AUS Tertiary Update
University bargaining gets under way
This year’s university collective employment agreement negotiations get under way between university employers and unions on Tuesday 17 June with a preliminary meeting to agree on a bargaining process, set further dates, and introduce union claims. Substantive negotiations on the claims will go ahead in a series of meetings in July.
Advocacy will be led by Association of University Staff deputy secretary Marty Braithwaite with Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE) national secretary Sharn Riggs and Public Service Association (PSA) organiser Keith McFadyen and the remainder of the bargaining team will comprise seven representatives from AUS, three from ASTE, and three from the PSA. Other university unions have delegated authority to the participating unions.
The government has contributed the sum of $15 million to be applied specifically to university salaries but its exact distribution has still to be computed. Until that is done, there will be no specific salary claim, although it is likely to be calculated on a flat-dollar basis to give a boost to the salaries of the lower paid as well as going some way towards reducing the disparities among university salary levels.
Also significant is a claim for the development of a new national salary scale for general staff which would allow for progression unhindered by merit bars. It is intended that placement on such a salary scale would be informed by an equitable job-evaluation process with pay and employment equity reviews sought to be conducted at all universities during 2009. General staff are also seeking the removal of bars on eligibility for overtime payment and amendment of time-in-lieu provisions to allow for pay-out of accrued time at overtime rates where it cannot be taken.
Other claims include recognition of tikanga Māori and te reo Māori skills, the extension of the 37.5-hour week to workers such as maintenance staff and cleaners, a standard provision for twenty-five days’ annual leave and five days’ university holidays, and a host of others. In response to membership concerns about freeloading, agreement will be sought to hold a bargaining-fee ballot which could see non-members paying a bargaining fee to the unions. The full log of claims is available on the AUS website.
As this issue of Tertiary Update goes to press, the Universities Tripartite Forum, comprising unions, vice-chancellors, and government, is meeting to discuss the Tertiary Education Commission report, New Zealand universities of the future, the contents of which were summarised in our 22 May issue.
Tertiary Update this week
1. Health-research funding recognises university role
2. ASTE and ITPs seek government salary boost
3. Migrants to replace “missing” men?
4. Samoan youth doing well
5. Radical proposals for Australian universities
6. A fixed term fixed
7. An academic licence to roam
8. Star rankings for academics
Health-research funding recognises university
The Health Research Council (HRC) has announced funding of $63 million for 57 health-research contracts, with more than 80 percent of the money going to Auckland and Otago universities. Contracts totalling $9 million were also awarded to researchers at Massey and the Auckland University of Technology, with smaller amounts going to research staff at Victoria and Waikato. In all, 52 of the 57 contracts, most of them of three years’ duration, went to university researchers.
The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (NZVCC), describing itself as “the peak body for the country’s eight universities”, has expressed appreciation of the HRC’s support for the many talented medical researchers working in the university system, according to NZVCC chair, Professor Roger Field. In what appears to be an indirect reference to the role of crown research institutes, he has also suggested that the amount of funding devoted to universities emphasises their importance as the principal providers of research in New Zealand.
A University of Otago biochemistry team headed by Dr Tony Merriman has received $3.43 million for a programme that uses new gene-based technologies to analyse several common disorders found in New Zealand.
University of Auckland department of paediatrics staff member, Dr Catherine Byrnes, was successful with her first HRC application, having been awarded $556,000 for her work on the antibiotic treatment of lung scarring in Māori and Pacific Island children.
Professor Neil Pearce of Massey University’s centre for public health research heads a team that will receive $2.53 million for a project to build research in occupational health in this country.
Professor Kathryn McPherson of AUT’s division of rehabilitation and occupational studies has been awarded $1.54 million for work on goals and self-regulation skills in brain injury rehabilitation.
ASTE and ITPs seek
government salary boost
Further to our recent coverage of a union and six-polytechnic working group on staff salaries, the latest edition of Education Review suggests that the institutes of technology and polytechnics sector is gearing itself up to increase government salary funding with two separate initiatives around pay rates in the sector. Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics New Zealand (ITPNZ), the story says, is working on a report comparing ITP pay rates with those prevailing in professions from which the sector draws its staff; and the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education is similarly comparing ITP pay rates with those for school teachers and those obtaining in the Australian vocational-education sector.
ASTE president Tangi Tipene has said that it is expected that the reports will be used to seek increases in government salary funding in parallel with the Association of University Staff’s universities tripartite forum initiative. While salaries had increased by between 3 and 3.37 percent last year, she said, ITPs are still having difficulty attracting young people to replace retiring staff.
“We’re not attracting young men and women because the salaries are too low. In trades, there are people who have been teaching for forty years and are ready to retire but there is nobody to take their place,” she said. “Higher salaries would enable ITPs to fulfil their role in the government’s drive to address skill shortages,” Ms Tipene added.
ITPNZ executive director Dave Guerin is quoted in Education Review as saying that his organisation is exploring whether the government’s annual inflation-linked increases are sufficient, particularly in relation to salaries. “ITPs have a concern that salaries are increasing at a rate higher than inflation, but also that our salaries are falling behind our comparator professions,” he said.
replace “missing” men?
There is a huge gender imbalance in favour of women when it comes to the holding of tertiary-education qualifications and New Zealand should be looking to immigration to correct that imbalance, particularly among teachers and doctors, according to a Victoria University researcher. The Pathways, Circuits and Crossroads conference, held in Wellington this week, heard institute of policy studies senior fellow, Dr Paul Callister, say that, while about 38 percent of New Zealand women had a tertiary education, only 28 percent of men completed university qualifications.
As a result, he said in his paper on tertiary education and “missing men”, there are insufficient numbers of men becoming teachers and doctors, and he suggested that New Zealand could look to immigration for correction and, in particular, draw on models developed in Sweden, Singapore, and even New York to help generate gender equality.
Dr Callister is the leader of a $1.7 million research project funded for three years by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FoRST) to investigate “education capital formation, employment, migration, gender, work-life balance and missing men”. The project addresses wider data quality issues as well as actual changes for both men and women in education, employment, migration, and family life.
Its premise is that a group of young men has been increasingly missing from official statistics, skewing social-policy analyses, and confronting education funders and providers with a gendered “education transition” as a result of which there is a gap in both participation and achievement between women and men, especially within Māori and Pacific populations. The project seeks to explain this transition and investigate its consequences.
The conference is an annual event organised by a group of research programmes funded by FoRST. The programme featured sessions on economic and social dimensions of migration and settlement, return migration and circulation in global and local migration systems, social inclusion and wellbeing in a more diverse society, and migration and development in the Pacific.
Another paper delivered to the Pathways, Circuits and Crossroads conference, and a particularly interesting one in view of recent media stories based on a controversial paper suggesting under-performance by Pacific Islanders in New Zealand, suggests that, in spite of discrimination against them, Samoan youth adapt well to the circumstances of this country.
Professor Colleen Ward, director of the centre for applied cross-cultural research at Victoria University, presented the results of a study, co-conducted with psychology master’s student Matthew Viliamu, to the conference this week. The study, of 250 Samoan youth, found that those in the first generation report greater life satisfaction and better school adjustment than their Māori and Pakeha peers, in spie of experiencing more discrimination.
Professor Ward said that the results reflect the “immigrant paradox” found in Asian and Hispanic groups in the United States, where first-generation migrants have better psychological and social outcomes than native-born Asians, Hispanics, and whites, despite their relative socio-economic disadvantage.
“The study also revealed that Samoan identity was strong in both first and second-generation groups, but the second-generation youth were less likely to speak Samoan, had better English language proficiency, and had a stronger New Zealand identity,” Professor Ward said.
The study’s key research questions were designed to find out how Samoan youth aged between 12 and 19 live within and between two cultures and deal with their intercultural situation, how those intercultural and adaptation processes vary over generations, and what the relationship is between how well they engage in intercultural relations and how well they adapt. Professor Ward says that the research supports policies and practices that encourage maintenance of traditional language and cultures.
Radical proposals for Australian universities
THE quality of university education in Australia is set to decline, with few staff teaching more students, a reduction in academic career opportunities, and an increasing reliance on full-fee-paying students to balance the books, according to a much-awaited discussion paper from a committee reviewing higher education in that country.
In order to correct the decline, the committee has proposed a government-supported industry restructure in a wide-ranging discussion paper that has the potential to transform post-school education more completely than any reform since the creation of the unified national system in the late 1980s.
According to the paper, the government’s existing indexation formula is unlikely to cover the cost effects of expected wage inflation and infrastructure-funding shortfalls and will put increased cost pressures on universities. “These factors combine to produce a strong incentive for universities to increase staff-student ratios, increase the rate of casualisation of the academic workforce, and pursue revenue from the same, limited number of other sources,” the paper argues.
Pointing to the possibility of an end to the existing single system, the discussion paper suggests competition for resources, staff, and students may force universities to focus on their strengths and abandon a full-service approach. “Higher-education providers may seek to merge and reconfigure in different ways in order to achieve competitive advantages, increased critical mass to sustain key areas, or benefit from economies of scale,” the paper says.
It places at centre stage the most contentious issue in higher education: stripping some institutions of a research role; and it invites comment on whether “there is a place in Australia’s higher-education system for universities that are predominantly “teaching only”.
The paper also highlights the prospect of government intervention to restructure the university system, arguing that “it could be appropriate for government to play a facilitating role in supporting restructuring of the industry where the changes are in the public interest”.
From Stephen Matchett in The Australian
A fixed term fixed
An academic employed for nine years in the United Kingdom on a succession of fixed-term contracts has won a landmark legal battle for a permanent contract. In a case with implications for the 60,000 UK academics on fixed-term contracts, an employment tribunal has said that the University of Aberdeen could not refuse a researcher a permanent contract on the grounds that funding for such posts is short-term. The University and College Union said that it would now use the ruling to challenge other employers across the sector.
Aberdeen University had employed Andrew Ball, a research fellow in zoology, on three successive contracts since 1999, each linked to external short-term funding. His situation was not unusual: only about 8 percent of research staff at the university are permanent. In its school of biological sciences, 97 percent of researchers are on fixed-term contracts and, of them, 70 employees have been continuously employed for six or more years.
With his third contract due to end last month, Dr Ball asked the university to make his position permanent. He cited employment law that states that any person continuously employed for four or more years on fixed-term contracts should be treated as permanent unless the employer can justify not doing so “on objective grounds”. The university refused, saying, “We believe the uncertainty of funds is an objective reason for the continued use of a fixed-term contract.”
Aberdeen University had argued that it would cost $NZ37 million to employ all its contract researchers beyond the limits of their contracts. The tribunal said this was “a red herring since in the real world there was simply no possibility of this happening”, pointing out that the university could still make the researchers redundant if initial funding ran out.
From Melanie Newman in Times Higher Education
academic licence to roam
Academics have never had standard nine-to-five jobs but, until now, a university position has at least tended to come with an office desk. That could change, however, with a trial of “location-independent working” that suggests that a rootless future may await the academics of tomorrow. The concept is being piloted at Coventry University in the UK, where forty staff have volunteered to give up their offices for three months in return for a single drawer in a communal filing cabinet and a licence to roam.
The idea is credited with improving productivity and staff satisfaction while reducing stress and sickness absence. Dina Shah, the manager of the project, said, “It doesn’t mean that academics will be at home all the time. It means that they can work from the lecture theatre and the library, and that they can work more intelligently. They can have all their files at hand and can do surgery hours over a wider range of times because they have a headset and webcam and other technologies enabling them to interact with their students,” she said.
“We have put in facilities around the university that have hot-desk facilities, as well as rooms for one-to-one sessions with students,” Ms Shah continued.
The pilot, which has involved academics from across the university but has focused on the department of business, environment and society, has proved a success, according to university management. “People have seen all sorts of benefits, from their work-life balance to satisfaction levels to innovation in teaching.”
“An interesting point one person made was that, while academics were already sort of location independent, it was formalised under this scheme and so this person did not feel an obligation to be seen at the office at certain hours. The set-up allows academics to work more flexibly, and that improves productivity,” concluded Ms Shah.
From John Gill in Times Higher Education
Star rankings for
First came Amazon book rankings, and word leaked out that perhaps some vaunted writers spent more time than you would think checking how popular they were, hour by hour. Then newspapers started tracking the most popular articles on their sites and journalists, it was said, spent more time than you would think watching their rankings, hour by hour. But would you believe that academics could become caught up in such petty, vain competition?
Of course they would but, short of hanging out in the stacks at the library and peeking over shoulders, the pursuit of that particular vanity had to wait for the internet and the creation of the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), an increasingly influential site that now offers nearly 150,000 full-text documents for downloading.
So far, more than 550,000 users have registered to download documents. And with a precision common to the digital age, its rankings of downloads can be sliced and diced in many ways with only a click: most downloads overall or most downloads in the last 12 months, either by article, by author or by institution.
As an example of the new concern for ratings, Professor Glenn H Reynolds of the University of Tennessee law school, who publishes a popular blog, Instapundit, claimed not to have checked his SSRN ratings for months. When questioned by a reporter, however, he admitted knowing that he had recently fallen behind one Cass Sunstein, a professor at the University of Chicago, whose total downloads for the last year make him fourth among authors. Professor Reynolds is fifth.
Ruminating on his his fall from grace, Professor Reynolds confessed, “I was ahead. I knew I didn’t deserve to be ahead of him, but that made it all the more sweeter, if that makes sense.”
From Noam Cohen in the New York Times
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