AUS Tertiary Update
Auckland vice-chancellor breaches good faith, natural
In a further blow to the credibility of the University of Auckland’s human-relations practices, its vice-chancellor has been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority to reinstate a lecturer with immediate effect. In addition, the university has also been ordered to pay him $25,000 compensation after the authority held that he had been unjustifiably dismissed.
In its decision, the authority said that the vice-chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, had failed to act in good faith towards the lecturer, Dr Rangihiroa Panoho, when dismissing him on the basis of redundancy. The decision also said that the vice-chancellor had failed to act as a good employer and that Dr Panoho was treated neither fairly nor sensitively.
The university had declared Dr Panoho, a specialist in Māori and Pacific art history, redundant in early 2007 as part of an exercise in which two positions were disestablished. In its decision, the authority held that it did not accept that Dr Panoho’s position was superfluous and added that the University of Auckland is situated in the largest Polynesian city in the world.
The authority said that, in selecting Dr Panoho to be made redundant, it was “obvious” the selection committee was “materially influenced” by an adverse conclusion it had drawn about Dr Panoho but that it had not permitted him an opportunity to be heard in relation to those adverse views. “It was a breach of the statutory duty of good faith and a fundamental breach of natural justice for the selection committee to have reached its conclusions without ever having sought Dr Panoho’s comments, input or response,” the decision reads.
Association of University Staff deputy secretary, Marty Braithwaite, said that the finding of unjustified dismissal, the second at Auckland this year, is indicative of poor employment-relations practices. “It is also of major concern that the authority concluded that the vice-chancellor’s witnesses were ‘unhelpful, if not deliberately vague’ in their recall of important matters before the authority,” he said. “This is unacceptable anywhere, but particularly so in a publicly funded tertiary-education institution.”
A statement from the University of Auckland’s communication and marketing department says, in its entirety, “We disagree with elements of the decision and are considering whether to appeal to the Employment Court.”
Dr Panoho is reported in the NZ Herald to be happy with the finding. “In life you have got to be able to celebrate some victories, so we have to feel like we are celebrating something at this point,” he is quoted as saying. “It’s been pretty bleak – it’s been very, very hard to get through this.”
Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Hour of the Dead at Canterbury
2. Skills strategy for economic transformation
3. OIA request reveals PTE funding
4. “Phishing” scam hits South Island
5. Massey’s “page-three girl” gone by lunchtime
6. The University of Dreams
7. Saudi funding causes Queensland furore
8. School of hard knocks
9. Divorced and down the road
10. Australia’s YouTube university
Hour of the Dead at
Ceremonial executions and amputations were carried out at the University of Canterbury yesterday to symbolise the absurdity of mutilating the university in order to save it, the most recent example being the plan to decimate the college of arts through the culling of thirteen jobs. The motivation for carrying out the barbaric acts was to raise funds for the perpetually cash-strapped university.
The Hour of the Dead event was held on the central library steps with, as the main attraction, a life-sized guillotine carrying out ceremonial executions. Some hundreds of staff and students were invited to pay to have body parts removed by professional executioners, with the proceeds being donated to the university to stave off the axing of jobs. The meat was recycled as free sausages for the crowd.
Suggested donations were $50 for a foot or hand and $20 for a head. “Heads were cheaper,” according to AUS Canterbury branch president, Professor Jack Heinemann, “because then we save on salaries too.”
Professor Heinemann says that students and staff have vowed to continue the fight against the cuts to the college of arts. “University management will argue that this change is financially necessary and that overall it will have a limited impact on students and staff,” he said. “We believe instead that this is a symptom of skewed priorities that are not being adequately reviewed by academic board and the council.”
Skills strategy for
A New Zealand Skills Strategy discussion paper has been launched this week by the government, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU), Business New Zealand, and the Industry Training Federation. The draft strategy is said by tertiary-education minister Pete Hodgson to be aimed at providing “a platform for the kind of coordinated action that is going to be needed to respond in the short term to deepening skill and labour shortages that exist across the whole of the economy”.
Welcoming the consultation, NZCTU secretary Carol Beaumont identified increasing workers’ skills as being at the heart of economic transformation. “Our commitment to the skills strategy stems from an overall goal we have of improving the quality of work.”
She suggested that the workplace of the future should be high-wage and high-value, highly skilled, fair and respectful, well-networked, and healthy, safe, and sustainable. “The workplace of the future must be an organisation focused on lifelong learning for workers. A national discussion about how to build the skills of the entire workforce is something we are very pleased to be part of,” she added.
Although also welcoming the strategy, The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (NZVCC) expressed concern at an exclusive policy focus on study at levels one to four of the National Qualifications Framework and called for a broadening of the strategy discourse. “The major policy emphasis for university education in recent years has been research performance, leaving university undergraduate teaching neglected in the face of continual decline in per-student funding,” NZVCC chair, Professor Roger Field, said.
Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand (ITPNZ) looked forward to fleshing out the detail of a good strategy document. Its executive director, Dave Guerin, warned that, “Meeting skill needs will require developments by ITPs, but may also require adjustments to government policy settings. More flexibility around short awards and providing firm-specific training would help ITPs to support skill needs.”
request reveals PTE funding
What are believed to be the first-ever publicly released figures on government funding to private training establishments (PTEs) have appeared as a result of an Official Information Act request by Education Review. The figures reveal that the highest-funded PTE is the Salvation Army at $9.79 million, closely followed by Trade and Commerce Ltd at $8.79 million. Both will draw their funding entirely from such sources as the Training Opportunities Fund rather than the Student Achievement Component (SAC), which subsidises such providers as universities and polytechnics.
In terms of SAC funding, the figures show that a mere twenty-five of more than 800 PTEs take nearly half of the SAC’s $132 million ring-fenced for the private sector. Two of them, Best Training and Natcoll Design Technology, will receive respectively $5.74 and $4.5 million.
The funding figures were provided in the context of the Tertiary Education Commission’s (TEC) evaluations of PTEs’ investment plans. In return for funding, PTEs have been required to improve their understanding of stakeholder needs, collaborate with other providers, improve their performance, increase Māori and Pasifika participation and achievement, and develop an understanding of their contribution to the wider network of tertiary-education provision.
Association of Staff in Tertiary Education national secretary, Sharn Riggs, welcomed the new availability of information on funding but questioned why it had been so long in coming. “While we recognise that PTEs have a niche role to play in filling gaps in some specialised areas, they receive public money and therefore should be required to be as accountable and transparent as the public institutions. It seems remarkable to us that it required an OIA request to get this information into the public domain”. She went on to say that, while it is important that the TEC applies the same standards to PTEs as it does to public institutions, public funding should go to public institutions.
“Phishing” scam hits South
The Press reports that all three South Island universities have been attacked in what it refers to as a “spear phish” campaign intended to gain access to staff and student login details. Over the last month, it reports, Canterbury, Lincoln, and Otago universities have experienced problems with “phishers” targeting email addresses.
The emails have the appearance of coming from internal university information technology support teams and ask recipients to reconfirm login details and passwords. Those who comply can have their accounts accessed and used to send out still more phishing attempts.
Initially preying on North American and European universities and, later, Australian ones, the phishers have only recently struck in New Zealand. The Press reports that some Otago users have experienced identity loss, in one case resulting in a senior postgraduate student’s username and password appearing on a web page and providing access to the university’s online library resources.
In another, a staff member received a pop-up stating that pornography had been found on the computer and offering to clean it up. Apparently, a positive response would have installed a keylogger, a trojan monitoring and storing keyboard information, in the machine.
A University of Otago newsletter has warned users that the resulting information is periodically “sent off to a remote site that has been set up as a collection point and from there it is either sold off to another party or used to gain inappropriate access to systems or services”.
The University of Canterbury reports that staff have recently received an email requesting password details and a Lincoln University service desk team leader reports similar incidents there.
The Press does not enter into speculation as to why only South Island universities appear to have been targeted.
Massey’s “page-three girl” gone by
In what must be one the most banal news features emanating from a university this year, Massey has trumpeted the success of one of its students in finishing third in the Miss Universe New Zealand beauty pageant this month after being first runner-up in last year’s Miss Manawatu contest.
The story, as originally featured on the university’s website, was illustrated with a photo of the sultry, bikini-clad bachelor of science graduate in human nutrition kneeling in the surf, posed, in the ultimate cliché, against the setting sun.
By lunchtime on the day of publication, however, the provocative pose had gone, instead leaving a more restrained one, a head-and-shoulders-only shot of what appears to be a more demurely disposed woman.
A concerned Massey staff member said the reporting of such news befitted the worst of British tabloid journalism and raised questions about whether Massey had completely lost sight of the nature and mission of a university. “Staff will not only be wondering why public funding is being wasted on such drivel,” he said. “But that it is made worse when, instead of completely pulling such an inane story, all Massey has done is to delete the photo.”
The University of Dreams
One of England’s newest universities, Buckinghamshire New University, is now offering a retail-management foundation degree in collaboration with the bed company Dreams. While there is, of course, nothing wrong with learning how to sell furniture, there is plenty that is wrong with re-branding a company training scheme and promoting it as a university course, according to Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent.
He argues that government plans for universities to supply skills demanded by business and commerce are not about providing high-quality vocational education but about accrediting employment training. “The likely outcome will be to blur the distinction between education and training and to lose sight of the purpose of what a university does,” he claims.
However, says Professor Furedi, Buckinghamshire’s offering a degree in retail management with Dreams resonates with official thinking in the United Kingdom. Recently the universities minister, John Denham, noted that universities will have to change since students in the future “will be studying for something that is directly relevant to their job or to their next career move”. He also announced that employers will co-fund around 30,000 new university places.
“Some cynics claim the aim of is simply to get business to cough up funds for higher education. Others, such as Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, have raised concerns about the danger of giving business too much influence over the delivery of higher education. But there is a far more fundamental problem,” argues Professor Furedi.
“Most of the new places are likely to go to employees of companies rather than to teenagers embarking on their university education. The project is justified on the ground that these flexible degrees can provide qualifications for a large pool of people and therefore contribute to the widening of access and participation among older people.”
From the Guardian
Saudi funding causes
A Queensland academic at the heart of a funding controversy has defended a decision to accept $100,000 from the Saudi Arabian Government to help finance Islamic studies. Griffith University’s Mohamad Abdalla said that the money for the Griffith Islamic research unit he leads had come with no strings attached, had been acquired openly, and there was nothing wrong with it.
He conceded, however, that a furore over a separate tranche of funding he sought, a total of $NZ1.6 million, had given him pause for thought. Were the Saudis to approve the money, he said, he would recommend the university not accept it. “I would say no, don't take the money.”
Dismissing as farcical the idea that accepting money from the Saudi Government could compromise the unit, he would not rule out accepting further funds from the same source at a later time, when the furore had died down. “If they offer it I will consider it,” said Dr Abdalla.
Debate rose over the funding when The Australian revealed that the Saudis had been offered some discretion over how the money would be spent and had also been offered anonymity over the donation. When Griffith vice-chancellor Ian O’Connor defended the university’s pursuit of Saudi funding in an opinion article, he came under fire for using Wikipedia as a main source and for his confused interpretation of Islam.
Under fire for the propriety of his actions, Dr Abdalla was also forced to deny he was the Brisbane leader of the contentious Tablighi Jamaat movement, as had been reported. Although sympathetic to its ideals and acknowledging the group was represented at the Kuraby mosque, where he was a leader, he was not one of its leaders, he said.
From The Australian
School of hard knocks
A fifteen-year-old boy sticks his foot out in the classroom as the lecturer walks past; she falls and injures her back. A slightly older youth forcefully shoves his teacher backwards because she is telling him that he must report to a senior manager for persistent lateness. A lecturer is threatened with a punching for pointing out to an adult student that he is not allowed to smoke on a staircase. All three incidents occurred recently in further-education colleges in Britain.
According to a staff-satisfaction survey just published by the University and College Union (UCU), one in twelve lecturers has been physically abused by a student. Roughly 40 percent said they felt physically threatened by those they were teaching.
Senior officials at the union were taken aback by these statistics. UCU branch representatives and others working at college level, however, were less surprised. “UCU takes a proactive approach to combat offensive behaviour wherever it comes from,” says the general secretary, Sally Hunt, “and also to ensure that staff know how to deal with problems that may arise.”
But in its response to violence by students against staff, UCU has apparently yet to follow the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). Two years ago, a group of lecturers voted to refuse to teach a student they said was excessively disruptive, according to Chris Wilson, the UCU national officer.
As a result, the student was taught separately. Such votes are a regular occurrence in schools,” says Wilson. “In colleges, it’s a new phenomenon. The cohort of students we teach has changed and that brings real challenges.”
The ATL pins an increase in discipline problems on the recent influx of fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds into colleges, many on the government’s “increased flexibility” programme. The thesis enjoys support among the grassroots membership of both unions, who feel that teaching staff require extra training to respond to the problems.
Divorced and down the road
At many United States universities, Kent Gramm’s divorce from his wife of thirty years would be a private matter known only to friends and close colleagues. At Wheaton College in Illinois, however, the end of his marriage has cost him his job as an English professor and sparked a debate about whether divorce should disqualify an academic from teaching.
An evangelical institution, the college has a statement that covers belief in the Trinity, the inerrancy of scripture, and original sin. The document also deals with doctrinal specifics such as the existence of Satan, how God created Adam and Eve, and the virgin birth.
Though the college has sometimes hired or retained employees whose marriages have ended, officials say those employees must talk to a staff member to determine whether the divorce meets biblical standards. Gramm told administrators about his divorce but declined to discuss the details.
“I think it’s wrong to have to discuss your personal life with your employer,” he said. “And I also don’t want to be in a position of accusing my spouse, so I declined to appeal or discuss the matter in any way with my employer.”
Officials say they were willing to allow Professor Gramm, who has been at the college for twenty years, to remain for another year as he sought work, but he declined.
The issue has become the talk of the campus, covered in the newspaper, circulated in a pro-Gramm petition, and debated on a Facebook site. The matter has gained attention, in part, because Professor Gramm is a popular teacher according to the editor of the local paper.
From the Chicago Tribune and the Chronicle of Higher Education
Australia’s YouTube university
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney has become the first Australian university to officially launch a channel on YouTube. Among the first three universities in the world to link with YouTube, the UNSW channel has become one of the most watched local online sites, scoring more hits than television competitors such as Channel Ten, Beat TV and SkyNewsShowbiz.
Executive producer of UNSWTV, Mary O’Malley, said the presence on YouTube had attracted more than 30,000 channel views, ranking it as one of the most popular local sites on the video-sharing website, according to the latest calculations. It now routinely ranks among the most viewed in Australia each day and each week.
“This is a vehicle for communicating research and selected teaching material and is part of an overall strategy of publishing content where it can be most easily accessed,” Ms O’Malley said.
She went on to say that the university had added two further services: a community channel and an eLearning channel. These are designed to host learning and teaching material as well as student-generated content so students could communicate with each other, articulating their ideas and experiences.
Recent videos from the channels were uploaded to China’s number-one education site, Tigtag, which has 1.5 million page impressions per day, and were featured on Pakistan’s premier education website Ilmkidunya.
“Video has become a mainstream form of communication and we can no longer afford to ignore the potential offered by rich media,” Ms O'Malley said. “It is an excellent way for us to communicate with an international audience and potential students and researchers.”
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