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AUS Tertiary Update

Anger at Commonwealth scholarship cut
Widespread anger has been expressed at the British government’s decision to cut funds for tertiary-student scholarships from eight Commonwealth countries next year. Current spending on the Commonwealth scholarship plan is in the order of $NZ4.9 million and provides about 100 scholarships a year to postgraduate students from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Bahamas, Cyprus, Brunei, Malta, and Singapore. Future British government funding will be restricted to developing countries, but those in the Commonwealth will receive no special consideration.
The announcement of the end of the scheme was immediately responded to by a 2,000-name e-petition. In a letter to The Times, a number of distinguished former scholarship recipients described it as “one of the great success stories of postwar international partnership” and said that the decision undermines the British government’s policy of more internationalisation in tertiary education. And, in a speech at a protest meeting in London earlier this week, Professor Germaine Greer said, “This so-called financial saving amounts to little more than the price of a property in Bayswater, yet its withdrawal will waste untold talent.”
She went on to say, “In simply deciding that the Commonwealth scholarship had not been worth the minute outlay, [British secretary of state] Milliband has done something extraordinary. Of all the investments this unfortunate government has made, this is one that has produced a profit that can be measured exponentially – one that goes on and on.”
Closer to home, Association of University Staff national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery, called the decision short-sighted and insular. “Hundreds of New Zealanders have benefited from these scholarships in the past and many have gone on to make a great contribution to this country and to the intellectual capital of Britain itself. We appreciate the widespread opposition to this move that has already been expressed and call on the British government to reconsider its decision.”
Speaking on behalf of the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, University of Auckland deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Raewyn Dalziel, said that the committee is “disappointed that this step was taken. It was presented pretty much as a fait accompli to New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.”
“I think it is a closing of opportunities that a number of New Zealanders have had over a long period of time so we regret it certainly from that point of view,” Professor Dalziel continued. “It reflects the changing nature of the Commonwealth and the decline in its meaning for the former dominions.”

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Equity reviews under way
2. No more jobs go at Victoria’s college of education
3. FRST recognises university research
4. Online resource for Māori PhD students
5. Massey and Lincoln come together
6. Australian universities also seek collaboration
7. Tougher time for women global?
8. California service workers on strike
9. South African vice-chancellors ask poor to pay
10. Cut and paste not plagiarism

Equity reviews under way
Ten polytechnics and one wānanga have now agreed to undertake pay and employment equity reviews in the latter half of 2008. Under phase one of the government’s Plan of Action for Pay and Employment Equity, all tertiary institutions in the public-education sector were expected to undertake reviews by the end of this year.
The implementation of the plan has been spearheaded by Otago Polytechnic, which is piloting a staff survey and a data analysis tool. The initial survey has been completed and the bipartite committee met for the first time this week. Applauding the polytechnic’s initiative, Association of Staff in Tertiary Education field officer, Kris Smith, said, “The response rate has been very pleasing and the committee is working together in a very constructive manner. The most interesting phase will be when we start looking at the data gathered from payroll and set that alongside the survey results. We are expecting to receive this data in the next month,” she added.
Progress across the whole tertiary-education sector has been very slow, however, and it took the formation of institutes of technology and polytechnics and wānanga sub-sector groups to achieve even this amount of progress. Universities have yet to establish their sub-sector group and commit themselves to carrying out reviews.
Reviews are undertaken by means of a bipartite process involving employers and unions in which institutions examine their policies and practices against three key indicators: whether women and men have an equitable share of rewards; whether women and men participate equally in all areas of the organisation; and whether women and men are treated with equal respect and fairness.
The most important step in the review process is the development of a response plan to address priorities and promote lasting change. It is expected that the eleven participating institutions will produce their response plan by the end of this year or early next year.

No more jobs go at Victoria’s college of education
Despite the story in yesterday’s Dominion Post reporting that another sixteen staff from Victoria University’s college of education have lost their jobs, the local union branches confirm that all those redundancies were voluntary and fell within the twenty-nine jobs announced earlier. They add that, of course. the term “voluntary” is relative and that there is a good deal of sadness at the college at the imminent loss of valued colleagues.
The job losses previously announced follow the proposed reduction of the number of schools at the college’s Karori campus to three, a move that the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE) and the Association of University Staff (AUS), the two unions with coverage at the college, have described as “ a crude shift in emphasis from teacher education to research in education based purely on an arbitrary figure for budget overspending”.
The Dominion Post story quotes the dean of education, Professor Dugald Scott, as confirming that these were voluntary redundancies from academic and advisory staff. He is also quoted, however, as warning that “there is still work to be done to get the new structure in place for the 2009 academic year”. The college’s balance of 124 staff have apparently been confirmed in their places in the three new schools.
In an accompanying positive development, the persistence of ASTE and AUS has paid off with agreement by the university to accept a union observer being involved in the selection process at the college. In a letter to the unions, director of human resources Annemarie de Castro, however, states that the decision does not create a precedent for future change processes.
“We do appreciate that this situation is having an impact on staff and that the presence of an observer at the decision-making phase will likely enhance staff confidence in the process,” she said.

FRST recognises university research
Universities’ crucial role as the major research providers in this country has been recognised in the awarding of contestable contracts worth $93.6 million in the latest funding round by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, according to the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (NZVCC). In addition to that funding, two universities are among nine organisations involved in negotiating further contracts totalling $347 million under the “stable funding environment” initiative.
University of Otago vice-chancellor, Professor David Skegg, who chairs the committee representing universities’ research interests, says it is pleasing to note the contestable contracts announced by FRST recognise universities as major players in the research, science, and technology system. “Universities also look forward to the foundation announcing details of the negotiated contracts as they are completed so the institutions can assess the results of the stable funding initiative now in its second year.”
FRST has announced 96 contestable contracts in its main 2008 investment round, worth $98 million in their first year and $438 million during their lifespan. Universities’ share of the total value of the contracts is 21 per cent. The NZVCC has published data which shows the eight universities produce around 63 per cent of research publications and 57 per cent of all patents in this country per annum.
Among the university contracts announced by FRST are an $8 million University of Auckland project on creating a new generation of hybrid plastics, a $4.5 million University of Canterbury project on MARS bio-medical imaging, a $9.9 million University of Otago project on handheld diagnostic devices, a $4.3 million Lincoln University project on second-generation biodiesel feedstocks, a $2.4 million University of Waikato project on processing titanium alloy powders, and a $3.8 million Victoria University project on nanostructures and composites for radiation detection and imaging.

Online resource for Māori PhD students
A unique web-based cyber community to support Māori PhD students was launched yesterday at a Massey University symposium in Palmerston North. The community has been developed by the university’s Te Mata o Te Tau: Academy for Māori Research and Scholarship in an effort to create a virtual community and resource portal for the more than 70 Māori PhD students currently enrolled at the university. The students are based throughout New Zealand and most have limited opportunities to visit a campus or discuss issues with classmates.
Te Mata o Te Tau director, Te Kani Kingi, says that, as far as he is aware, this is the first virtual community of its type for PhD students. “The cyber community has been designed to address the sense of isolation many Māori PhD students feel and to provide an innovative communication and resource tool,” Dr Kingi said.
“There has been a concern that PhD students didn’t feel like they belonged to a community of learning. Often because their degree is not taught in a traditional sense: they do not attend classes, are typically off-campus, and therefore find it difficult to develop a sense of collegiality,” Dr Kingi continued.
Initial testing indicated that students wanted to see and hear other people and to engage each other in a more interactive way, rather than simply read text. “Through the use of technology we will be able to foster a sense of community, no matter where students are, and enhance their learning and research outcomes,” he said. “We have students based in Auckland, Wellington, Manutuke, and Hamilton who will now be able to find out information and have face-to-face and virtual dialogue with their peers and supervisor.”

Massey and Lincoln come together
Massey and Lincoln universities are hoping to decide on a means of increasing their collaboration by the end of the year, according to a recent report in Education Review, and one option under consideration is for a national college for agriculture, food, and life sciences.
The two universities’ Agricultural and Life Sciences Partnership for Excellence recently received approval for funding of $61,000 to explore a possible “national vehicle for delivering enhanced value” in those areas. The report claims that background documents on the partnership reveal that Massey had wanted funding to investigate development of a “national university college” for agriculture, food, and life sciences in association with Lincoln.
However, Lincoln vice-chancellor, Professor Roger Field, is quoted as saying that he did not believe that the idea of a national college had “any wheels” and Massey registrar, Stuart Morriss, as saying that a university college is a possibility but that a range of models would be pursued.
“There are not too many examples of solid co-operation,” said Mr Morriss. “What we are looking for is a vehicle that enables Massey and Lincoln to engage effectively to make sure we collaborate and deliver for the land-based sciences.”

World Watch
Australian universities also seek collaboration
The University of Canberra and the rural New South Wales Charles Sturt University have confirmed they are exploring the establishment of a US-style “system university”. While the two deny they are discussing a merger, University of Canberra vice-chancellor, Professor Stephen Parker, has previously advocated that the universities, TAFE colleges, and schools in a system would retain their own governing bodies but have a common board of trustees.
Charles Sturt University vice-chancellor, Professor Ian Goulter, has confirmed that he had recently met Professor Parker. “Discussions were nothing as grand as a merger but we have agreed to have a serious discussion about systems,” he said.
The latest development follows the May alliance between the Australian National University and the University of South Australia, and may foreshadow further alliances, mergers, and restructurings expected to be triggered by the government’s research-performance exercise. The US-style systems model is aimed at giving universities greater clout in global networks.
Professor Parker, a former senior deputy vice-chancellor at Monash University, had earlier said that, if the aim is to propel an Australian university into the world top twenty, then two Group of Eight (Go8) universities in Sydney or Melbourne would have to be merged.
“If you want to get into the top twenty of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings, it would require a huge improvement by the leading Go8 universities, but if you add Melbourne and Monash you would almost get to the level of the University of Tokyo,” he said.
However, National Tertiary Education Union division secretary, Chris Game, warned that a change to a systems model would have to be accompanied by a workload impact analysis since the biggest issue facing academic and general staff was “exploding workloads”. She predicted that students are likely to favour a systems approach if it means an increase in enabling technologies, but not if it was expensive or downgraded involvement of staff who supported their studies.
From Guy Healy in The Australian

Tougher time for women global?
A recent report coordinated by the Netherlands’ Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market at Maastricht University has focused on the problem that it is still quite normal to assume that the success of an academic or student is likely to be affected by gender. The report points out that, while in the past twenty years women have rapidly increased their share of positions within higher education that were previously male-dominated (such as medicine), women after graduation are more often unemployed and earn considerably lower wages than men.
As the report says, “This is not a result of self-selection, as even women who place a high value on having a successful career find it more difficult to be a winner in this respect than men. The disadvantages are exacerbated by having children, which has an additional negative effect on women’s careers but a positive effect on those of men.”
This results in lower wages for women. The researchers quote statistics from thirteen European countries that, taken together, show women graduates on average earn 15 percent less than males. This is significant, although the differences do vary between Switzerland and Belgium with 5 and 6 percent respectively and Estonia and France with 18 and 20 percent.
Even when educational or disciplinary disparities are fed into the figures using a model, female graduates still receive significantly lower wages than males: about 10 percent less. “Although the gender gap in earning varies between countries, we can conclude that women in general might be considered as wage losers and men as wage winners,” the study concludes.
If this is the situation in Western Europe, generally regarded as having more equal relations between the sexes than many other regions around the world, it can be assumed that inequality between men and women graduates and academics is a global problem.
From Keith Nuthall in University World News

California service workers on strike
As many as 8,500 service workers at the University of California’s ten campus and five medical centre system will be walking out and picketing their workplaces all this week. The workers, who do everything from cleaning and disinfecting hospitals and dormitory rooms to providing cafeteria service to patients and students, and to ensuring that hospitals and campuses are secure, have been negotiating with California executives for almost a year. But they have remained deadlocked over “poverty wages” for months.
“It is unfortunate that, after almost a year of negotiating, it has come to a strike, but with gas and food prices, our families are in crisis. We cannot wait another month for university executives to end poverty wages,” said striking service worker Angela Vasquez. “My family could be homeless by then.”
The university’s wages are as low as $NZ12.25 an hour. Many workers are forced to take second jobs or go on public assistance just to meet their families’ basic needs. Typically, service workers live in low-income communities farther away from campus, forcing a longer commute and higher fuel costs that use a disproportionate portion of their budget.
In an effort to prevent its workers from taking action, the university sought to stop the strike by going to court. On Friday, a judge said that workers could not go on strike unless they had given the university the exact strike dates with enough notice. However, since the university was served notice of the planned strike dates on Thursday, workers clearly had met the judge’s requirements.

South African vice-chancellors ask poor to pay
The South African university vice-chancellors’ association, Higher Education South Africa (HESA), has challenged the concept of free higher education, arguing that all South Africans, including the poor, will have to pay for their education. On the other hand, the South African Students’ Congress, with links to the ruling African National Congress (ANC), and the South African Union of Students (SAUS) have called for free university education. And last December, the ANC’s annual conference resolved that the government should progressively introduce free education for the poor up to undergraduate level.
In a speech to a recent SAUS conference discussing the possibility of free education, HESA representative Jody Cedras said that a policy of free higher education would benefit wealthy students and adversely affect the poor. “There is no ‘free’ higher education. In practice it would be paid for by all citizens, including the permanently poor, through indirect taxes, whether or not they know they have been taxed,” claimed Mr Cedras.
“A big percentage of the beneficiaries of higher education are from the richer segments of society who can pay a portion of the costs of instruction,” he continued, adding that South Africa has a continuum of possibilities, from a wholly subsidised higher-education system in which graduates are entirely at the service of the state to entirely unsubsidised, private and for-profit universities with student customers and little research activity.
From the Mail and Guardian

Cut and paste not plagiarism
High-profile educationalist and long-time commentator on online learning, Dr Dale Spender, has accused universities of being out of touch with their students in seeking to clamp down on “cut and paste” appropriation from the internet, arguing that what is dubbed plagiarism is just part of the way students learn.
She has also attacked academics, noting that, while universities are quick to clamp down on students for plagiarism, academics recycle their own research papers, effectively plagiarising themselves. “What they are all calling plagiarism isn’t plagiarism at all, it is in fact a new and fast and obviously digital way of synthesising information,” Dr Spender said.
“What kids are doing in downloading text is exactly what they are doing in downloading music. They take bits and pieces, mixing and matching them and making something that is their own product.”
Her recent remarks extend her thinking in her online publication, From Books to Blogs, where she wrote, “Today there is really no such thing as online reading. You are taking charge of the information that is there.”
When software programmes such as turnitin.com can quickly identify repeated or plagiarised phrases, Dr Spender argued, rather than focusing on the failure of students to properly cite downloaded text, assessors should be focusing on whether students had answered the question and demonstrated their own understanding.
“I don’t really care if there are bits and pieces in their initial information that are downloaded from different points. What I care about is: do they understand it and did they use that information to come up with a solution to solve a problem?” Dr Spender said.
From The Australian

More international news
More international news can be found on University World News:
http://www.universityworldnews.com

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: www.aus.ac.nz. Direct inquiries should be made to the editor, email: editor@aus.ac.nz.

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