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AUS Tertiary Update

Rod Donald farewelled
Representatives of the Association of University Staff (AUS) have today joined other mourners in Christchurch to farewell a friend in Green Party Co-Leader Rod Donald, who died at the weekend.
AUS General Secretary Helen Kelly, who is overseas and unable to attend today’s funeral, said that Mr Donald was a principled leader of a political party which has always supported trade unions and working people. She said that Mr Donald had long promoted policies which were consistent with those of the AUS, and had been a strong advocate for a well-resourced and high-quality university system.
“Mr Donald has had a long personal association with the AUS, and a number of staff and members, in some cases well preceding his Parliamentary career, and his contribution and support have been greatly appreciated,” said Ms Kelly. “Union members were both shocked and saddened to hear of Mr Donald’s death.”
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions’ President, Ross Wilson, described Mr Donald as a passionate and tireless advocate for sustainable development and social justice. “Rod was a key influence in bringing the Green Party and the union movement closer together, and we have worked very closely on many issues over the past four years,” Mr Wilson said.
Ms Kelly said that Mr Donald had displayed remarkable political maturity, most recently being instrumental in allowing the formation of the new Government.
She passed on the Association’s condolences to Mr Donald’s family and to the Green Party.

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Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Cullen sends clear message about future shape of sector
2. Student-loan legislation tabled in Parliament
3. Friends of Private Education Exports lobby
4. Otago fees increase by up to 5 percent
5. Polytechnics receive QRP funding
6. Tertiary-sector advertising up
7. University staff oppose Australian reforms
8. US to cut higher-education funding
9. UK universities fear research and lectures may be illegal

Cullen sends clear message about future shape of sector
In his first public engagement since appointment as Minister for Tertiary Education, Dr Michael Cullen has delivered a clear message to the sector, saying that the high-growth strategies of the past decade and the kind of branding exercises seen in some institutions won’t cut much ice with the Government. Nor will spending money promising a cracking good social life to students.
Dr Cullen said that, alongside a lot of very good tertiary education outcomes, the 1990s spawned some decidedly average ones, and some that involved “quite frankly” the pursuit of “cash cow” opportunities and an atmosphere that encouraged high-growth strategies for their own sake.
In a speech to the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand Conference, Dr Cullen said that the intention of the Government is not only to provide a better sense of direction for the sector, but also to be pragmatic about what can be achieved and in what timeframe, and to leave ample room for innovation and leadership to flourish.
“Our conviction as a government,” said Dr Cullen, “is that we can and must create a tertiary sector that, without exception, provides education that is high quality in terms of international benchmarks and the expectations of learners and employers, and highly relevant to the skills needed to face the economic and social challenges that New Zealand faces.”
Included among the initiatives introduced by the Government to provide the sector with more direction are the reviews and assessments of strategic relevance; the review of the rapid growth in expenditure on certificate, diploma and adult community education courses; the Quality Reinvestment Programme, with grants worth $177 million over five years to develop and sustaining high-quality and relevant provision in institutes of technology, polytechnics and wânanga; and a review of the central education-sector agencies.
“Make no mistake: this is about major change. Many institutions will look very different in five years’ time,” said Dr Cullen.

Student-loan legislation tabled in Parliament
The Minister of Tertiary Education, Dr Michael Cullen, tabled legislation in Parliament on Tuesday which will make student loans interest-free, from the start of the new financial year, for students and former students residing in New Zealand. The Bill will be fast-tracked through all stage of the House to ensure that the changes can take effect from 1 April 2006.
Dr Cullen said that the interest-free student-loan policy, which was a key part of Labour’s election manifesto, would apply to existing and new loans, and had been designed both to cut the cost to students of tertiary study and to encourage skilled New Zealanders to invest their skills in the New Zealand economy.
“As a further inducement to encourage people back [to New Zealand], non-resident borrowers who are in default for non-repayment of their loans will have their penalties cancelled under a special amnesty if, between 1 April next year and 31 March 2007, if they agree to keep their current liability up to date for two years,” Dr Cullen said.
Estimates are that the interest-free regime will reduce the value of the student loans portfolio held by the Crown by around $1.5 billion. There will be a further impact of around $500 million due to a shift in accounting treatment from book to fair value. Both changes are one-off.
In response to Dr Cullen’s announcement, National Party Education spokesman, Bill English, says Labour's student-loan scheme will result in increased student debt and lower quality education. Mr English says the policy encourages more students to borrow more money and pay it back more slowly.
“Currently just 55 percent of students eligible for a loan take one out. But now the more than 100,000 students who are eligible for a loan but haven’t yet taken one out have a strong incentive to take out a full student loan and put it in the bank to earn a nice little nest egg on the taxpayer,” he said. “Even if only half of those students take up the opportunity, the total student debt burden will grow by an additional $2 billion over the next three years.”

Friends of Private Education Exports lobby
In a move that appears at odds with other government policy, trade officials have informed the AUS that New Zealand is starting a “Friends of Private Education Exports” group of WTO members to push for more private-sector involvement in education in the current General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) negotiations at the World Trade Organisation.
This group would seek commitments on private education from WTO members that constitute priority education markets. In line with the activity of other WTO groupings pushing for commercial access in other service sectors, it is expected that the group would seek to set targets for commitments in the private education sector, supplemented by a model schedule for an offer in this sector. Officials say that any model schedule would “suggest options to accommodate members’ differing domestic environments and levels of ambition”.
They say that the group will not be used to advocate commitments on public education.
AUS National President, Professor Nigel Haworth said that there is an inherent contradiction in the Government supporting an international lobby for private education at a time when it has openly acknowledged that domestic private tertiary education constitutes a problem because of quality issues and its duplication of public-sector courses.
Professor Haworth said that a significant risk in establishing such a group is that it will bring increased pressure for the opening and the commercialising education in New Zealand, with the greater likelihood of disputes being brought where New Zealand is stepping outside GATS constraints on regulation, such as attempting to limit the number of universities.
According to Professor Haworth, these problems are compounded by such issues as officials having no set definition of private education, other than a general view that it is where individuals, rather than public authorities, are paying tuition fees.
The AUS is writing to the Prime Minister asking the Government to abandon its support for the Friends of Private Education Exports initiative. It is also raising concerns about apparent New Zealand support for intensification of commitments in the GATS negotiations which would threaten New Zealand’s public services.

Otago fees increase by up to 5 percent
The University of Otago will raise most student tuition fees for 2006 by 5 percent, the maximum permitted under the Government’s fee-maxima regulations, but says its overall income will probably fall next year.
Chancellor Lindsay Brown said that, despite the increases, the University would still have some of the lowest domestic student tuition fees in the country, especially for Arts and Business courses. He noted that tuition fees for some undergraduate papers, such as Physiotherapy, would actually drop in 2006. Domestic fees for Dentistry would remain unchanged, while those for Medicine would decrease should the University be unable to obtain an exemption to allow for the current 2005 fee to remain unchanged next year.
“Overall, I think this is good news for Otago students as we remain one of the most affordable universities in the nation at a time when costs are escalating beyond the rate of inflation and beyond what the Government currently budgets for the tertiary sector,” Mr Brown said.
Mr Brown said it was no surprise that universities across the country are increasing their fees and, in some cases, seeking approval for larger hikes. “This year’s Government budget set a 2.6 percent increase for the 2006 tuition subsidy. However, inflation was now expected to be 3.4 percent,” he explained.
The AUS Otago Branch President, Shane Montague-Gallagher, said it appears that the University is in a no-win situation with fee increases. “With rising costs exceeding the increase in government funding, it seems the University Council had little choice in this instance,” he said. “We hope the Universities Tripartite Forum, established as a result of the recent industrial unrest on most university campuses, and which involves unions, vice-chancellors and government representatives, will come up with some real solutions that will serve the sector long-term.”

Polytechnics receive QRP funding
Polytechnics and wânanga have received more than $4 million from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) in funding designed to help them plan for changes in the tertiary-education sector. Nineteen out of twenty-three eligible polytechnics and wânanga have each received $250,000 under the Government’s new Quality Reinvestment Programme.
The QRP is a five-year project at the forefront of changes being put in place by the TEC under the umbrella of the Certificate and Diploma Programme to support providers to align their certificate and diploma courses with the 2005-07 Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities (STEP), and to build up a network of high-quality, relevant provision that meets the needs of learners, employers, their communities and New Zealand as a whole.
To qualify, institutions have signed a resolution agreeing to support the Programme’s aims of developing a network of high-quality, relevant and value-for-money certificate and diploma provision in the next five years.
A number of polytechnics are working towards applying for the Programme’s second stage $750,000 payment. To receive this they must show the TEC that factors beyond their control, such as competition and the geographic size and population of their catchment area, are making it difficult for them to maintain high-quality, relevant provision.
TEC Liaison and Development Group Manager Max Kerr said the Government has allocated $200m over five years for this programme. “That’s a long-term investment,” he said. “It’s clear the government is looking for substantial change.”

Tertiary-sector advertising up
New figures provided to the New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA) by AC Neilson show that tertiary institutions have increased spending on advertising and mass marketing by 103 percent since 1999, and now spend over $122 million competing with each other.
NZUSA Co-President, Camilla Belich, said the figures show that the Government’s call for less competition and more collaboration within the tertiary sector has clearly been laughed at by vice-chancellors and chief executives’ who have responded by spending more than doubling spending on marketing since 1999. “There is no academic proof that mass-marketing campaigns even work and, according to the 2004 TNS Income and Expenditure Survey, only 6 percent of students used marketing as their primary reason for choosing which tertiary institution to study at,” said Ms Belich.
Ms Belich said that students would be pleased at the concern shown by the new Minister of Education at the huge expenditure on advertising by tertiary institutions. “He now must act to prevent even more public and student money being wasted on fruitless marketing campaigns,” said Ms Belich.

University staff oppose Australian reforms
Australian academics have predicted individual employment contracts will “destroy the collegiality” of the country’s universities and prompt an exodus of staff as conditions of employment are undermined. University professors from across Australia have signed a statement, released on Tuesday this week, opposing the Federal Government’s workplace relations changes for higher education as a threat to university independence that will undermine academic freedom and do nothing to help improve the quality of teaching and research.
Legislation scheduled to be debated in the Australian Senate this week will see universities denied nearly $300 million of funding in 2006 and 2007 unless they adopt the hardline workplace-relations conditions, known as the Higher Education Workplace Relations Requirements.
Part of the Government’s broader Workchoices package, these conditions include requiring Australian Workplace (individual) Agreements to be offered to all university staff, the removal of limits on fixed-term and casual employment, and the elimination of any direct union role in collective bargaining, disputes and grievances.
Dr Carolyn Allport, President of the National Tertiary Education Union, said this week that the quality and integrity of teaching and research depends not only on the ability of universities to appoint staff and set conditions without external interference, but on staff having the right to speak out and offer comment ‘without fear or favour’. “Forcing universities to employ staff on secret individual contracts undermines this right, which is essential if universities are to meet the needs of our community for expert advice and independent research,” she said. “Although the Federal Government currently provides only 40 per cent of university funding, it wants a hundred per cent control of university staffing, management and employment practices.”
University staff will join a coalition of union and community groups to rally across Australia on Tuesday next week, with marches being held in all capitals and large cities. Marches in support of the Australians will also be held in New Zealand.

US to cut higher-education funding
The United States House of Representatives is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a budget-reconciliation resolution that contains potentially devastating cuts for higher-education programmes, according to higher education unions. The Senate has already cut student-aid programs to provide for hurricane relief efforts, but it is considering even deeper cuts to an already inadequate student aid programme. The proposed Bill reduces student loan programmes by $US14.5 billion to pay for deficit reduction, disaster relief and tax cuts.
A background paper from the American Association of University Professors says the Bill includes several concerning provisions, including more expensive student loans, intrusions on academic freedom and institutional autonomy and fewer checks on fraud and abuse in the for-profit sector.

UK universities fear research and lectures may be illegal
Academics and university librarians could fall foul of the UK Government’s new terror legislation unless they curb debate in tutorials and restrict the range of research materials available to students, vice-chancellors have warned. Universities UK (UUK) and the Association of University Teachers (AUT) said the day-to-day work of thousands of academic staff may be criminalised if the new laws, being debated in the Commons this week, are passed.
Professor Drummond Bone, UUK President, said that the Bill was drafted in such a way that it might well get in the way of normal academic work. “It might provoke the kind of suspicion and intolerance we are trying to deal with,” he said.
Vivienne Stern, Public Affairs adviser to UUK, said that the Bill is unacceptably wide and will, in the view of UUK, expose academic staff and librarians and, by virtue of that, the university management to the risk of committing criminal offences during their standard work.
Last night (New Zealand time), the most controversial part of the Bill, giving police 90-day detention powers over suspected terrorists, was defeated after many of Tony Blair’s Labour Party colleagues voted against their Prime Minister.
From Education Guardian

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