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AUS Tertiary Update Vol 5 No.32

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AUS Tertiary Update Vol. 5 No. 32, 5 September 2002

In our lead story this week….
The Otago University combined unions’ negotiating team met on Wednesday to consider feedback from Monday’s strike and consider options for possible further action. A decisive vote at the unions’ stopwork meeting last week authorised the team to initiate further industrial action if necessary, including more strikes. One option is to continue withholding examination questions in the interim. Dr Shef Rogers, Association of University Staff spokesperson for the team, said that they had decided to attempt mediation through the Employment Relations Mediation Service as a possible way forward. It is hoped that this may result in a new offer from the employer that enables formal negotiations to recommence. There will be no lifting of the current action around withholding exam questions until a new offer is before members, and such action is rescinded by a vote of members.
Association of University Staff General Secretary, Helen Kelly, stated that, “University staff throughout the country are in a similar situation to staff at Otago. Salaries in the sector have not kept up with inflation over the last ten years, let alone with international salary rates or even with salary increases within the rest of the education sector.” Negotiations began at Waikato University this week and those around the rest of the country [except those at Auckland University, where the current agreement runs to October 2003] are scheduled to start within the next few months.

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Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Performance-based research funding – work continues
2. New national organisation for postgrad students
3. PTEs invited to apply for additional funding
4. Over 80% of UK public want more university funding
5. University degree mills
6. US universities mark 11 September
7. Brains continue to drain

Work on a Performance Based Research Fund [PBRF], a component of the new funding arrangements for tertiary education research, continues. On the 17 September, the Transition Tertiary Education Commission [TTEC] is to convene a small group of tertiary education sector human resource and legal experts, including an Association of University Staff [AUS] representative, to consider issues around good human resources practice and the implementation of the PBRF. A national workshop, to discuss the recommendations of the PBRF Working Party, is also to be held on 25 September. A report on PBRF systems internationally and proposals in New Zealand, written for the TTEC by Professor Jonathan Boston, can be found on:

Postgraduate students have formed a new national organisation to represent their interests. An inaugural conference, attended by representatives of postgraduate students from six of New Zealand’s eight universities, was held at the University of Waikato recently. Alistair Shaw, spokesperson for the new group, said that, “The strengthening of postgraduate representation on campuses and the need for postgraduates to be consulted on changes to the tertiary sector have made this organisation essential”. Mr Shaw noted that the Government’s plan for changes to research funding for tertiary institutions includes funding for postgraduate completions and said that student representatives are determined to engage the Government on that issue. He said that, “In Australia, a similar policy has led to huge problems for postgraduates, with increased pressure, falling standards and no more resources, the opposite of what was intended”. Leisa Ridges, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, attended the conference and warned of the difficulties associated with a performance-based funding model similar to that being proposed in New Zealand. The postgraduate organisation will work towards strengthening groups on each campus and will also undertake research on issues postgraduate students are facing.

Associate Minister of Education [Tertiary], Steve Maharey, has announced that Private Training Establishments [PTEs] have been invited to apply for additional funding to teach programmes next year that fill ‘important niches in New Zealand’s tertiary education system’. The PTE Strategic Priorities Fund, established in this year’s Budget, contains at least $17 million in 2003. A further $129 million has been set aside to purchase programmes already offered by PTEs next year. PTEs also receive around $135 million from Skill New Zealand for industry training and other training programmes. The Minister states that, “The value of the Fund may increase because savings generated from PTEs exiting the system or experiencing enrolment decline will also be invested in the Fund”. Given that the serious, long-term decline in funding of public education institutions has yet to be addressed, the Association of University Staff says that any such savings should be channelled back into the public tertiary education sector – which caters for the majority of students and where it is sorely needed.

In the United Kingdom, more than 80 per cent of the public want a big increase in university funding, according to a new poll commissioned by the Association of University Teachers [AUT]. The poll showed that 82 per cent of people want Government funding for higher education to increase to match the planned expansion in university places by 2010. Under Government plans, universities will have to take 670,000 more students by the end of the decade – but so far public funding has not kept pace with current growth, which has been underway for several years. AUT General Secretary, Sally Hunt, welcomed the poll’s findings stating that, “The public realises that if the Government wants to push through hundreds of thousands more students it’s got to back that up with adequate funding. People, particularly students and parents, can see that unless funding is adequate the quality of education that can be provided by universities is clearly going to go into decline”.

The Australian reports that the Australian International Conservatorium of Music has dumped postgraduate music degrees from the unaccredited London-based Central School of Religion. The newspaper has been exposing fake and dubious ‘universities’ in a series of articles in its Higher Education Supplement and its reporter, Patrick Lawnham, has put together a list of 60 unaccredited higher education institutions and 155 ‘degree mills’. The newspaper states that, despite phony degrees being a time bomb in a CV, the international explosion of ‘degree mills’ shows many people are willing to take the chance.

Universities across the United States have announced events to mark the anniversary of 11 September. They include: ‘The Rolling Requiem’, a worldwide series of performances of Mozart’s Requiem Mass to be held in honour of the victims and heroes of the attacks; students and staff joining together wearing red, white or blue T-shirts to form a living American flag; the dedication of commemorative trees and stones; and a range of appropriate lectures, dance and music.

Professor Kevin Hart, poet and academic, upon leaving Monash University for an overseas post, delivered a stinging attack on academic life in Australia. In an interview with The Australian, he stated that the value of a BA degree had been halved and the standard of the PhD had “dropped alarmingly”. In observations that reflect concerns expressed by some AUS members regarding the New Zealand situation, he stated that amalgamations with unrelated departments meant that traditional disciplines, such as English, are being destroyed. Professor Hart stated that, “The policies of the Government and of previous governments on both sides of politics have made it impossible for any student to choose to do a world-class humanities degree in Australia”. The Monash Dean of Arts, Homer Le Grand, said that there was no evidence to support the claim that standards had declined – and feedback from examiners overseas was that Monash students are “typically better than at their institutions and that’s not surprising given that our students do take longer, typically, to complete”.

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: Direct enquiries to Margaret Ledgerton, AUS Policy Analyst, email:

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