AUS Tertiary Update
Marsden Fund: Good, but could do better
A common response to last week’s announcement of an increase of 23 percent, or $10 million, to Marsden Fund grants was to welcome the new total of $54 million but to appeal for further substantial increases to bring New Zealand into line with comparable countries.
While acknowledging the greater number of research projects awarded funds this year, Association of University Staff academic vice-president, Dr Grant Duncan, expressed concern that only 11 percent of preliminary applications were eventually successful. “No doubt not all applications merit funding but, clearly, such a low success rate means that, despite the increase in the total amount, a large number of potentially beneficial research projects will not be able to proceed because of lack of funding,” said Dr Duncan.
“It also raises the question of the waste of researchers’ time in developing the proposals and filling out the application forms, all of which can take a significant amount of time. That time goes unmeasured, and is time that could be more productively spent were there a greater level of subsequent financial support,” added Dr Duncan.
Noting that universities received 87 percent of the total 2008 Marsden allocation, the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (NZVCC) nonetheless said that, as the most significant research sector in the country, universities need more funding to maximise their contribution to an economy based on growth and innovation. “The fact that only 11 percent of preliminary proposals in this year’s Marsden round actually received funding is a sure indication that many university research projects which had the potential to add to New Zealand’s social and economic well-being have missed out,” said NZVCC research committee chair and Otago vice-chancellor, Professor David Skegg.
“Universities could, and should, do more to improve the standard of living and quality of life for all New Zealanders but need more public investment in their research to fully deliver on that potential.”
Professor Jeffery Tallon of Victoria University, who wrote the open letter signed by 460 top scientists calling for a trebling of the Marsden Fund, agreed that this year had seen “the biggest increase in some time”. Contrasting the 11 percent success rate with Denmark’s 40 percent, Professor Tallon, however, said, “The issue is that in New Zealand we face some pretty major challenges. We have some very low productivity and each year we’re slipping further behind, compared to our competition. The only way out of that is to switch to an advanced-technology industry.”
Also in Tertiary Update
1. Unitec to cut 55 jobs
2. Students welcome increase in medical-school places
3. Tertiary education coming to Manukau
4. New peace professorship at Otago
5. Financial crisis result of poor scholarship?
6. Too many rungs on the ladder?
7. Research elite rejects “innovation and development”
8. Zimbabwe academics and students cautious over deal
9. Australian university to teach basic English
Unitec to cut 55 jobs
Further to last week’s report of a delay in releasing its final restructuring plan, Unitec has now announced that 55 jobs will be lost, a reduction from the earlier proposal of 67. The Auckland-based institute of technology will go ahead with closing programmes in horticulture and language-teacher education but threatened postgraduate courses will be maintained, as will some elements of tourism, floristry, and interior decor.
Association of Staff in Tertiary Education northern region field officer, Chan Dixon, said that the outcome is better than the original proposal. “But that is not to underestimate the very, very difficult times that people are having,” she said.
Unitec had more than 850 full-time staff last year and more than 9000 full-time-equivalent students at campuses in Mt Albert, Henderson, and Takapuna. Last year was the first time in four years that it recorded a financial surplus, aided by a multimillion-dollar grant from the government to set up a campus on the North Shore.
Unitec chief executive, Dr Rick Ede, said the institution needs to return to delivering regular surpluses. He has said that the institution needs to make savings of $11 million to $18 million over the next three years. The original proposal said that Unitec had suffered from an “overly complex and top-heavy” management structure and below-average student-to-staff ratios.
Dr Ede said the decision to retain the master of architecture (by project) and postgraduate diploma, master’s, and PhD education programmes was made when submitters provided information on costs. “Basically they are able to be offered without requiring extra staff to be dedicated to it,” said Dr Ede.
Dr Ede said Unitec is no longer focused on becoming the country’s ninth university. Its six-year battle on that ended in 2006 with an announcement by Trevor Mallard, who was then education minister, that it should remain an institute of technology.
Students welcome increase in medical-school
This week’s Medical Training Board recommendation to increase the intake of medical-school entrants by 100 places over the next four years has been welcomed by the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association (NZMSA). “It has become evident in recent years that New Zealand cannot continue to rely on foreign-trained doctors to staff our health system, and that we must make a commitment to train more of our own doctors,” said NZSMA president Anna Dare.
“Increasing the number of students taken into New Zealand’s medical schools represents a long-overdue step towards achieving self-sufficiency in our medical workforce,” she added.
In the last 25 years there have been only two small increases in medical-school numbers: one in 2003 and another in 2008, despite a growing population and a vast increase in the burden of chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Ms Dare cautioned, however, that New Zealand’s problems with retention of its medical graduates must also be addressed if the increase in medical numbers is to have any effect on solving workforce shortages.
“Currently we lose 30 percent of our doctors overseas within the first three years of graduation,” Ms Dare said. “Without simultaneously addressing our poor retention rates, we may simply end up training an additional 100 medical students for Australia.”
Alongside incentives to keep doctors in New Zealand, such as debt relief, Ms Dare believes that high-quality training and a system which values and respects those working within it is important. “Promoting a health-workforce climate that ensures our newest graduates see New Zealand as a viable place to work and train is paramount, especially as we look to further increase the number of students we train.”
The Medical Training Board discussion documents also include recommendations for training and the need for broad oversight and ongoing medical-workforce planning.
education coming to Manukau
The Manukau City Council is hoping a new agreement with the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) will mean tertiary education can begin being offered in the city centre from 2011. The council and MIT have recently signed a memorandum of co-operation to establish the governance and management structures for the development of a new tertiary-education campus for MIT to open in the Manukau city centre.
Manukau mayor, Len Brown, said that the council and MIT have had a close working relationship for a number of years. “The council has been advocating for many years about the need for tertiary education to be available in the city centre. We’re confident that this agreement with MIT will mean this is delivered within the next few years. We’re hoping the first students will be taking tertiary-education courses on a city-centre site in 2011,” said Mr Brown.
The courses may start on a limited basis and then develop a bigger campus close to the new transport interchange near Hayman Park. Mr Brown said that it is hoped that the facilities and courses on offer will attract people who might not otherwise go on to tertiary training. “The council will also be looking at agreements to bring other tertiary-education providers into the city centre. For example, Auckland University of Technology (AUT), with which the council also has a close relationship.”
“Manukau has large numbers of students leaving school who don’t go on to tertiary education. Only 2.6 percent of Counties Manukau people are in tertiary education, which is about half the national average,” Mr Brown said. “With 450,000 people in the area and Manukau being the fastest-growing city in New Zealand, the huge demand for tertiary education in this part of our region will only increase.”
peace professorship at Otago
Professor Kevin Clements, an internationally respected New Zealand academic presently based at the University of Queensland, has been appointed to a new professorship in peace and conflict studies at the University of Otago, according to a report in the Otago Daily Times. Professor Clements, who takes up his appointment in January next year, will also become director of the University of Otago’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.
The centre will focus on the nature and resolution of conflict, and the creation of peaceful environments. It will bring together academics, students, and visitors from many disciplines, and aims fully to involve indigenous peoples.
The centre and chair were made possible by a $1.25 million donation from the Aotearoa New Zealand Peace and Conflict Studies Centre Trust, university officials announced last week. The trust’s gift was made through the university’s Leading Thinkers Initiative and was matched by the government under the Partnerships for Excellence scheme, lifting the total to $2.5 million.
Professor Clements graduated with a PhD in sociology from Victoria University in 1970 and has spent the past seventeen years in international posts. He is at present professor of peace and conflict studies and foundation director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland. From 1999 to 2003, he was secretary-general of International Alert, an organisation based in London working on conflict and conflict transformation in many countries.
Professor Clements has long advocated establishing such a peace-studies centre in New Zealand and is “humbled and privileged” to be able to develop it, reports the ODT. He has said that he wants it to be a centre of academic excellence that will build on the rich indigenous peace-building initiatives that ran deep in New Zealand’s Moriori and Māori traditions.
Financial crisis result of poor scholarship?
Business academics should take some blame for the current global financial crisis because they have ignored fundamental social and political questions in favour of “narrow” teaching and scholarship. This is the view of Stefano Harney, a reader in strategy and director of global learning at the University of London, who has completed a study of more than 2,300 leading research papers in the field.
He has criticised leading business and management researchers, saying their work tends to focus on solving “small technical problems” such as product placement and supply chains. He said business academics had failed to examine the larger social and political questions that could provide fundamental answers on how to create a better world.
He also hit out at teaching in business schools for failing to deliver a cadre of professionals who cared about ethical and social issues. “The best business schools should be questioning themselves as to what part they might be playing in the current crisis,” Dr Harney said.
“The business schools did very, very little to educate and challenge the so-called culture of greed and of bonuses that seem to have dominated the City .... We have failed to teach our students the kind of social conscience and ethics and concern for the world and the environment and the poor that might have had an effect on the selfish exuberance of the finance markets,” said Dr Harney.
He called on academics and business schools to consider their responsibilities. “Maybe a broader education would have helped people to have a slightly less-narrow, focused, and selfish view of how to make money,” he concluded.
From Zoë Corbyn in Times Higher Education
Too many rungs on the ladder?
An aging professoriate, a swelling corps of part-time and non-tenure-line academics, and students qualifying and entering academia later in life are believed to be fuelling a dearth of young permanent faculty with the time and opportunity to rise into higher-education leadership positions, according to Too Many Rungs on the Ladder? Faculty demographics and the future leadership of higher education. The study, published by American College of Education (ACE), finds that only 3 percent of academics at four-year institutions aged 34 years or younger are working in tenure-track positions and the proportion rises to only 15 percent among faculty aged 35 to 44 years; and the figures for women and people of colour are even worse.
“Although women and people of colour generally make up a larger proportion of young tenure-line faculty than of older faculty, the low total number of young faculty translates to very few women and people of colour in the permanent faculty,” the study reports. “Women under the age of 45 in permanent positions make up 5 percent of faculty at four-year institutions and 6 percent of community-college faculty. People of colour under the age of 45 in permanent positions represent 4 percent of faculty at four-year institutions, and 6 percent of faculty at community colleges.”
Explanations offered for the lack of young permanent staff include the rising number of untenured positions, students finishing PhDs at a later age as well as “the increased prevalence of postdoctoral appointments, and the rising number of male and, in particular, female young academics who take time away from their careers to care for young children”.
The full report is available at:
Research elite rejects “innovation and
“Slipshod thinking” that sees universities as “engines of innovation and economic development” is undermining the most important contributions they make to society, according to a paper from Europe’s leading research-intensive institutions. The paper, What are universities for?, published by the League of European Research Universities (LERU), a group of 20 leading institutions in Europe, calls for a reinforced understanding of the fundamental role of universities based around “basic research” that “invigorates teaching”.
The paper argues that, while universities can help to create an environment supportive of innovation, they can never, contrary to much current thinking, be the driver of innovation. “Innovation is dominantly a process of business engagement with markets. Universities can play only a minor active role,” the paper says.
“It is erroneous to think of innovation ... as a supply-driven process, fuelled by inventions, often created in universities, and, in particular, in science and technology. Although few would admit it, this can be the only rationale for some government policies of recent years.”
The paper also chastises the “perfunctory nod” given to humanities and social sciences by governments. “[They] are as important as science and technology and are as central to the well-being of society,” it argues.
The paper also says that many governments regard the sector as a “supermarket”, identifying particular outputs that they think are useful and want to promote and ignoring others in which they are not interested. “By being partial and selective and viewing universities only as instruments serving a series of very specific outcomes, the creativity of universities is being undermined,” Professor Boulton said.
From Zoë Corbyn in Times Higher Education
Zimbabwe academics and students cautious over
Academics and students in Zimbabwe have greeted a political-power-sharing deal struck earlier this month with caution. Students see little chance of the settlement between long-ruling Zanu-PF party and the rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) succeeding. Lecturers, however, hope it will deliver academic freedom and a return of donors who cut support as oppression deepened.
Douglas Mwonzora, a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe who was elected to parliament in March on an MDC ticket, foresaw some mainly legislative reforms to higher education. “There will be some changes for the better. As the MDC now controls parliament there will be the introduction of sound laws that will improve the welfare of students as well as improving academic freedoms,” he said. Dr Mwonzora expressed hope that the power-sharing deal might persuade international donors who cut ties with public tertiary-education institutions to rethink their boycott.
But University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure was sceptical and also thought it premature to predict whether the settlement would improve the lot of students. “The level of rot cannot be reversed by the government alone. International partners are needed but at the moment they are cautious about the deal. It all depends on what Mugabe will do next,” he argued.
President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, Clever Bere, said, “We do not trust Zanu-PF or Mugabe as a person with regard to any process that may see his powers being diluted.” Mr Bere said Mugabe’s history indicated he “may not be sincere”.
Still, he stressed that a deal to end suffering in Zimbabwe is necessary and he hoped that Mugabe would see sense this time around so that the settlement “reflects on the lives of ordinary people and students”.
From Clemence Manyukwe in University World News
Australian university to teach basic
Concern over the dire state of English proficiency among first-year students has compelled Monash University to introduce a remedial writing course focused on “language mechanics”, such as basic grammar and punctuation. Baden Eunson, lecturer at the university’s school of English, communications and performance studies, and convenor of the new course, said that roughly 90 percent of his first-year students could not identify a noun.
“If you ask them to identify adjectives and other parts of a sentence only about 1 percent can manage,” he said. “It is not really a surprise as only about 20 percent of English teachers understand basic grammar.” Mr Eunson described his remedial program as a US-style “freshman composition course, mainly covering material that should have been covered in school but wasn’t”.
He has also entered the debate about the choice of Peter Freebody, a Sydney University educator and critical literacy advocate, to write the framing document for the national English curriculum, predicting that there would be little consequent improvement in the literacy of school leavers. “The critical literacy approach hammered out by Professor Freebody and his colleague Allan Luke promoted a socio-political view of the world at the expense of basic literacy,” he said. “It also introduced a theoretical jargon that disenchants many students.”
He pointed to a 2003 study by the Economic Society of Australia which found that school leavers “are functionally illiterate because standards in Australian high schools have collapsed”.
Mr Eunson said their inadequacies emerged clearly when they were asked to hand-write answers to test questions, to perform without the aid of spell-checkers. “I think we’ll see more and more of these university-level courses springing up to do the schools’ work for them,” he concluded.
From Luke Slattery in the Australian
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