AUS Tertiary Update
Fresh threats to academic freedom
A former New Zealand vice-chancellor has cautioned that universities must be more than mere instruments of economic growth and development. Bryan Gould, former vice-chancellor of the University of Waikato and current chair of the board of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, issued his warning in opening the University of Auckland’s winter lecture series, “Challenges for research in modern academia”, earlier this week.
Calling on universities to be vigilant not just in defending themselves against familiar threats, Mr Gould said, “They must also be alert to new challenges, which sometimes come in unfamiliar guises.” Expanding on the theme, he added that the danger today is not so much that universities are threatened by direct, hostile, and deliberate assaults by governments or the private sector, though it also must not be assumed that these were things of the past.
“The threat arises from the growing importance that universities are increasingly invited to assume in promoting economic growth and development,” said Mr Gould, adding that commentators from across the political spectrum and from all parts of the economy have agreed that universities are essential agents of economic change.
“Our economic future is increasingly said to depend on the research effort undertaken by our universities and by their role in producing graduates with the skills needed to promote economic growth,” he said. “This view is naturally congenial to the universities, since it affirms their value to society and appears to guarantee at least an approximation of adequate funding. But the argument comes with an unstated but potentially damaging downside, that this role is what universities are essentially about and that it is only to the extent that they fulfil that expectation that they will be supported and funded,” he said.
Pointing to the dangers of the approach, he continued, “If it is asserted by political or business leaders that the universities have failed to come up with the required outcomes - that the economy is, for example, short of particular kinds of graduates or is handicapped by the failure to undertake particular kinds of research projects - then continued support and funding for the universities will be placed at risk.”
He said that the problem, then, is that universities would be tempted, so as to maintain continued public support and funding, to go along with the inviting but dangerous assumption that their only true value is as instruments of economic change. “In doing so, they would accept a barely recognised but increasingly damaging constraint on their freedom to pursue knowledge - and we would have significantly misread our own intellectual history,” he concluded.
Also in Tertiary
Update this week
1. Victoria’s film programme retained, expanded, but jobs shaky
2. Support for women’s scholarships
3. Auckland students angered by VC’s allowance attack
4. Undercover police exposed at Otago
5. Union push for academic freedom
6. Online access reduces citation breadth?
7. First Mediterranean university launched
8. LSE seeks teaching parity
9. A nation of university ghettoes?
Victoria’s film programme
retained, expanded, but jobs shaky
The campaign conducted by the Association of University Staff Victoria branch to defend the university’s film programme against major restructuring appears to have achieved considerable, if mixed, success with the release of the draft report of the film working party established to consider its future. The establishment of the working party followed the rejection by a decision panel of a deeply flawed change proposal that would have cut two out of five academic jobs from the programme and removed its film-production content.
The working party report proposes the retention of the programme, including its production capacity, and its full complement of five academic jobs, as well as the establishment of an interdisciplinary centre for new cinema within the university focused on research, scholarship, and creative work. The report suggests that the centre, which would draw on other creative desciplines and fields within the university, as well as the film programme, should aspire to become recognised as a centre of excellence.
The report recommends retention of five academic positions and the elevation of that of the programme director to professorial level. However, in response to what it describes as the programme’s “long history of poor interpersonal relationships”, it proposes disestablishment of current academic positions, national advertising of the new director’s position, and, initially, internal advertising of the others.
Among the other recommendations of the working party are the strengthening of the compulsory core of the major and the focus on research at honours level, the introduction of a master of cinema arts degree, the provision of a dedicated, state-of-the-art Mac Lab, and the establishment of an academic forum for film with representation from all relevant disciplines. The closing date for responses to the draft report is Monday 4 August and the final report is to be delivered on Friday 15 August.
Support for women’s
Women-only tertiary-education scholarships remain important, according to the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA), which is urging caution in questioning their relevance and highlighting the ongoing need for them. “Women-only scholarships pose no threat to others’ participation, yet they do make a positive difference to the recipients, just as with any other scholarship,” said Analiese Jackson, NZUSA national women’s rights officer.
While the participation of women in higher education has experienced much growth and is cause for celebration, she said there are no guarantees that this recent phenomenon will continue, and there are many areas in which women are still under-represented, particularly in the sciences. “Women also don’t have equality of outcome in the workforce, with a prevailing gender pay-gap and many issues with horizontal and vertical occupational segregation. To suggest there are no issues and we can give up targeted encouragement seems very premature at this stage,” said Ms Jackson.
“Many scholarships for women are also based on other criteria, such as second-chance education and supporting disadvantaged women, or taking account of disciplines where there are lower numbers of women. Without scholarships of this sort, many women may have missed out on an education altogether,” Ms Jackson added.
She characterised the use of completions as a basis for analysis, as employed recently by Victoria University senior researcher Dr Paul Callister and publicised widely, as a very controversial, and potentially inappropriate, measure of success. Rather than challenging legitimate initiatives,” Ms Jackson said, “NZUSA encourages criticism of the harsh user-pays tertiary environment and promotes the introduction of a universal student allowance as a sustainable solution supporting the participation of all in higher education.”
students angered by VC’s allowance attack
Students at the University of Auckland are reported to have been angered by recent comments by their vice-chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, criticising possible moves towards a universal student allowance. Professor McCutcheon said last week that the idea of a universal student allowance being contemplated by the government would amount to “an unjustified election bribe”, adding that the money should instead be spent on universities.
In response, Auckland University Students’ Association (AUSA) president, David Do, said, “While we agree universities need to be properly funded to ensure high-quality education for all, what is the use of world-class facilities and well-paid lecturers if the students being taught are too hungry and tired to learn? It is insulting to describe moves to ensure all students are properly supported throughout their studies as merely an ‘unjustified election bribe’,” he added.
“Many hard-working students are ineligible for a student allowance, must borrow money to pay rent and food, and work long hours on top of full-time study to make ends meet, which all adversely affect their studies. Properly supporting students through a universal student allowance would enhance student retention and completion rates, and allow them to achieve their full potential,” Mr Do continued.
“It is perfectly justified to return to a situation where all students are properly supported while they are studying. Some $728 million over four years is relatively modest compared to the $10 billion of student debt we have today,” he said. Suggesting that the vice-chancellor’s comments show “how out of touch he is with the students he presides over”, Mr Do called on him to “front up” and directly explain to students why he believes better support for them is unjustified.
Undercover police exposed at Otago
Posters with pictures of plain-clothed officers working on campus and labelled “Narks in our Class?” and “Narkiology 101. How to spot a nark” appeared around the University of Otago earlier this week, according to a report in the Otago Daily Times. One poster apparently shows plain-clothed officers involved in the recent arrest of three people at a National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml) stand at a Otago University Students’ Association market day.
Another shows plain-clothed officers at a regular protest “smoke-up” on campus. The posters name the officers, give their badge numbers, and ask people who think there might be an undercover police officer in their class to contact Norml.
Norml leader Abe Gray is reported as saying that he is unsure who had put the posters together and posted them on the Norml website, from where they could be downloaded, but that he believes the images were taken from video footage recently posted by Norml members on YouTube. He said the posters had probably been put together because students felt uncomfortable being under surveillance on campus. Mr Gray is also quoted as saying that, from information police had divulged during various interactions with them, it is believed they are also working undercover in lectures.
The Dunedin area police commander, Inspector Dave Campbell, said he was disappointed, but not surprised, photographs of police officers were posted on the Norml website. Police are running an operation, he said, to stop offences against the Misuse of Drugs Act on the university campus and, to date, as a result, had issued nine trespass notices to non-students and three to people enrolled at the university.
A university spokesperson said that no-one was able to comment on plain-clothed officers working on campus at the time the report went to press.
Union push for academic freedom
At RMIT University in Melbourne today, Australian National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) president, Dr Carolyn Allport, is launching that union’s biggest policy push in recent times under the banner “Our Universities Matter: Investing in People and Society”. The key claim in the campaign is for a new federal statute for universities that will assert their distinctive role within the integrated tertiary sector that is expected to emerge in Australia as a result of new government policies.
“Degree education, including postgraduate degree education, research, and research training are at the core of a university,” Dr Allport said in advance of the launch. Advocating a stricter and clearer definition of a university, she suggested that teaching-only universities, universities with only one research area, and for-profit universities should not qualify.
Dr Allport said that the proposed statute would borrow an Irish legislative definition that marries individual academic freedom to the independence of universities as institutions. The NTEU believes this is necessary because the Howard government was hostile not only to researchers but to universities generally.
“We thought the Irish definition was really good and we think we’ve convinced education minister Julia Gillard as well,” Dr Allport said. She explained that the definition would confer protection, not through legal sanctions, but through an institution’s reputation in the international market. “It is symbolic, but its symbolism is connected to the concept of the university’s reputation and the reputation is connected to their market,” she said.
Dr Allport said the Rudd government’s apparent wish to create an integrated tertiary-education sector in the interests of social justice and higher participation is a “a very worthy aspiration”. For universities, however, one issue would be standards, given any attempt to bring together self-accrediting and non-self-accrediting institutions and another would be competition and the public good.
From Bernard Lane in The Australian
reduces citation breadth?
Scholars’ access to more and more journal articles online may have had the perverse effect of slowing the steady increase in the number of citations of discrete articles, according to a recent study published in the journal Science. And an unfortunate result may be to tamp down debate among researchers, according to the study.
When journals began posting their archived issues online, the study suggests, that may have had an effect opposite to what many publishers and librarians had expected. James A Evans, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, looked at 34 million articles published from 1945 to 2005. He found, if he controlled for the prevailing trend of widening citations, that as more articles appeared online, scholars’ citations tended towards more-recent and less-diverse articles.
Dr Evans attributed the shift to changes in researchers’ online reading behavior: conducting searches that highlight more-recent articles and following hyperlinks from those articles to others. Scholars may see what others have cited and assume that it is important, he suggested. “The scientific community becomes more efficient at generating consensus. But that means that papers and ideas not immediately cited by others may get overlooked,” he said.
Dr Evans’s results, however, have puzzled Carol Tenopir, a professor of information sciences at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Along with Donald W King, a research professor at the school of information and library science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she has been studying scholars’ reading habits since 1977. The result of her own study, she said, is that, after twenty years of holding steady, the number of older articles that researchers read has increased in the past ten years.
From Lila Guterman in the Chronicle of Higher Education
First Mediterranean university
A new Euro-Mediterranean University based in Slovenia has been launched with higher-education courses that will focus on issues of importance to European, African, and Levantine countries bordering the sea. Creation of the new institution is part of a joint declaration issued by heads of state and government from 43 countries at a Paris summit establishing a Mediterranean Union organisation.
This is a parallel group to the European Union, although it also incorporates North Africa and Levantine countries that are not part of Europe. It has long been a pet project of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who hosted the summit. The summit communiqué said a Euro-Mediterranean University could “contribute to the understanding among people and encourage cooperation in higher education”.
At the launch, Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša stressed the initiative’s historic importance, saying, “Europe and the Mediterranean have, since time immemorial, been connected in totality. European culture, art, and science still draw inspiration from the achievements of the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and others who, in their own time, helped shape the region to which we belong.”
Supporting universities from around the world are signing a foundation charter in the period to September. Already, however, universities from Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey have signed.
The university’s stated aims are to develop academic and professional human resources in the region and contribute to the creation of a common higher-education and research area in the Mediterranean; to support and strengthen existing co-operation networks among universities and institutes by promoting and organising joint study and research programmes; and to encourage intercultural dialogues.
From Keith Nuthall in University World News
LSE seeks teaching parity
The London School of Economics is to reduce class sizes and increase contact time between staff and students as part of a drive to give its teaching equal status to research. The school will plough an extra $NZ5 million a year into teaching, appointing twenty-five new lecturers and offering more explicit recognition and reward for staff who can demonstrate excellent teaching.
The move comes amid mounting criticism from fee-paying students at research-led universities that their teaching needs have been neglected in the drive for research ratings, and it coincides with similar moves at the University of Manchester. In February, Professor Alan Gilbert, Manchester’s vice-chancellor, criticised other members of the twenty-strong elite Russell Group of research-led universities for neglecting teaching.
At the LSE, a task force was set up last year in response to concerns from students about teaching quality, disappointing scores in teaching surveys, and a perception among staff that only research was valued. Forty of its proposals have been accepted by LSE’s academic board.
Janet Hartley, pro-director for teaching and learning, who led the task force, said, “It wasn't that there was a crisis in teaching, but we weren’t happy with some of the reports we’d had. I think it is as much about reputation and brand as anything. If we are projecting ourselves as a first-rate research institution, then parity has to be there with teaching as well.”
A report by the task force says that the LSE’s scores on teaching quality in internal and national surveys had been “below the level to which we would aspire” for a number of years.
From Rebecca Attwood in Times Higher Education
A nation of
A widening gulf between local and international university students in Australia is creating segregated classes, cultural cliques, and religious ghettos and raising fears of a backlash on campuses, according to a recent report.
International education is a $NZ15.5 billion industry, and overseas students’ fees account for an average 15 percent of universities’ overall funding, but a higher-education expert warns of “informal but real segregation”. Professor Simon Marginson, from the centre for higher education at the University of Melbourne, said local students tend to work off-campus and are not active in student life, and international students spend most of their time on campus, generally in the library.
While the atmosphere on campuses generally supports international students, Professor Marginson said, “You’ve got this odd situation with the local students half-disengaged in a way I’ve never really seen before. The international-student industry runs off the back of a reasonably strong local system which presumes a healthy relationship with the local students; all of that has become the marketing pitch. That’s the flashpoint that worries me more than any other - that it could spring back into resentment,” he said.
Almost two-thirds of international students are from Asia, and many have no contact with local students. Eric Pang, president of the National Liaision Committee for International Students in Australia, said overseas students are not given a strong welfare system and have to rely on peers for support, yet were accused of failing to integrate. Many had told the committee, “There's not much international students can learn from Australia in terms of culture, or in terms of English. After all, the standard of English of Australian students is not high anyway.”
From Sushi Das and Erik Jensen in the Canberra Times
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