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AUS Tertiary Update Vol. 4 No. 30

In our lead story this week…..
In the wake of this month's well- publicised “Knowledge Wave” conference in Auckland, AUS national president, Neville Blampied is calling on the Government to introduce a policy of sustained, substantial and strategic investment in both higher education, and research and development. “While New Zealanders were being flagellated at the shrine of the pure market, many countries, and Finland and Ireland in particular, were vigorously pursuing this strategy,” he says. Instead, New Zealand governments over the past decade have been cutting back investment in university education by 20% in real terms. "The time has come for some real investment in the staffing and infrastructure of universities, if New Zealand is to be able to say hello to greater economic prosperity,” Mr Blampied says. (See Education Review,24.8.01.)

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Otago accepts fees deal
2. NZMA welcomes fees freeze
3. AUT head advocates mergers
4. 'Nature' tells contributors: "come clean"
5. Chief of Britain's quality-assurance agency quits
6. Universities use credit rating agencies to aid hunt for funds
7. Fiji academic defends role in elections
8. U21 to focus on Asia and Latin America

Otago is the latest university to accept the Government's fee-freeze offer – in a move that has delighted students, but sparked fears among staff that recruitment and retention problems will continue. The Vice-Chancellor, Graeme Fogelberg warned that staff could be the losers from the freeze, given that state funding was insufficient to support a substantial salary rise. During the meeting, two students stood silently in the Council Chamber, holding a large pro-freeze banner. Dr Fogelberg said the government's funding offer - effectively around 2.6% plus a share of a $35 million tertiary funding package - was expected to boost the university's income by about $6 million next year. However, the university would be writing to the government over "huge disparities" in tuition fees charged by different universities and the need to adjust government funding accordingly, he said. Otago University Students Association president, Ayesha Verrall said students were celebrating the decision, adding that it would "ease the burden" on students. A general staff representative on the Council, Sandy Graham supported the decision and said it would have been "unconscionable" to increase tuition fees by the 20% required as an alternative.

With most universities now having accepted the fee-freeze deal, the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) is welcoming the news that medical students at both Auckland and Otago will not be facing a fees hike. Dr John Adams, who chairs the NZMA, said the prospect of fees rising from $10,000 to $12,500 a year had been "frightening". But he emphasised that the fee freeze was only part of the answer. "The government must commit itself to find both short and long term solutions to the drastic shortages within the medical workforce, so that New Zealanders can continue to receive care from the highly trained graduates of our medical schools".

The Vice-Chancellor of the Auckland University of Technology, Dr John Hinchcliffe has called for mergers of New Zealand tertiary institutions as a way of tackling the budget constraints they are facing. He said the country's 35 institutions posed too much of a financial burden on New Zealand's small population, with each requiring quality learning systems, progressive curriculums, libraries, enhanced student services, appropriate salaries, institutional accountability, new technologies, and administration. Dr Hinchcliffe said the Government approach of encouraging co-operation among institutions would not reduce the expensive administrative overheads or the competitive advertising, but integration would help achieve economies of scale, and eventually yield "a significant saving of taxpayer dollars". He recognised that past experiences of mergers had "devastated" the smaller institution. But Dr Hinchcliffe said that cultural coherence rather than geographical proximity was the "crucial glue to bind the parts into a new whole".


The scientific journal "Nature" has announced it will in future ask authors to disclose conflicts of interests when they submit papers. Starting on 1 October, the journal's editors say scientists will be requested – but not required – to reveal if they have received any financial support that could result in 'bias'. Conflicts of interest are defined as: funding for research from organisations that stand to gain or lose financially through the publication of the paper; employment by, or consultation fees from such an organisation; stocks or shares in a company that has a stake in publication; and patents or patent applications whose value could change with publication of the paper. The stand represents something of a turnaround for "Nature", which in 1997 ran an editorial entitled "Avoid Financial 'Correctness'". That argued that insisting authors declare business interests in papers was "beside the point".

The head of the British agency responsible for monitoring university standards has resigned. John Randall has been the chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) for four years. The agency has been embroiled in controversy. Mr Randall accused Britain's leading universities (including Cambridge and Oxford) of trying to thwart efforts to make them more publicly accountable, while institutions have called for the agency's activities to be cut by as much as 90%. QAA visits institutions to review both their performance as a whole and the quality of their teaching in specific subjects. Its activities are funded by subscriptions from higher-education institutions and through contracts with the country's education-financing councils. The assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, Paul Cottrell said Mr Randall's resignation marked "the end of an era of overly bureaucratic and prescriptive regulation" in higher education.

Cash-strapped British universities are resorting to private credit rating agencies to help them attract corporate investors to make up a shortfall in government funding. The University of Nottingham has led the trend by attracting an AA rating from international agency, Standard and Poor's. Nottingham believes its rating will help it to compete with universities such as Harvard and Yale, which have AAA scores, for research investment.

An associate professor at the University of the South Pacific is rejecting claims that academics at USP have failed to provide local media with analysis of the current election. Professor Scott MacWilliam of the history and politics department said he had been offended by comments by the acting editor of Fiji's Sun newspaper, Samisoni Pareti. Professor MacWilliam, who has a high regional profile as a media commentator with the ABC, said he had rarely been approached by local media for comment or information. On one of the few occasions a local journalist had approached him she had not turned up for the meeting. Mr Pareti later said his criticism had been levelled at economists.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the new Universitas 21 global on-line university will focus on offering Masters programmes for business and information technology in Asia and Latin America. The newspaper says Thomson Corp is pouring $25m into the project in partnership with 16 universities world-wide, including Auckland. ***************************************************************************
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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