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AUS Tertiary Update Vol 11 No 31

Universities of technology bill knocked back
The education (establishment of universities of technology) amendment bill has been reported back by the education and science select committee with a recommendation that the bill not proceed. The private member’s bill was put forward by former NZ First MP, Brian Donnelly, and referred to the select committee last year.
The bill would have provided for the establishment of a new institutional category, the university of technology, a concept that was opposed by the Association of University Staff and the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE), as well as university vice-chancellors, during select-committee hearings of submissions earlier this year. AUS and ASTE argued that the status quo should be maintained, but that more support should be provided for the distinctive contribution of institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs).
The select committee report on the bill contains a NZ First minority view to the effect that it believes that legislation establishing universities of technology is long overdue in New Zealand. “It is consistent with the knowledge wave concepts which have been put forward in recent times,” the minority view says.
Elsewhere, however, the select committee states, “Some of us believe that the primary impetus for the bill relates to the perceived status of the word ‘university’. We are not satisfied that the evidence presented justifies establishing the category of university of technology. Moreover, the associated costs, distraction, and confusion would be likely to outweigh any potential benefits.”
As to the relative status of universities and polytechnics, the report deals with the claim that the introduction of universities of technology would improve educational outcomes by addressing the disparity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications. “They [supporters] argued that students at ITPs are disadvantaged, both in New Zealand and internationally, because vocational degrees lack the status of university degrees,” the report says. “The majority of us have not seen any evidence of widespread or systematic bias against postgraduate ITP students. We believe that parity of esteem is best addressed by institutions developing their reputations for providing high-quality, relevant educational programmes.”
The select committee considered 30 submissions, with twelve submitters, including AUS and ASTE, appearing before it, and received additional advice from the Ministry of Education, the Tertiary Education Commission, and the NZ Qualifications Authority.

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Online university under investigation
2. Nelson Marlborough allied staff stop work
3. More on university ratings and a correction
4. Wānanga “challenge PBRF model”
5. Keep peer review, warn top researchers
6. Buzzwords build citations
7. “Two cultures” in the social sciences?
8. Emergency handouts for hungry students
9. Cambridge goes to Coronation Street

Online university under investigation
Tertiary-education minister Pete Hodgson has ordered an urgent investigation into an online university operating from a post box in Motueka, according to a report in Education Review. It is believed that, if the entity calling itself Prescott University is being run from New Zealand, it would be in breach of the Education Act, which protects the use of the term “university”.
The minister is quoted as saying, “The government is concerned that New Zealand’s international reputation as a high-quality education destination is maintained and, wherever possible, further advanced.” He continued, “I have been advised that Prescott University is unaccredited in New Zealand, and has not been approved as a university. It is an offence under the Education Act (section 292) for a person within New Zealand jurisdiction to use the term university without relevant approval.”
“It is also an offence for a person to purport to grant degrees, unless the person is a valid university or has relevant approvals under the act,” Mr Hodgson added. “As such, there is sufficient information to warrant further investigation by officials, and I have asked them to follow up as a matter of urgency. It is unfortunate that New Zealand has been associated with this organisation through the existence of a PO Box number which is listed as the administrative headquarters of the Prescott University,” he concluded.
Education Review reports that the local company apparently associated with Prescott University, Vacation Getaways, has applied to be removed from the companies register and has changed its registered office from the Motueka post box to a residential address in Auckland. The university’s website, however, said, at least until recently, that transcripts must be sent to students from its New Zealand “administrative office” via India.

Nelson Marlborough allied staff stop work
Allied staff stopped work at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) this week to protest at a meeting of the institute’s council over the current impasse in their collective-agreement negotiations. The staff, who are members of the Tertiary Institutes Allied Staff Association (TIASA), are said to have taken action out of sheer frustration and anger at NMIT’s approach to the collective-agreement negotiations.
“Our members do not accept NMIT’s assertion that a 4 percent salary increase is not affordable,” said TIASA chief executive, Peter Joseph. “During the last negotiations, our members and their academic colleagues accepted NMIT management’s statements that anything above 3 percent was not affordable and could jeopardise the institute’s financial future, only to find that NMIT then went ahead and provided those allied staff on individual agreements with a 3.8 percent increase,” he said.
TIASA members also view as “over the top” the fact that NMIT has approached these negotiations with a list of more than 80 claims, according to Mr Joseph. “The 4 percent increase that our members are seeking is both reasonable and affordable, and is in line with recent TIASA settlements in the institutes of technology and polytechnics sector of 4 to 4.5 percent,” he said. “NMIT’s 3.6 percent offer, with strings attached, is not acceptable.”
Mr Joseph added that TIASA members had crowded into this week’s council meeting carrying placards and banners, demanding to be treated fairly and to have their contribution acknowledged and valued by NMIT. Allied staff will be meeting over the next few days to consider what further action may be required to advance a settlement.

More on university ratings and a correction
Professor Sarah Todd, pro-vice-chancellor (international) of the University of Otago, has pointed to a misunderstanding in last week’s Tertiary Update story on the latest Shanghai Jiao Tong university ratings. The story reported that the University of Auckland appeared in 44th place in the 201-302 band and Otago at 80th.
While that is literally true, Professor Todd pointed out that, in fact, the Jiao Tong ratings’ methodological approach results in all universities within a band being placed in alphabetical order. It is not possible, therefore, to arrive at any conclusion as to the respective positions of the two universities from these ratings.
Professor Todd added, “It is worth noting that, where the Shanghai methodology enables differentiation between individual universities at the country level, they do so. Indeed, New Zealand is one of just a handful of countries represented in the listings for which they have felt unable to identify a clear number one university, and instead have placed the country’s top universities in a group.”
Also on the recently released ratings, it has been calculated by the Press that “New Zealand produces the best universities with less money and fewer people” on the basis of gross domestic product (GDP). With its proportion of global GDP at 0.2 percent, New Zealand produces the equivalent of 25 top institutions per 1 percent of GDP while the UK produces 8.57 and the US 5.5. In addition, New Zealand comes second only to Sweden when comparing top-500 countries on the basis of population figures.

Wānanga “challenge PBRF model”
In his review of the PBRF assessment process, covered in last week’s Tertiary Update, Professor Jonathan Adams says that he feels that “it is of rather little value to make the work of the wānanga fit the PBRF model, and it is a challenge to the PBRF model for it properly to evaluate what the wānanga are doing”.
Professor Adams describes the activities of the wānanga as “a complex and interlinked portfolio, where research is arguably more evidently linked to teaching and learning than it is in many universities”. Suggesting that some of the research work of wānanga in science, social science, and arts would be immediately acknowledged as easily reaching national and often passing international standards, he expresses doubt that all of the research activity is so easily assessed.
“The wānanga have the potential to make an essential contribution to to the knowledge business, and to enable New Zealand to make the most effective use of all its talent,” Professor Adams says. “But the existing knowledge concepts in MKD [Māori knowledge and development], and therefore in the wānanga, are in transition.”
Expressing disappointment for “the excellent staff who are joining the wānanga from universities and ITPs not to be seen as directly comparable in research status to their peers”, Professor Adams’s overall recommendation is that New Zealand should, in the meantime, find a different route from that of the PBRF to support the “knowledge mission” in the wānanga.

World Watch
Keep peer review, warn top researchers
Peer-to-peer judgment must be maintained as a core feature of the system being designed to allocate more than a billion pounds a year in research funding, some of the United Kingdom’s most senior research figures have warned. Frank personal perspectives on the future of research funding have been given by eleven chairs of the subpanels that are assessing the quality of UK research for the 2008 research assessment exercise (RAE).
After this year’s RAE, a new system to allocate funding will be set up, judging research quality using a combination of peer review and “statistical indicators”, such as counting the number of times an academic’s published work is cited in journal papers (bibliometrics), and the number of research students a department attracts. The chairs, representing a wide range of disciplines, have expressed concern about the reduced influence of peer review under the forthcoming research excellence framework (REF). They also raise worries about the rigid application of metrics, such as citation counts, to assess quality and on which to determine funding.
Panel chairs have not commented collectively on the REF on this scale before. Keith Richards, chair of the geography and environmental studies subpanel, has even argued that, as bibliometrics are unsuitable for use in some subjects, they should be rejected in them all.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is still developing the detailed model for the REF. It has said that the system would combine statistical indicators, including bibliometric indicators such as citations “wherever these are appropriate”, with “light-touch expert review” and non-numerical information. The balance between these different measures will vary “as appropriate” for each subject. HEFCE has already launched a pilot bibliometrics exercise and says it will be informally consulting the sector with the aim of bringing forward firm proposals in early 2009.
From Zoë Corbyn in Times Higher Education

Buzzwords build citations
Academics who use fashionable “buzzwords” in their research papers could enhance their reputations as their work is cited more often by their peers, a new study suggests. Research from Durham University has found that keywords used by academics to search online for research papers are often copied in the same way that buzzwords are copied in day-to-day language.
In his research paper, “Random drift versus selection in academic vocabulary”, anthropologist Alex Bentley suggests that buzzwords can lead to whole new bodies of theory, even when the words themselves lack clear meaning. “I have come to feel that in the social sciences you get bodies of theory that I suspect actually started from a buzzword. A lot of those words don’t have concrete meaning,” Dr Bentley said.
One example he cites is the word “agency”. “The word drifted up and at some point it reached a level where people are using this adjective so much they created a theory ... It does have an impact on academic progress and success.”
Dr Bentley speculated that the phenomenon can impact on rates of citation, the number of times an academic’s published work is cited by peers. Citations counts will be used to help judge research quality and determine the distribution of billions of pounds in funding under the research excellence framework that will replace the research assessment exercise.
“These buzzwords will help you to get cited,” said Dr Bentley. But he argued that the relationship between buzzwords and citations needs further study. “It’s a bit of a chicken and an egg problem [in deciding] whether using something that’s on its way up is causing you to get more citations.”
From Hannah Fearn in Times Higher Education

“Two cultures” in the social sciences?
Key philanthropic and government programmes offering grants for PhD students in the United States appear to be excluding proposals for graduate students in sociology and political science, while favoring proposals from those in history, anthropology, and a range of relatively small disciplines such as art history and ethnomusicology, according to data released last week.
The analysis was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and focused on programmes to support field research or international research. The issue is regarded as particularly important because the analysis comes at a time when many political scientists are urging the discipline to push those who focus on American government and politics to take a broader view and study other parts of the world as well.
According to those who discussed the issue at the APSA meeting, a variety of factors, including biases and habits within disciplines, are hurting the “explanatory social sciences” in ways that are damaging to those fields and their graduate students.
Ronald Herring, a professor of government at Cornell University who focuses on South Asia, said that he first became concerned about the issue when he was on a board looking at fellowships for the American Institute of Indian Studies, which is the largest funder of support for graduate work in India. The year he looked at the situation, the success rates for political scientists and sociologists seeking grants were both zero.
Nearly three-quarters of proposals in art history were accepted, two-thirds for history, and nearly half for anthropology. While the situation has since improved, Herring said he wondered why “some social sciences were being weeded out of area studies”.
From Inside Higher Ed

Emergency handouts for hungry students
The rising cost of living is hitting some Australian university students so hard that the universities have now resorted to handing out emergency food aid. Requests for food handouts usually come to welfare organisations but, in this case, universities are having to respond to student needs.
Student organisations say many students across the country are going hungry, and the Australian Catholic University in north Sydney has set up a system where students can take food handouts anonymously. It says an increasing number of students are turning up to classes hungry, forced to skip meals because of the growing costs of living. So the university has had to set up a cupboard stocked with essential food items.
Cath Leary, who runs the programme, says dozens of students access it on a daily basis. “Some people are doing it really tough, some people are eating one meal a day,” she said. “We hear, particularly from our counsellors, who are saying that students are coming to them and saying, 'I'm not eating as much as I probably should be'. The counsellors will often take the students up to the food cupboard and show them ... so they actually know that it’s there.”
She thinks, however, that there are many more students going hungry. “There are actually a lot of students who are not accessing the resources,” she said. “We hear that they’re too embarrassed to do that, because it would be to admit failure.”
From Michael Edwards on ABC News

Cambridge goes to Coronation Street
It’s a long way from Cambridge to Coronation Street, but the world-famous university is attempting to narrow that gap by planting stories with scriptwriters at several major television soaps in a plan designed to make the university less off-putting to potential applicants. The Cambridge University communications office has written to story editors at EastEnders, Coronation Street, and Emmerdale, among others, to suggest storylines that could present the university in a more student-friendly light.
The move is part of the university’s efforts to tackle its elitist image and encourage students from a more diverse range of backgrounds to apply. Press officers also approached Top Gear to suggest it recreate an infamous stunt carried out by engineering students at the university who, in 1958, winched an Austin Seven on to the top of the university’s 70-feet-high Senate House. They also suggested to the writers of Doctor Who the possibility of setting some historical scenes in the Cambridge colleges.
A spokesperson for the university said it was part of a push to challenge “myths” about the university before its 800th anniversary next year. “It’s about challenging myths about studying at Cambridge. People think it’s an expensive place to study when, in fact, because of short terms and the availability of college accommodation, the bills can be lower. We have some of the most generous student-support packages around and it’s an unlimited pot: we don’t run out of cash,” he said.
The advances have so far proved fruitless and were too late with one soap: EastEnders is already featuring the story of two students, Libby Fox and Tamwar Masood, whose mothers are competing over who might make it to Cambridge or Oxford when they apply for university next year.
From Polly Curtis in the Guardian

More international news
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AUS Tertiary Update is published weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the Association of University Staff and others. Back issues are available on the AUS website: Direct inquiries should be made to the editor, email:

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