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AUS Tertiary Update

Universities of technology unnecessary, confusing
Parliament’s education and science select committee has been warned that any move to establish a new category of university, a university of technology, will further confuse an already highly differentiated tertiary-education system and exacerbate the problems of the existing two-tier structure around the research capacity of institutions.
In a joint submission, the Association of University Staff and Association of Staff in Tertiary Education have also told the select committee that the tertiary-education reforms have provided a plan that addresses the distinctive contributions made by the different types of institutions to the sector and that what are being described as the particular functions of a university of technology are already well catered-for by institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs).
The submission emphasises that ITPs have a vital contribution to make to New Zealand’s society and economy, particularly in the provision of vocational and professional education and supporting research and in meeting the educational and training needs of regional communities. It argues further that the focus should be on ensuring that all public tertiary-education institutions are fully funded to undertake work that accords with their stated distinctive contributions.
The submission is in response to a bill sponsored by New Zealand First and currently being considered by parliament that would establish universities of technology. The move has previously been described as a thinly veiled attempt to give Auckland tertiary-education provider, Unitec, university status after it failed in its prolonged bid to be awarded full university status.
AUS national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery, said that the existing range of tertiary-education institutions already has sufficient overlap to provide all of the teaching, learning, and research requirements needed, and the creation of another type of institution runs the risk of forcing or encouraging the ITP sector to over-focus on securing degree and postgraduate provision in order to gain university of technology status. “Experience had shown that this would be at the expense of crucial sub-degree programmes and would result in a loss of differentiation as different types of institutions compete to offer the same levels and types of programmes,” she said.
Dr Montgomery added that the new funding system for tertiary education is configured on a strategic approach to the sector and the creation of a new type of university would contradict the recently introduced tertiary-education reforms.

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Serious concerns over composition of PBRF review group
2. Glacial progress for academic women
3. Leave film studies alone, urges NZUSA
4. “$1.7 million blowout” questioned
5. New battlefield in Australia’s culture wars
6. No PhD, no job in Nigeria
7. Luxury library loos launched at Leicester

Serious concerns over composition of PBRF review group
AUS has raised serious concerns about the ability of the Performance-Based Research Fund sector reference group (SRG), appointed by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), fully to represent the diversity of the tertiary-education sector. The concerns have been set out in a letter to the SRG chairperson, Professor John Hattie.
The group is meant to be constituted according to the following principles: that it represent an appropriate range of participating tertiary-education organisations (TEOs); that it have an appropriate balance in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity; that it have the knowledge and expertise necessary to provide informed, dispassionate, and reliable advice; that it represent an appropriate range of academic disciplines and research managers; that it include academic staff at different points in their careers; and that it include some members with non-academic research backgrounds.
The AUS concerns centre on gender balance, with ten men and four women appointed; representation of Māori, with, apparently, only one member; the total lack of Pasifika representation; and the fact that the group seems weighted towards senior-management-level representatives and is lacking in “academic staff at different points in their careers”.
AUS recognises that it is challenging to bring together a group that is fully representative but believes that the present composition limits its ability to represent the issues and interests of staff in the sector.
AUS national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery, said today, “The TEC set itself laudable principles for the composition of the SRG to take account of the diversity of participants needed for this review of the PBRF. It is to be regretted, however, that the principles could not be met from the nominations that were put forward by the TEOs as this will undoubtedly have an impact on the discussions and shape the recommendations of the group.”
“Given the somewhat predictable difficulty of honouring the principles, perhaps some thought needed to go into how the difficulty could be overcome through asking each of the TEOs to make several nominations in an identified range of categories enabling the TEC, then, to ensure adequate representation.”

Glacial progress for academic women
Although the number of women holding senior academic positions in New Zealand universities has increased in the last year, progress toward equity is still glacial, according to AUS national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery. Her comment came in response to this week’s release by the Human Rights Commission of the New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation 2008, which revealed that women held just under 20 percent of senior academic position in New Zealand universities in 2007, up by 2.28 percent from the previous year.
Despite the fact that women make up nearly half the academic workforce in universities, they remain clustered in the lower academic rankings. The proportion of women professors is only 15.1 percent and that of women associate professors 23.19 percent. Six universities improved their proportion of women in senior academic positions while two, AUT and Massey, lost ground.
Dr Montgomery said that, while there is no quick fix in increasing the proportion of women employed in senior academic positions, New Zealand universities could look to Australia, where that country’s vice-chancellors had undertaken some solid initiatives towards improving the under-representation of women in senior academia. “What is needed in this country is a sophisticated and multi-faceted approach to promoting equity,” she said. “We need to examine both structural and cultural barriers, and it would be a welcome sign if New Zealand vice-chancellors were to demonstrate the same level of collective commitment to reducing such barriers as their Australian counterparts are doing.”
The proportion of women filling ministerial appointments on university councils ranged from 75 percent (or three out of four positions) at AUT to none out of four at the University of Waikato.

Leave film studies alone, urges NZUSA
The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations has added its voice to the voluminous chorus of opposition to Victoria University’s proposed changes to its film studies programme. The change proposal 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.
In a written submission opposing the proposal, NZUSA expresses puzzlement and concern that such an internationally successful programme should be under threat and rejects, in both principle and fact, a number of justifications put forward by the university. In particular, the submission draws attention to the need to combine theory and practice in film studies and the fact that it is precisely this combination at undergraduate level that has attracted students to Victoria, both from around New Zealand and around the world. If the proposal should go ahead, it argues, hundreds of students will be negatively affected because the programme for which they originally signed up would no longer exist.
Noting that the Tertiary Education Commission specifically identifies students as the most important stakeholder group in tertiary education, the submission is scathing about the lack of consultation with students as well as others in the development of the proposal. Urging the rejection of the change proposal on the grounds of both principle and process, NZUSA additionally demands that a representative of the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association be added to the decision panel considering its fate.
In other developments, it is understood that the proposal has been opposed almost unanimously at both the faculty of humanities and social sciences board and the university’s academic board and has been rejected by both bodies.

“$1.7 million blowout” questioned
As many as twenty-four jobs could be lost at Victoria University’s faculty of education according to a report in the Dominion Post and the faculty’s four schools, which train teachers at early-childhood and school level, may be reduced to three while more focus is given to research. The job losses are said to result from what the paper describes as a “$1.7 million budget blowout” caused by a 16 percent increase in student enrolments in expensive courses in one school while another has staffing levels in excess of budget.
According to the faculty pro vice-chancellor and dean, Professor Dugald Scott, these circumstances have been exacerbated by competitive pressures caused by recent significant but welcome increases in teacher salaries. Addressing the university’s governing council this week, Professor Scott celebrated the success of the former college of education’s merger with the university but emphasised the importance of paying more attention to research in the future. He blamed the proposed restructuring on the government’s tertiary-education reforms, saying that the switch from student numbers as a funding basis to quality and relevance places new, research-related demands on tertiary institutions.
The Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE) has expressed surprise that the pro vice-chancellor seems to have pre-empted the agreed process of investigation and consultation over possible job losses. ASTE field officer Phil Dodds said, “We are disappointed that Professor Scott has gone public with highly speculative numbers before consultation has occurred. The $1.7 million figure quoted is probably too high and he is remiss in publicising even a guesstimate at this stage.”
Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association president and university council member, Joel Cosgrove, related this restructuring to that in the film studies programme. “It’s the same sort of short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction,” he said. Professor Scott, however, rejected any such connection.

World Watch
New battlefield in Australia’s culture wars
Australia’s Young Liberals, undeterred, or perhaps energised, by their party’s defeat in last year’s federal election, have opened a new front in the culture wars that were so much a part of the years of the Howard coalition government. Whereas previously the Young Liberals have taken little or no interest in academic issues, they have started a new campaign, “Education Not Indoctrination”, intended to root out “left-wing bias” in academe.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a flood of black posters has suddenly appeared on university campuses featuring a gagged and wide-eyed youth staring out of a top corner. “Record biased lecturers,” they “scream”, to borrow the Herald’s word. “Scan biased textbooks. Report incidents of bias. Education. Not Indoctrination.”
Noel McCoy, president of the Young Liberals, is quoted as saying, “Lecturers and tutors are brazenly forcing students to agree with their political or ideological views and we want to catch them doing it.” While he claims that the campaign is simply a local response to longstanding concerns, the paper sees it as “a sinister echo to one waged by conservative students on the other side of the world”. It cites a variety of organisations in the United States of America and “right-wing intellectual” David Horowitz as the sources of the inspiration for the campaign.
Carolyn Allport, national president of Australia’s National Tertiary Education Union, dismisses the accusations as “nonsense”. “This comes from the United States, directly,” she said. “If a student isn’t happy with a grade they have been given … every single university, within their act, has student grievance procedures and students can contest their grades.”
New South Wales Greens education spokesperson, John Kaye, goes further and links the campaign to 1950s McCarthyism. “It is clear that the Young Liberals have no understanding of the culture of open inquiry and free discourse,” he said.

No PhD, no job in Nigeria
Public and private universities in Nigeria have recently been reminded that, by 2009, all lecturers must possess a doctoral degree or lose their jobs. The directive has generated a great deal of controversy within and outside higher education. Both supporters and opponents of the idea are unanimous, however, about one thing: to prevent instability and uncertainty in the fragile university system, the qualifications deadline should be extended to allow affected academics to obtain their PhDs.
The executive secretary of Nigeria’s National Universities Commission, Professor Julius Okojie, has directed, “If you don’t have a PhD, you cannot teach. It has been an old regulation in the university system. If you graduate with a first class or second class upper, we take you as a graduate assistant. You are a trainee fellow. You are not a lecturer. When you earn your masters, you become an assistant lecturer. You are still not a lecturer. The day you obtain your PhD, even if you have never worked before, your first appointment is lecturer grade two.”
Critics argue that, in Nigeria, postgraduate programmes were undermined to the point of collapse by the deliberate policy of the military junta that ruled the country to deny the university system adequate funding. Dr Benedicta Okon, a lecturer at the Niger Delta University, explained, “Since the generals considered university teachers and students as real centres of opposition to perpetual military rule, there was a consistent policy to reduce drastically the amount of money meant for universities. Professors in charge of postgraduate programmes migrated in their droves to greener pastures abroad.”
“Today, about a third of university teachers in Nigeria do not have doctorate degrees,” he added. “With improvements in the working and living conditions of lecturers with PhDs, they will be in a position to train their colleagues with masters’ degrees.”
From University World News

Luxury library loos launched at Leicester
Leicester University in the United Kingdom has stolen a march on other aspirational institutions in that country. Its new £32m library, opened this week, has the most amazing loos, with yellow trough-shaped sinks, automatic taps, and efficient dryers. So enthusiastic are the students that they have established the Leicester University Library Toilets Appreciation Society on Facebook, where they wax lyrical about the beauty of the new lavatories.
“If these toilets were a bird, they would be an eagle as they soar above the rest of the competition,” reads one comment. “If these toilets were a metal they would be gold. If these toilets were a footballer, they would be Pele.” And so on.
Louise Jones, director of library services at the university, is pleased that the loos have won the students’ approval, but is hoping that they will also appreciate other aspects of the new building, particularly its black leather chairs and sofas, its 350-terminal PC zone, and its thirteen group-study rooms with plasma screens. “We are a quality university,” she says. “We want a quality library.”
Leicester has always been famous for its library. Until now, its main claim to fame was that poet Philip Larkin was an assistant librarian from 1949 to 1951. The new development, called the David Wilson Library after a local businessman who donated £2 million, is effectively a makeover of the existing building with an extension which doubles it in size. Big holes have been knocked in the roof to bring in the light, walls have been clad in light cherry wood, and there are four new atria adorned with hanging sculptures.
The building contains a cafe and a bookshop as well as careers and student-development centres. There will be a help zone in which IT and library support staff, clad in distinctive polo shirts, will roam, assisting students who can’t find a book or have computer trouble.
From The Independent

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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