Centre for the Study of Islam and Muslim Cultures, $364,871 to the University of Otago with Victoria University of Wellington; and engaging with China, $325,000 to Victoria University with the Universities of Auckland, Otago, and Canterbury.

Unit-standard degree knocked back
A controversial application to register a degree composed of unit standards has been turned down, according to Education Review. Instead, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is said to have insisted on a course-approval process different from that required for other programmes registered on the national qualifications framework (NQF).
The Extractives Industry Association (Exito) made the application in 2007, proposing a degree comprising existing unit standards at levels four to six of the NQF and new level seven standards based on courses offered by the University of Queensland. After consultation, the NZQA is said to have agreed that degrees could be registered on the framework, but would require an application for course approval, an application for approval to offer the degree, and an application for NZQA consent to grant the degree.
Education Review quotes NZQA deputy chief executive, quality assurance, Mike Willing, as saying that a degree provider would also have to satisfy the requirements for degrees set out in the Education Act, including having infrastructures that meet its criteria. “An NFQ degree would have to meet the same quality standards that apply to all degree applications irrespective of whether the application is a national degree or not.”
“The statutory requirements mean such applications need to demonstrate that the degree constitutes a course of advanced learning, that degree teaching is underpinned by research capability, and the degree course emphasises the general principles and basic knowledge for self-directed learning and work,” he added.
Exito chief executive Kevin Walker is quoted as saying that his organisation would seek more information about the degree-approval process but that it is possible it would abandon its application because the process would be too involved and expensive.

World Watch
Financial strains in South Africa
Fee increases and the lack of student funding at tertiary-education institutions are placing severe strain on disadvantaged students and funding-support schemes, according to South African education minister, Naledi Pandor. “There is a tension between the legitimate belief that charging higher fees is a reasonable way of raising university income and the certain knowledge that charging fees will deter qualified students from disadvantaged backgrounds from going to university,” she said.
Ms Pandor added that the spate of student protests at various higher-education institutions in South Africa in 2008 and earlier is proof that poor students felt an enormous strain in keeping up with the increasing costs of tertiary education.
She went on to say that government funding accounted for 49 percent of the total income of universities and student fees for only 24 percent in 2000. By 2005, however, the share of government funding had fallen to 41 percent and the contribution from student fees had risen to 29 percent. The effect is that fee-costs per student had risen at rates well above inflation, meaning that a balance has to be achieved.
“In 2007, the total subsidy was $NZ189.2 million. In 2008, it is $2197.5 million and in 2010 it will be $2794.1 million. Increasing funds for higher education will allow most university managements to balance costs so that tuition-fee levels are not set out of the reach of the majority of students or parents.”
She concluded that, while it is important to acknowledge the private sector’s contribution to student funding, especially through scholarships and commercial bank loans, there is scope to examine the extension of bank loans to students who fall outside the reach of the student financial-aid scheme.
From The Mercury

“Education passports” on the way
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) is believed to be the first in the Asia-Pacific region to introduce “education passports”, a key feature of the Bologna process for harmonising higher education, when it presents them to about 500 students at a graduation ceremony later this month.
UNSW deputy vice-chancellor (academic), Richard Henry, said the passports would “make it much easier for our graduates to find places in the world and in universities around the world”. It will accompany the traditional degree and, as well as detailing the academic performance of undergraduate, masters or PhD students, it will verify key graduate attributes such as leadership, teamwork, and communications activities.
UNSW is one of fourteen universities preparing a template for graduate statements compliant with the European standard and the results will be presented to the federal government for national take-up. According to the project leader, Professor Grant Harman of the University of New England, “The feedback from the fourteen vice-chancellors involved in the project is they are keen on these statements in terms of improving their international competitiveness.”
He added that the statements would be a benefit to overseas students and their host Australian universities. Unlike an academic transcript, a statement would verify that a graduate had satisfied the professional accreditation requirements for entry into a profession such as accounting or engineering in Australia.
Professor Harman said the statements were originally intended to shore up the attractiveness of Australian degrees overseas, especially Asia, but they were also likely to help young Australian masters’ students do higher degrees in the United States.
Since the statements included an explanation of the academic rigour and quality assurance of Australian higher education, United States institutions, notwithstanding their being outside the Bologna process, are expected to waive key barriers for Australians whose statements testified to their high performance.
From The Australian

Marking as easy as ABC
Computer software that is claimed to make marking students’ work up to ten times faster will be offered to the university sector after its University of Manchester creators secured an investment of $NZ589,000 from the private sector.
While software for marking multiple-choice questions is common at many universities, Manchester spin-off company Assessment21’s product, ABC (Assess By Computer), is designed to handle the marking of more complex, open-ended questions testing higher-level skills. It does this by leaving marking judgments to academics while the machine “takes away the drudgery” of the process, says the company’s director, Gerard Lennox.
The software has been developed by academics and is being used in many departments of the university, both for final-year exams and coursework. Students sit their exam at a computer and receive feedback electronically. The software can highlight key words in students’ answers, allows easy comparison against a model answer, lets academics mark questions in their preferred order, and flags up answers that are similar.
It also helps to ensure marking consistency through automatic double-blind marking, with several papers going to every marker for comparison, its developers say. “The spark of genius behind this is that it looks at what can be taken away so that the marker can concentrate on what the marker is good at,” Mr Lennox said.
Elizabeth Sheader, a teaching fellow in Manchester’s faculty of life sciences, has used ABC for assessment of first-year practicals. “It reduces the logistics of marking. Rather than having to carry around 500 scripts, you can have it all on a USB pen. It can also help detect plagiarism because it can order students’ responses in similarity to each other so you can see if there is any collusion going on,” she said.
From Times Higher Education

Watch out for the “Flutie effect”
It turns out that there is some basis for the long-held belief among university admissions officials that the better their teams do in high-profile sporting events, the more applications for enrolment they will see. Until recently, evidence about the “Flutie effect”, coined when applications to Boston College jumped about 30 percent in the two years after quarterback Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary pass beat Miami in 1984, had been mostly anecdotal.
So two researchers set out to quantify it, concluding after a broad study that winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) football or men’s basketball title results in an increase in enrolments of about 8 percent, with smaller increases for more modest successes. “Certainly college administrators have known about this for a while, but I think this study helps to pin down what the average effects are,” said Jaren Pope, an assistant professor in applied economics at Virginia Tech who conducted the study with his brother Devin, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
The brothers compared information on freshman classes at 330 NCAA Division I schools with how the schools’ teams fared from 1983 through 2002. They found that schools that make it to the Sweet 16 in the men’s basketball tournament see an average 3 percent boost in applications the following year. The champion is likely to see a 7 to 8 percent increase, but just making the 65-team field will net schools an average 1 percent bump.
Similarly, applications go up 7 to 8 percent at schools that win the national football championship, and schools that finish in the top 20 have a 2.5 percent gain.
There has been wide debate over the legitimacy of the Flutie effect, especially when it comes to whether schools should pour money into athletics programs with the hope of reaping the benefits of a winning team.
From Associated Press

More international news
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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: Direct inquiries should be made to the editor, email:

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