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TEU Tertiary Update Vol 15 No 9

Closure of theatre, film, American and cultural studies at UC

Nine full time-equivalent staff will lose their jobs and more than 150 students will lose their majors and programmes at the University of Canterbury according to an announcement by the vice chancellor, Dr Rod Carr this week.

The vice-chancellor told staff at the university this week he intends to disestablish theatre and film studies, American studies and cultural studies programmes.

The university has said it will consult on the change proposal until 4 May this year.

TEU denounced the decision, and branch presidents from around the country have called upon the minister of tertiary education, Steven Joyce, to intervene.

An open letter from those branch presidents said Mr Joyce's inaction in Christchurch threatens a broad and diverse education for local Cantabrians, but says he still has time to intercede.

"We believe it is not too late to act to save these programmes and the opportunities for students in these majors. Canterbury needs, now more than ever, a broad and diverse tertiary education that provides opportunities for all its potential students," read the letter.

Theatre and film studies department co-ordinator Associate Professor Sharon Mazer told the Christchurch Press she was in shock about the proposal and would fight for the programme's survival at every level.

The closure of the department would have a negative impact not only on the university's academic integrity but also on the cultural life of the city, especially post-earthquake, Mazer said.

"At no time in our city's history has it been more in need of ways of telling our stories and coming together to make a vibrant community," Dr Mazer told the Press.

Some staff have alleged that the programmes under threat now are same ones that university management was targeting before the earthquake, and that management is simply reintroducing a radical change agenda that the university community previously rejected.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Will it be 'Hello AHELO'?
  2. VUW accused of rorting PBRF rankings
  3. TEU members will not accept job casualisation in bargaining
  4. Manukau negotiations conclude in one day
  5. Other news

Will it be 'Hello AHELO'?

An OECD project to create a global test to measure student achievement will complete its feasibility study at the end of the year, at which point New Zealand officials will decide whether to implement the test here.

The OECD claims theAssessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) will test what students in higher education know and can do upon graduation. The test aims to be global and valid across diverse cultures, languages and different types of institutions. The OECD hopes that AHELO will be the tertiary education equivalent of the global secondary school test and ranking system PISA.

So far, between 10,000 and 30,000 students in more than 16 countries have participated in the feasibility study.

However, a recent study by academics from the University of California Berkeley warns that AHELO may be a blunt tool, creating questionable data that serve immediate political ends. AHELO is adapted from the American test, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). The CLA is a privately provided written test that focuses on critical thinking, analytic reasoning, written communication and problem-solving administered to small random samples of students, who write essays and memoranda in response to test material they have not previously seen.

"Because of the cost and difficulty of evaluating individual student essays, the design of the CLA relies upon a rather small sample size to make sweeping generalisations about overall institutional effectiveness. It provides very little if any useful information at the level of the major," the study's authors say.

"In many cases, to compare institutions (or rank institutions) using CLA results merely offers the 'appearance of objectivity' that many stakeholders of higher education crave."

"For the purposes of institution-wide assessment, especially for large, complex universities, we surmise that the net value of the CLA’s value-added scheme would be at best unconstructive, and at worst would generate inaccurate information used for actual decision-making and rankings."

TEU is watching closely how New Zealand responds to AHELO.

"Tertiary education does not need more tests and rankings." said TEU national president Dr Sandra Grey. "We already know what works, and we now need to invest in those things."

VUW accused of rorting PBRF rankings

Victoria University of Wellington says it has "no case to answer" in response to allegations that it is changing people's employment agreements so as to obtain a higher PBRF ranking. 

Popular Kiwiblog blogger, David Farrar, published earlier this week allegations that the university was changing the term of some of its fixed term agreements, encouraging academics to retire early and return on fixed term agreements,  and deliberately not employing staff who during the period that will negatively influence the June 2012 census.

TEU national president Dr Sandra Grey says the allegations fit with similar stories TEU organisers have heard from staff working at other universities.

"We know of staff being persuaded to resign on the understanding they will be rehired after the PBRF round is completed, staff put on fixed term agreements to avoid them counting for PBRF measurements, staff being offered shorter fixed term agreements to avoid counting in PBRF measurements, and potential staff not being employed to avoid them counting towards PBRF scores."

"These cases represent an outrageous breach of people’s employment rights, and also make a farce of the PBRF as a funding mechanism," said Dr Grey.

TEU is calling for the Tertiary Education Commission to launch a nationwide investigation into universities altering people's terms of employment so as to rort their PBRF ranking.

Tertiary Education Commission spokeswoman Kate Richards told the Dominion Post the commission's board is reviewing findings from a statutory audit into the PRBF with a summary expected to be publicly released shortly.

She said this year's PBRF quality evaluation was expected to proceed as planned this year with the Education Ministry leading a policy review of the PBRF from mid-2012, which will include engagement with business, researchers and tertiary providers on options for the model's future.

TEU members will not accept job casualisation in bargaining

Increasingly vitriolic attacks by employers on workers was the topic that concerned many TEU branch presidents as they gathered in Wellington this week for their first annual summit.

The lockout of workers at both the Port of Auckland and the Talley's-owned AFFCO meatworks, along with the unwillingness of the employer to negotiate at Oceania rest homes, are three of the most public examples of emboldened employers taking the opportunity to attack working conditions and job security. TEU branches around the country are actively supporting the workers and the families in all three of these disputes. However, many are now also wondering what this might mean for the tertiary education sector.

Three quarters of TEU members will be negotiating a new collective agreement in the next few months.

Branch presidents at TEU's summit this week agreed many tertiary employers like other employers were pressuring for more casualised jobs and less secure work.

"It's not as public, but we are facing the same issues as those other workers,' said TEU’s Eastern Institute of Technology branch president Gordon Reid.

"Casualisation, poor job security, intransigent human resource strategies are bad for education as well as those who work in education. We will not accept attacks on quality education in any negotiations," said Mr Reid.

Manukau negotiations conclude in one day

TEU members at the Manukau Institute of Technology are voting on whether to ratify a collective agreement after only a day of negotiations.

The new agreement includes a 2 percent pay rise and no loss of conditions. The ratification vote closes tomorrow afternoon.

Branch president Lesley Francey says she is pleased with how smoothly the negotiations went, and how reasonable and efficient MIT management were as employers. She told other branch presidents at TEU's branch presidents' forum that the keys to this year's negotiations were high rates of union membership at the polytechnic, a willingness in previous years to take action to oppose employer attacks on working conditions and the branch making sure it planned its negotiation strategy well in advance of bargaining.

The quickly and amicably resolved agreement stands in contrast to many of the protracted negotiations at some other polytechnics and even at recent previous MIT negotiations.

"Our strength in numbers was important this time," said Ms Francey.

Other news

Christchurch’s earthquakes have had a big impact on the number of international students studying in the city with a 37 percent  drop in 2011, latest figures from the Education Ministry show. Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Steven Joyce says the results were expected. "The earthquakes in Canterbury have severely impacted the number of people from overseas wishing to study in Christchurch, " Mr Joyce says.

Senior Consultant to Education International, the global federation of teachers’ unions, David Robinson tells National Radio's Chris Laidlaw why he is unhappy at the way universities are being refocused for the purposes of commercial enterprise rather than academia and scholarship - Radio New Zealand

Reports indicate that, in recent months, the University of Bahrain has dismissed at least 117 of its academic staff and expelled more than 400 students for participating in demonstrations against the government or posting related links on social media sites - Education International

The Tertiary Education Union is just one of many unions that has backed the Ports’ workers from the beginning, and national president Sandra Grey says the latest decision from the Ports is a step in the right direction - Te Waha Nui

When some University of Michigan graduate student research assistants started a drive to unionise about two years ago, they never imagined that their campaign would result in the governor signing a bill to prevent them and other graduate research assistants from organising at public universities in the state - Inside Higher Ed

Canada’s largest university, York, accepted a $30 million gift last year from a non-partisan think tank. Despite assurances by the think tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, that academic freedom at the public university will not be affected, the national professors' union and more than 200 York faculty members fear otherwise. The key complaint about the gift has little to do with the money, but instead with the fact York agreed to give the think tank a formal role in selecting faculty - a break from the tradition in Canada and the United States of not letting donors decide who is hired - Inside Higher Ed

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