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AUS Tertiary Update Vol.4 No.27

In our lead story this week…..
"Underwhelmed" is how the Association of University Staff describes the reaction to the Government's announcement that it is providing $34.7m in funds to help the public tertiary education sector adapt to change. AUS Executive Rob Crozier calls the funding a sweetener to go with the castor oil funding diet announced in the recent Budget. He points out that the money is not to go on staff salaries and so will do nothing to boost their inadequate pay, or improve their working conditions, a situation Mr Crozier describes as "deplorable". “If the Government is serious about the outcomes of the recent Knowledge Wave Conference, then it has to get real and acknowledge the vital contribution of the universities’ intellectual capital – their staff,” he says.
The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee (NZVCC) is more enthusiastic. Its Chair, Professor James McWha says university reaction to the one-off funding will be reasonably enthusiastic in that it will enable a smooth transition to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) regime. But he says it will in no way address the funding decline hitting New Zealand universities over the past decade.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
Cautious welcome for new TEC head
Déjà vu at efficiency study
Knowledge Wave rhetoric not matched by Government action
Hi-tech university project off
Victoria ordered to pay redundancy
Centres of Research Excellence Fund
Massey Asian influx
PNG students on hunger strike
'Asiaweek' drops university ratings

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In an eventful week for announcements relating to the tertiary education sector, the Government this week named Dr Andrew West to head the transition body that will eventually become the Tertiary Education Commission. His deputy will be Associate Professor Kaye Turner. Dr West –a scientist by profession – is currently Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority – a post he took up in March this year. Professor Turner is currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at the University of Waikato. The AUS National President, Neville Blampied has reacted cautiously to Dr West's appointment to the key post, saying he has little direct personal knowledge of the New Zealand university system. Mr Blampied welcomes the fact that Dr West has expressed strong support for public investment in higher education and research in an article last year in the New Zealand Science Review. But Mr Blampied says the AUS is not so impressed with his view that the eight universities should be merged into three. However, AUS recognises that Professor Turner – who has taught at Waikato's law school – brings to the TEC transitional body a profound understanding of the university system in this country.

AUS National President, Neville Blampied says the Government's tertiary sector efficiency study, also announced this week, carries a depressing sense of déjà vu. He says the aim of wringing even more efficiencies out of the system is a familiar one to university staff. "What is needed now is not more investigation of efficiencies," he says, "but more Government commitment to public investment, international benchmarking and a sustained determination to reach essential targets for quality, participation and research achievement”. Recalling that academic productivity has increased by more than 10% since 1991, Mr Blampied asks: "How much more efficient can New Zealand universities and their staff get?”

Wellington's "Evening Post" newspaper suggests that while last week's "Catching the Knowledge Wave" conference in Auckland was a valuable start in the search for practical ways to secure the country's long-term future, it also suggests the Government's disagreement with the nation's universities over funding sends a poor message about the value of education – a key driver in the search for better economic prosperity for all New Zealanders. AUS members, sifting through the 63 pages of recommendations washed up by the Knowledge Wave conference, will welcome those proposing increases in research funding and the placement of a higher value on teachers at all levels of the education system. However, as former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating told the conference: “It is not enough for New Zealanders simply to know (these things)…The difficult part is going to be translating that knowledge into action.”

Plans to build a $30m technology university at Taupo have been halted after Victoria University dropped out of the partnership. The Lake Taupo Development Company confirmed the deal was off because of "irreconcilable differences" with Victoria, which had wanted "absolute control". The other partner was the University of Limerick in Ireland. The development company said another university was waiting in the wings to replace Victoria but would not name it.

The Employment Tribunal has ruled that Victoria University must pay a former employee more than $32,000 in redundancy and other payments. Karen Reader, who had worked in the science research department since 1986, took a claim against the university last year when she lost her position as head technician in the electron microscope facility as a result of restructuring in 1999. She was asked to apply for another position, which she believed was significantly different from her former job. Ms Reader did in the end take up the position but resigned soon afterwards. Her case was handled by AUS lawyers, Oakley Moran who successfully argued that the university would not concede there was a significant difference in the two positions because a clause in Ms Reader's contract required the university to pay severance if she left the job within a nine-month period.

The Ministry of Education has named the Royal Society of New Zealand as the purchase agent for managing the contestable Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE) Fund for universities. The fund, announced in this year's Budget, provides $40.6m over the next four years. A further $20m is available for CoREs to purchase strategic research assets. The Royal Society will consult with the sector to draw up selection criteria for the fund.

More than 1000 Chinese students will be enrolling at Massey University over the next three years as part of a major overseas recruitment drive based in Hong Kong. All the students will be studying at the Massey College of Business.


Students at the University of Papua New Guinea have gone on an indefinite hunger strike to protest the administration's crackdown on student leaders. The crackdown followed demonstrations in June which turned violent. Four people died and 24 others were wounded when police opened fire.

"Asiaweek" magazine has dropped its rankings of universities in the Asia/Pacific region. The list was controversial, with critics suggesting the survey was almost as notable for the institutions that were absent (in some cases entire countries were missing, they point out) as for the ones ranked as the best.
AUS Tertiary Update is produced weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the union and others. Back issues are archived on the AUS website:

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