AUS Tertiary Update
Right diagnosis, wrong cure
The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (NZVCC), representing the country’s eight universities, has released overnight a “nine-point plan” for government policy in the sector. Underpinning the nine points is an invitation to the new government to work with the NZVCC “on a programme that will ensure New Zealand fully benefits from its universities”.
The first of the nine points is for increased public investment in the sector by an amount that has been reported elsewhere as $230 million a year in addition to the present $1.149 billion. The NZVCC supports this bid by repeating its previous counterposing of university investment and student support and a claim that 42 percent of government money goes towards the latter, one that is hotly disputed by the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations.
In addition to increased funding, the document seeks annual indexation of that funding on the basis of a university-related price index rather than the general consumer price index and of limits on student tuition-fee increases. Failing the requested increase in public funding, the vice-chancellors’ fall-back position is for increased revenue from student fees and “a reconsideration of the current fees maxima policy to provide greater flexibility around fee setting”.
Other claims are for reduced compliance costs, “a differentiated investment system which recognises and supports their distinctive contributions”, and restoration of the universities’ access to contestable research funding. These are followed by pleas for closer, more complementary, relationships with other research organisations, especially crown research institutes, an unspecified “step change” for Māori and Pasifika, a commitment to the universities’ distinctive contribution, and acceptance by the government of “its obligation to safeguard university autonomy and academic freedom and recognise universities’ unique ownership position”.
Association of University Staff national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery, while welcoming the vice-chancellors entry into the debate and supporting their concerns about underfunding of the sector, has cast doubt on the efficacy of their proposed cure. “The NZVCC has correctly identified the problem that universities face, underfunding, but its solution to take money from other areas that are also underfunded, such as students and the rest of the tertiary-education sector, is iniquitous,” she said. “The nine-point plan is blinkered and would be doomed to fail.”
“It is not just universities that are a key part of the nation’s infrastructure, as the NZVCC claims, but public education as a whole. University vice-chancellors will not be seen to speak for the whole sector when they take a narrow and segmented view of our education system,” Dr Montgomery concluded.
Education minister Anne Tolley is reported in the Dominion Post as rejecting the vice-chancellors’ attempt “to seize control of student fees” and has reaffirmed the government’s election-campaign commitment to the fee-maxima policy.
Also in Tertiary Update this
1. Union salary rights supported by ERA
2. New union signed and sealed
3. More evidence of PBRF “game-playing”
4. Survey finds students hard-drinking
5. New ranking scheme for Europe
6. Challenges remain for scholars in Iraq
7. Give us the service we pay for, say students
8. Will electric professors dream of virtual tenure?
9. Neither pelf nor privilege ...
rights supported by ERA
A challenge by Victoria University professor of economics and finance, Roger Bowden, against the university’s decision to award him a lower salary increase than that negotiated by staff on the collective agreement has been rejected by the Employment Relations Authority. Professor Bowden, on an individual employment contract, complained that his pro vice-chancellor had limited his individual increase to 2.6 percent while union members on the collective agreement gained 4.5 percent.
Professor Bowden had argued that his salary should continue to reflect the requirements of his position and that his increase was accordingly inadequate in relation to that of his peers. The ERA, however, decided that the pro vice-chancellor had properly assessed Professor Bowden’s position, had used relevant criteria, and had genuinely believed that the latter had a lesser workload than other professors and had not performed to a sufficently high level.
Association of University Staff acting general secretary, Nanette Cormack, said that the decision clearly illustrated the benefits of being a union member. “Had Professor Bowden been an AUS member and covered by the collective agreement, he would have been entitled to the same 4.5 percent salary increase that others achieved,” she added.
“It is somewhat extraordinary that Professor Bowden would expect the same salary increase as those covered by the collective agreement, particularly given the efforts made by AUS members over the last five years in particular to advance salary issues through such means as the tripartite process,” Ms Cormack said. “The decision also shows quite clearly that employers are not required to give non-union staff the same salary increases as union members.”
Ms Cormack also noted that the decision showed that the pro vice-chancellor making the decision on the size of Professor Bowden’s salary increase found that there was no evidence of academic leadership and innovation or the attracting of research funding on his part. He also believed that Professor Bowden did not develop and maintain research programmes or collaborate with his colleagues because he was seldom on campus. He believed that Professor Bowden was no longer developing new programmes and noted that he supervised only one PhD student and had a relatively light workload compared with other professors.
signed and sealed
In the culmination of a protracted series of individual steps, the formation of the new Tertiary Education Union was finally and irrevocably cemented at three conferences earlier this week. On Monday morning, the Association of University Staff (AUS) and the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE) met separately in annual conferences to adopt the procedures necessary to permit amalgamation of the two existing unions. During the balance of Monday and Tuesday, officers, delegates, and observers from the two unions came together in the inaugural conference of the new union to endorse its constitution, structures, and budget.
The inaugural conference itself was the scene of a very real amalgamation of its own as participants from AUS and ASTE shed those identities and worked in joint delegations based on common workplaces. Workshops on organisation and recruitment of women, the TEU’s position on PBRF, general-staff focus and growth, recruitment strategies, and the creation of influence at national and local level provided further platforms for the development of common strategies.
The first stage in the implementation of the new constitutional structure was also put in place with the election of the members of the national women’s committee, te kahurangi māreikura. The successful candidates were, from general staff, Lyndsay Ainsworth from Lincoln University, Helen Brett from the University of Otago, Tracey Morgan from the University of Waikato, and Gwen Walker from Otago Polytechnic. Those from academic staff were Kari Bassett from the University of Canterbury, Alex Sims from the University of Auckland, Vicki-Lee Tyacke from UCOL, Palmerston North, and Joneen Walker from the College of Education, University of Otago. The women’s vice-president and hui-ā-motu representative will be elected in the new year.
More evidence of PBRF
Reservations about aspects of the operation of the Performance-Based Research Fund expressed by Dr Jonathan Adams in his recent independent strategic review of the fund have been extended with the release of a new sector reference group consultation paper. Following up on Dr Adams’s references to “wilful game-playing” in the assessment process, the new report claims that that results in some scores are not providing “an adequate basis for stakeholders and the government to differentiate between providers and their units on the basis of their relative quality”.
Emphasising the importance of these concerns being taken up if confidence in the PBRF is to be maintained, the report continues, “The current eligibility and reporting mechanisms have resulted in some scores that could be considered misleading about the quality of research in particular subject areas/nominated academic units/TEOs [tertiary-education organisations], particularly when comparisons are made with these subject areas in other TEOs.”
Possible solutions to the problems suggested in the paper include more rigorous audits of staff eligibility, clearer eligibility guidelines, giving institutions more room to move on inclusion or exclusion of particular academics, and providing for the exclusion of more new and low-level researchers.
In response to the sector reference group’s concerns, AUS national president, Associate Professor Maureen Montgomery, said, “The widely acknowledged misbehaviour of universities in manipulating the eligibility rules to gain advantage under the PBRF has undermined the reputation of this assessment among academic staff.”
“But worse, many academics are being pressured by their employer to change their terms of employment, for example to less advantageous tutor roles, in order to rule them out of eligibility,” Dr Montgomery added. “The Tertiary Education Commission’s inability to control such manipulation means that the PBRF is rapidly becoming a source of employment-relations problems, and the new TEU will be forced to respond aggressively to this.”.
Survey finds students hard-drinking
A recent survey of the drinking habits of New Zealand university students appears to provide some statistical support for the popular image of a hard- and heavy-drinking lifestyle. The study, conducted by a number of international researchers, found that 81 percent of those surveyed had consumed alcohol in the previous four weeks, 37 percent reported at least one binge-drinking session in the previous week, and 33 percent had a memory black-out in the preceding four weeks, compared with 13 per cent of drinkers in a 2004 national survey from the whole population who had more than one black-out in the preceding year.
In addition, the research, based on a web survey of more than 2500 undergraduates aged seventeen to 25 at six New Zealand campuses, found that 6 percent of drinkers in the university survey had unprotected sex in the preceding four weeks, compared with 3.3 percent in the national survey who had unprotected sex more than once in the preceding year; and that 5 percent of the student drinkers reported being physically aggressive in the four-week period, compared with 2.2 percent in the national survey who had got into a physical fight more than once in the preceding year.
Responding to the results of the survey, New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations co-president, Paul Falloon, said that student drinking needs to be considered in a wider context. “It’s kind of hard to say that all students are like this. We certainly accept that there’s an element of heavy drinking within the student body, but also within the wider society as well, and I think it’s an issue that society at large needs to acknowledge,” he said.
New ranking scheme for Europe
The European Union is planning to launch its own international higher-education rankings, with emphasis on helping students make informed choices about where to study and encouraging their mobility. Odile Quintin, the European Commission’s director-general of education and culture, announced she would call for proposals before the end of the year, with the first classification appearing in 2010.
A European classification would probably be compiled along the same lines as the German Centre for Higher Education (CHE) Development Excellence Ranking. Last September, Ján Figel, a member of the European Commission responsible for education, training, culture, and youth, gave official support for the CHE project and its aims to develop “tools to produce multi-dimensional rankings based on robust, relevant, and widely accepted methodologies”.
Mr Figel had said the main interest of the commission was, “To help member states and their institutions improve the quality of their education and training systems and in particular to make it easier for students to make an informed choice on where and what to study, by offering accessible, transparent and comparable information.”
“The commission is of the opinion that many existing rankings do not really fulfil this purpose, for example because they focus on research aspects rather than teaching, and on entire institutions rather than programmes and departments,” Mr Figel said.
“In order to achieve a mapping of European higher education that provides guidance and transparency, we need ranking tools that take into account the existing diversity in terms of languages, subject areas, profiles, student services, research, and teaching quality. CHE is among the projects which are giving an important contribution towards this objective.”
From Jane Marshall in University World News
Challenges remain for scholars in Iraq
Two of three scholars invited from Iraq to share analysis of academic conditions there could not get visas to attend this week’s meeting of the Middle East Studies Association held in Washington. Those gathered at the annual meeting for a panel on “the role of academics in building civil society in Iraq” had to settle for having the papers paraphrased to them by a colleague.
This twist of fate, however, prompted the remaining panelists to reflect on the challenges that still exist for students and scholars in a post-Saddam Iraq. Although Riyadh Aziz Hadi, a high-ranking administrator at Baghdad University, and Amer Qader, a professor at Kirkuk University, were unable to attend the event, their scholarly work was presented before the panel.
“This is kind of good for the event in a sinister way,” said Abbas Kadhim, professor of Islamic studies at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, and a product of Iraqi higher education. “This shows you some of the difficulties that remain for Iraqi academics. If someone cannot attend an event like this, because of a denied visa with one year’s notice, you’re looking at a sequestered group of people.”
Though not to the extent that it was during the Saddam regime, Kadhim said, academic freedom is still constrained in Iraq. Inside the classroom, he said, the free flow of ideas between student and professor is limited by former customs. For example, he noted that many Iraqis consider the questioning or challenging of a professor publicly an “act of hostility”. Even the wider academic curriculum cannot offer a diversity of interests or values to students, he said, noting that degrees are “cookie cutter” by design and leave no room for electives.
From Inside Higher Ed
Give us the service we pay for, say students
The traditional undergraduate experience of huddling for warmth around a one-bar heater and eating baked beans from the tin is apparently being threatened by a new breed of student. University vice-chancellors are having to adjust to undergraduates who believe that their £3,000 annual fees entitle them to a respectable standard of living.
Rather than tolerating overcrowded houses where comfort is regarded as having a bean bag in the sitting room, students are demanding en suite bedrooms, direct access to the latest technology, and even cleaning staff.
Brian Lang, vice-chancellor of St Andrews University, told university leaders at Princeton University in New Jersey that students even expected their essays to be marked legibly and on time. “We are becoming a service society, and students increasingly think they are buying a service, for which they want a return,” he said.
“We’re on a ratchet with expectations and it’s very difficult to manage expectations downwards. We have to manage student expectations. The most old-fashioned way of doing that is to say, ‘if you don’t like what we’re offering, go elsewhere’.”
Dr Lang was one of the speakers at the Future Campus conference at Princeton’s school of architecture, which was addressed by senior staff from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and New York. Afterwards he said, “Students are more demanding. Not only do they expect a single room, it has to be en suite, have a TV in it, and be cleaned for them.”
“This spreads into the learning experience: they expect essays to be marked clearly and back within a certain number of days, and to see their tutor regularly. They want a fit-for-purpose library with all the books they need, when they need them, especially when they’re paying substantially for it. It’s part of an increasing cultural awareness of service,” Professor Lang concluded.
From Nicola Woodcock and Jack Malvern in The Times
professors dream of virtual tenure?
Last month at the NASA-Ames Research Center, a group of top scientists and business leaders gathered to plan a new university devoted to the idea that computers will soon become smarter than people. The details of Singularity University, as the new institution will be called, are still being worked out and, so far, the organisers are tight-lipped about their plans.
To hold such a discussion at all, however, is a sign of growing acceptance that a new wave of computing technologies may be just ahead, with revolutionary implications for research and teaching. The idea that gave the new university its name is championed by Ray Kurzweil, an inventor, entrepreneur, and futurist who argues that by 2030, a moment, the “singularity”, will be reached when computers will out-think human brains.
His argument is that several technologies that now seem grossly undeveloped, including nanotechnology and artificial-intelligence software, are growing at an exponential rate and thus will mature much faster than most linear-minded people realise. Once they do, computers will take leaps forward that most people can hardly imagine today.
In The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Dr Kurzweil presents a utopian vision in which these supersmart machines quickly help human researchers cure diseases and vastly extend the human life span. Many academics think that’s far-fetched; after all, early proponents of artificial intelligence made similarly bold promises decades ago that went unfulfilled.
Not, however, Ben Goertzel, director of research at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a private organisation promoting Dr Kurzweil’s ideas. Computers will become better at teaching than most human professors are once artificial intelligence exceeds the abilities of people, he argues.
From Jeffrey R Young in the Chronicle of Higher Education
nor privilege ...
Academics may typically be motivated more by love of learning than money, but few are known to have negotiated their salary downwards. However, the actions of an eminent historian prove that such selflessness, intended in this case to stop cash-strapped universities from spending funds they can ill afford, does exist.
Quentin Skinner stepped down as Regius professor of modern history at the University of Cambridge this year at the age of 67. According to one of his peers, Alison Richard, vice-chancellor of Cambridge, offered to keep Professor Skinner on at the history faculty’s expense. But Professor Skinner said that, although he would have liked to stay after almost half a century at the university, he was “too expensive” and the faculty would be better served by employing two younger members of staff at the same cost. The source added, “Great heavens, they said, you can’t mean it - but he did.”
When Queen Mary, University of London, then offered him the post of Barber Beaumont professor of the humanities, Professor Skinner proceeded to “beat them down” to a lower salary; he said he only wanted to top up his pension.
In a third act of altruism, he returned his lecturing fee to the University of Bristol’s Institute for Research in the Humanities and Arts when he discovered it represented a large chunk of its annual grant. “Horrified by this, he returned the cheque for use as a postgraduate bursary,” his admiring colleague said.
And his restraint is not restricted to remuneration. In 1997, when he was appointed Regius professor of history by the Queen, he reportedly turned down the knighthood that is typically conferred upon the holder of the post. His colleague said, “He told them, ‘I can’t do that, I'm a republican.’ And when his then vice-chancellor asked him to reconsider for the sake of the university, he said, ‘No, no, my friends wouldn’t speak to me!’”
From John Gill in Times Higher Education
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AUS Tertiary Update is published weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the Association of University Staff and others. Back issues are available on the AUS website: www.aus.ac.nz. Direct inquiries should be made to the editor, email: firstname.lastname@example.org