AUS Tertiary Update
University staff claim $5,000 salary boost
University staff will open employment-agreement negotiations next week with a claim for a $5,000 increase to all salary rates. The flat rate, rather than a percentage-increase claim, is intended to give a proportionally greater increase to lower-paid university staff, including most of the general staff (or non-academic) classifications.
The salary claim is in addition to $15 million of funding provided by the government to be allocated on the basis of a 1.53% increase for academic staff and 0.51% increase for general staff, effective from 1 July.
Eight unions will be represented in the negotiations as well as the country’s eight university vice-chancellors.
The combined unions’ lead advocate, Marty Braithwaite, said that, while much had been documented over the last few years about the low state of academic salaries, general staff salaries also need a significant boost. “Department of Labour figures show that technicians and associated professionals, who comprise a significant proportion of university general staff, are on its ‘severe shortages’ list, as are most trades groups,” he said. “Similarly, between 2006 and 2007, the department reported that the shortage rate for skilled clerical and administrative staff became much worse.”
The Department of Labour’s statistical measure of skill shortages is the “fill rate”, the percentage of job vacancies filled after ten weeks of advertising. In areas principally relevant to the employment of university general staff, the fill rate for trades workers in March of this year was as low as 37 percent, for professionals 54 percent, and for clerical workers, technicians, and associate professionals 57 percent.
Mr Braithwaite concluded that, with skill shortages expected to remain at these high levels in the medium-term and with significant increases in the cost of living, there will continue be upward pressure on salaries in the foreseeable future.
The unions are also seeking two, new national multi-employer collective employment agreements to replace the more than fourteen collective agreements currently negotiated at individual universities. “Such agreements will provide a platform for the unions and vice-chancellors to address national salary problems in the university sector in a strategic manner, and allow for a common approach to long-term workforce planning,” Mr Braithwaite added.
Other major claims this year include the implementation of pay and employment equity reviews, removal of bars on eligibility for overtime, payout of time in lieu at overtime rates when it cannot be taken, recognition of tikanga Māori and te reo Māori skills, extension of the 37.5-hour week to all workers, and a standard provision for twenty-five days’ annual and five days’ university holidays.
Also in Tertiary Update this
1. Glenn Stewart case resolved
2. Fee-maxima proposal welcome but more funding needed
3. Academics retain visa-free access to UK
4. Universities slow on environmental leadership
5. Underground Undie 500 a prospect
6. Blind faith in metrics “unfounded”
7. And Australian research-quality reforms “may harm research”
8. Anti-evolution academic freedom in Louisiana
9. Turkish student faces prison for questioning Atatürk
Glenn Stewart case
Over the last year, Tertiary Update has run several stories about the dismissal of Dr Glenn Stewart from his position as associate professor in ecology and conservation at Lincoln University.
The parties have attended a judicial settlement conference before Judge Travis and the matter has been resolved in good faith.
Glenn Stewart has accepted an appointment as an associate professor in urban ecology in the environment, society and design division at the university.
proposal welcome but more funding needed
The Association of University Staff has expressed support for a government proposal to limit on the amount by which the maximum student-tuition fee level can be increased for 2009, but warns that the government must act now to increase funding to the university sector.
The minister for tertiary education, Pete Hodgson, has explained that the proposal means that, if current fees are at the maximum, then the increase can only be the CPI-level 2.6 percent. If fees are currently below the maximum, however, then they can go up by up to 5 percent and, if they are well below the maximum, they can rise by up to 10 percent, subject to application to and agreement by the Tertiary Education Commission.
AUS academic vice-president, Dr Grant Duncan, said that, while it is highly desirable that the cost of tertiary education be kept as low as possible for students, a consequence is that additional government funding is urgently required to maintain the high quality and good reputation of the New Zealand university system.
Dr Duncan said that the cost of running universities had increased at a rate at least 1.6 times higher than the general rate of inflation for the economy as a whole, but that university income had fallen in real terms by over $20 million per year over the last six years.
“Although it has been acknowledged by university management, government, and unions that salaries in the university sector are low, efforts to alleviate this through additional funding for salaries had to some extent been undermined by a failure of government to allow for the true costs of running universities,” Dr Duncan said. “According to research by the University of Auckland, New Zealand university income was, in 2006, $2,146 per student or $223 million in total lower than it would have been if income had been indexed to rises in university costs since 1991.”
Dr Duncan said that the effects of this underfunding will be compounded by the fact that annual salary increases are due, with salary bargaining for the university sector to occur during July.
visa-free access to UK
Confirmation last week that academic staff will continue to have visa-free access to the United Kingdom for periods of up to twelve months has been welcomed by the Association of University Staff. The British government has been considering reducing the period of visa-free entry to the UK from twelve to three months for academic visitors and from six to three months for tourists and business visitors. However, the British Home Office has confirmed that current visa-free access provisions will remain, after representations to the British government by New Zealand’s prime minster, Helen Clark.
Confirmation that the visa-free period will remain came after personal discussions between Helen Clark and her British counterpart, Gordon Brown, and a formal submission to the Home Office about the importance of the visa-free arrangements which argued that the retention of the twelve-month special provision was important for New Zealand university staff as many viewed Britain as a destination of choice for study leave.
AUS academic vice-president, Dr Grant Duncan, said that visa-free access to the UK was imperative as many New Zealand academics are heavily engaged in research collaboration with British colleagues and see great benefit in being able to study and have access to facilities at some of the world’s most distinguished universities.
“Academic staff work in a highly mobile international market, and the free exchange of academics among countries is necessary in order to advance research and the world’s knowledge base,” he said. “Any moves to make it more difficult for New Zealand academics to enter Britain would not only have been unnecessarily bureaucratic, but they would also have been counter-productive because they would have impeded collaboration on internationally important research between New Zealand and British academics.”
Dr Duncan said that it appeared the motivation for the planned changes came from the fear of an increased number of illegal immigrants to Britain, but there was no evidence to suggest that New Zealand academics posed any sort of risk.
Universities slow on environmental
New Zealand universities are making some effort to deal with environmental sustainability but are not yet taking a leadership role on it, according to a story by John Gerritsen in University World News. Among the story’s examples of initiatives being taken are the University of Canterbury’s sustainability review, expanded recycling scheme, and draft transport plan and Massey University’s free bus service in Palmerston North, its success in meeting sustainability targets and extensive recycling operation.
That such programmes have financial as well as environmental benefits is demonstrated by Victoria University’s shift to double-sided photocopier printing resulting in a 40 percent reduction in paper consumption and a saving of $100,000 on top of a $100,000 saving from earlier energy-efficiency initiatives. The university’s environmental manager, Andrew Wilks, is quoted as saying that local staff and student commuting is an even greater source of carbon emissions than is international air travel, resulting in a campaign to increase the use of public transport. The university’s management, however, has decided against becoming carbon neutral because of the associated costs of buying carbon credits.
Therein, according to Victoria’s professor of policy studies and acting director of its Institute of Policy Studies, Jonathan Boston, lies the failure of New Zealand universities to follow the example of a number of companies. Noting that universities have made an important contribution to research, teaching, and debate on the subject, he nonetheless describes them as responding to the issues rather than leading.
“If we take climate change,” he is quoted as saying, “it’s been an issue of global importance for twenty years but it’s only in the last four or five years that universities have really begun to give this some serious attention.” He concludes that they have ground to make up in their roles in research, teaching, and community leadership and as the critic and conscience of society.
Underground Undie 500 a prospect
Despite attempts to negotiate a revamped Undie 500 with the Dunedin mayor, police, fire service, and the University of Otago, the University of Canterbury Engineering Society (Ensoc) has reluctantly pulled out of attempting to organise a revamped version. The event, an annual under-$500-car rally and party, caused uproar in Dunedin last year when, attended by nearly 1000 students, it resulted in police donning riot gear to deal with bottle barrages and 70 fires, leading to the arrests of 69 participants.
Expressing disappointment at the failure to get approval for a more controlled event, Ensoc president, Graeme Walker, is reported in the Otago Daily Times as saying, “This hasn’t stopped riots. It has only stopped us running the Undie 500.” His suggestion is borne out by evidence produced by the Times from Bebo, Facebook, and other social-networking sites.
“If the official undy [sic] falls through, we will be organising the next best thing,” says one of the 396 people who have signed up to the Facebook site, I’m going on the Undy 500 with or without Ensoc. “Get all your mates to join up, because the more people in on this the more seriously we can start organising this backup event.”
Otago University Students’ Association president, Simon Wilson, has responded by expressing concern about a “rogue group” from Canterbury descending on Dunedin. “These people are not coming to show the engineering behind their vehicles. They are focused on drinking,” he said.
It is believed that the alternative event will go ahead on Friday 22 August.
Blind faith in metrics “unfounded”
The faith being placed in the use of statistics to provide accurate judgment of the quality of academic research is “unfounded”, says a group of leading international statisticians. A report produced by the International Mathematical Union (IMU) warns against the “misuse of statistics in assessing scientific research”. It says that faith in the accuracy, independence, and efficacy of metrics on their own is misplaced. Numbers are not “inherently superior” to sound judgments and can be “even more subjective than peer review”.
The report, Citation Statistics, looks at numerical measures commonly used to rank researchers, which it says are being increasingly used the world over as a “simple and objective” way to judge quality. It examines the use of journal-impact factors, which assess research based on the relative standing of the journal in which it is published, and citation counts, which measure output based on the number of times an academic’s published work is cited by his or her peers.
Citation counts will be used, in combination with a form of peer review, in the United Kingdom’s forthcoming research excellence framework, which replaces the research assessment exercise to determine the allocation of more than $NZ2.49 billion of research funding to universities each year.
“While numbers appear to be ‘objective’, their objectivity can be illusory .... Because this subjectivity is less obvious for citations, those who use citation data are less likely to understand their limitations,” the report adds. It concludes that such indicators should be used only as part of a wider package that includes peer review and, possibly, other “esteem measures”, such as conference invitations and editorial board memberships.
From Zöe Corbyn in Times Higher Education
And Australian research-quality reforms
“may harm research”
While researchers and lobby groups say they support the push to measure and ultimately reward the best research, leading social-sciences groups and a peak group from the hard sciences have said that reliance on journal rankings and publications is not an adequate expression of research excellence.
The Australian Research Council has released a draft list of about 19,500 peer-reviewed journals to guide its proposed four-tier ranking under the government’s Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) performance exercise. Compiled by the country’s four learned academies, the list of four classes of academic journals, when finalised, will show the percentage of a university’s research papers that appear in each of the rankings.
Although the national group of university deans has recently welcomed the ranked list of the world’s academic journals, a researcher-backlash similar to that which greeted Britain’s research assessment exercise appears to be under way. Flinders University associate dean, humanities research, Richard Maltby, has said that ranking humanities journals in four quality bands had not been done before and local researchers did not know how they were generated, which was “a pretty major issue”.
“I haven't come across a discipline in humanities that doesn’t have some serious concerns, and the film and media and cultural studies, performing arts, creative writing, and languages have major concerns,” he said. “It’s not difficult to find some very strange rankings; it’s also hard to see how the rankings as laid out would gain consensus, but it varies to an extent among disciplines.”
National Tertiary Education Union South Australia division president, Greg McCarthy, said researchers are seriously concerned that the ERA would be detrimental to cutting-edge research and even encourage perverse behaviour as researchers attempted to “game” the exercise to achieve the best results. “There is a real issue with the ERA process as it gives preference to research outputs such as journals, not the discipline of the researchers,” he said.
From Guy Healy in The Australian Higher Education
freedom in Louisiana
A number of state legislatures in the United States have been considering laws that, under the guise of academic freedom, single out evolution for special criticism. The first actually to be passed, however, is the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which allows local school boards to approve supplemental classroom materials specifically for the critique of scientific theories.
The text of the LSEA suggests that it’s intended to foster critical thinking, calling on the state board of education to “assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories.” It is remarkably selective, however, in its suggestion of topics that need critical thinking: it cites scientific subjects “including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
The act has been opposed by every scientific society that has voiced a position on it, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Its CEO, Alan Leshner, warned that the act would “unleash an assault against scientific integrity, leaving students confused about science and unprepared to excel in a modern workforce”.
Promoting the act was a coalition of religious organisations and Seattle’s pro-intelligent design think tank, the Discovery Institute. According to the Louisiana Science Coalition, Discovery fellows helped write the act and arranged for testimony in its favour in the legislature. The act itself plays directly into Discovery’s strategy, freeing local schools to “use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyse, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” Discovery, conveniently, has made just such a supplemental text available and appears to be planning to use the act to introduce its own textbook into the classroom.
From John Timmer in Ars Technica
student faces prison for questioning Atatürk
A headscarf-wearing student in Turkey faces a possible prison sentence of four and a half years for saying she does not like the state’s founding hero, Atatürk. The state prosecutor is to open an investigation regarding comments made on a television show by Nuray Bezirgan.
Barred from university in 2004 after refusing to take off her headscarf, Bezirgan was asked by journalist Fatih Altayli if she liked Atatürk. According to a transcript, Bezirgan replied, “Does the right not to like Atatürk exist? If so, I do not like him. If people are persecuting me in the name of the ideology of Atatürk, then you cannot expect me to like Atatürk.”
Under Turkey’s law 5816, anyone who publicly “insults or curses the memory of Atatürk” will be imprisoned for one to three years. If the insult is carried out by two or more individuals or via the media, the sentence can be increased by 50 percent. Any action against Bezirgan will further stoke tensions arising from the re-imposition of the ban on students wearing headscarves in universities and a court case against the ruling Justice and Development party for lifting the ban.
In the programme, Altayli pressed Bezirgan to praise or show gratitude for the man who won back Turkey’s independence from the invading European armies and established the “liberal Republic” in 1925. Bezirgan replied, “The kind of party that defends my ideas cannot be established in Turkey. In fact, this is forbidden. When a party defends my ideas it is shut down ... in the name of Atatürk.”
From Brendan O’Malley in University World News
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