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AUS Tertiary Update Vol. 5 No. 35, 26 September

In our lead story this week…..
Otago academic staff have this week been holding a series of rolling stoppages in support of their campaign for an increase in the 3% salary rise currently being offered by management in the latest round of salary negotiations. Classes have been cancelled at short notice as pickets have moved from one building to another during the day. Students turning up for class have been presented with information about the dispute and many of them have signed a petition supporting staff. General staff at Otago have not been involved in the industrial action but have been supporting their academic colleagues on the picket lines. The general staff will vote tomorrow (Friday) on whether or not to accept the offer made to them.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Tertiary reforms on track says Minister
2. Government well briefed on inadequacy of 2003 funding deal
3. Performance-based funding to reward research excellence
4. Tertiary enrolments up
5. Big increases in student numbers sees sector in crisis
6. Petition for release of Australian academic
7. Competition 'works' for research excellence in UK
8. Big turnout in support of union rep

The Minister in charge of tertiary education, Steve Maharey says concerns that the tertiary education reforms legislation has been delayed are unfounded. Mr Maharey was responding to comments in the latest edition of the New Zealand Vice-Chancellor’s Committee's (NZVCC) "Electronic News Bulletin". The Minister conceded it would have been preferable to have had the reform bill passed before the election in July, but indicated that now that the United Future party had had a chance to consider the legislation and determine its position, it would be passed as a matter of priority. “The bill dropped down Parliament’s order paper last week because we did not seek to have it debated," he said. "When debate is planned the order paper will be reordered." Mr Maharey said the government was currently consulting with the NZVCC and the government did not want to proceed with the bill ahead of those discussions. The Minister said the government had sufficient support for the reform bill to pass into law.

The NZVCC says it has twice written to the government and held two meetings with education ministers to press home its point that the funding deal being offered universities for next year in return for a fees freeze is inadequate. The NZVCC says the deal, being represented by government as a 4.5% increase, in fact represents only 3% when taken across the total of fees and funding and when inflation is taken into account. It will mean the universities will be "standing still" in terms of the funding they receive. The final decision on whether or not to accept the Government's funding deal will be made by the individual university councils, and they have been awaiting the outcome of NZVCC discussions before voting.

The minister in charge of tertiary education, Steve Maharey has told a workshop on the proposed Performance-based Research Fund (PBRF) that the new approach to funding research in tertiary education institutions will support and reward excellence. The one-day workshop was attended by representatives from tertiary institutions, tertiary sector unions, private providers, the Royal Society of New Zealand, government officials and postgraduate students. The workshop heard about the results to date of a working group that has been meeting since June to formulate the Fund. Mr Maharey said the government was determined the fund would be the answer to the problems posed by the current funding and regulatory approaches. These, he said, did not adequately reveal, celebrate or reward the many people working at the cutting edge of their fields in the tertiary education system. "We have committed $36 million over four years to supplement the money currently allocated to research on the basis of enrolments. This will mean that by 2007, when this money is fully allocated on a performance basis, the Fund will contain approximately $134 million a year," he told the meeting.

Latest statistics released by the Ministry of Education show that formal enrolments at public tertiary institutions rose by 13% or 37,000 students between 1999 and 2001.

"The Economist" magazine says more students than ever are "pouring" into higher education institutions worldwide, continuing a trend that began 20 years ago. But the urgent question, it says, is: who will pay? "The Economist" says this is because the big increase in students seeking a higher education in the developing as well as the developed world, has taken many governments by surprise, leading to under-funded, overcrowded universities in a perpetual state of crisis. Inevitably, this has led to a greater reliance on private money to support education, with students being called on to share the cost of their education, even in the traditional welfare states of Europe, where education is 'free' as a 'public good'. The magazine notes that opponents of this cost-sharing "rightly worry about access and affordability. But it concludes that these concerns may be overstated. "Curiously, many countries where students and families have to spend more have high participation rates while countries with less private spending tend to have low participation rates. This may be an anomaly, " the article concedes, "or it may be that reasonable fees do not amount to the financial barrier that many suppose, especially if coupled with sufficient aid for the neediest."

An Australian activist group – Action in Support of Asia and the Pacific (ASAP) – is circulating a petition to call for the government in Canberra to intervene on behalf of an Australian academic, Lesley McCulloch. She and an American colleague are being held on charges of violating their visas. They were arrested while visiting Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumartra. A letter smuggled to the news media said the two women had been beaten, sexually harassed and, for some time, denied access to consular and legal assistance. The petition is available at:

A Scots academic says a competitive scheme for allocating research grants has made a significant contribution to research excellence at British universities. John Beath – head of the School of Social Science at St Andrews University – says that since the introduction of the Research Assessment Exercise in 1986, British universities had increased their share of the top 1% of papers cited worldwide from 11% to 16%. Mr Beath told a conference in Canberra on higher education funding that the improvement in research excellence had not been at the expense of teaching. "We aimed to be the top research university in Scotland – and we achieved it – and we were also ranked top on the teaching scale." But he said there had been a downside in that up to 5% of the grant money and considerable amounts of academics' time were consumed in preparing for the periodic assessments required under the scheme.

More than 370 members of Australia's National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) have turned out at University of Queensland campuses to protest at moves to sack the NTEU branch president, Associate Professor George Lafferty. He has been an outspoken critic of the introduction of fees at Queensland university and has called for consultation with staff about proposals for redundancies.
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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