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AUS Tertiary Update

TEU national secretary appointed
Sharn Riggs, currently national secretary of the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE), has been appointed national secretary of the Tertiary Education Union. She will take up the position when the new union comes into formal existence in the new year.
Ms Riggs took a BA at Victoria University in 1975 and worked as an English teacher at Howick College. After wide-ranging overseas experience she returned to New Zealand to become education organiser with the then Wellington Clerical Union. She moved to ASTE in 1989, becoming national secretary in 1997.

Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Government yet to respond to TEC briefing
2. OECD warns against over-commercialising research
3. Bleak funding forecast for ITPs
4. UCOL professor loses redundancy claim
5. Recession a time to build skills, says ITPNZ
6. UK academics reject “spying”
7. Push for a national bush university
8. South African academics seek ruling on academic freedom
9. Challenging times for Solomon Islands education
10. “Find the excellence”, lecturer told
11. Farewells and greetings

Government yet to respond to TEC briefing
The Tertiary Education Commission has released its briefing to incoming minister of tertiary education, Anne Tolley, but the sector remains uncertain of the minister’s response to that advice. Equally uncertain are her plans for the TEC itself.
As could be expected, the commission placed some weight on the value of collaboration and planning within the sector, noting for instance, “A more strategic system requires an approach where the government, the sector and stakeholders are partners.” This stands in contrast to the philosophical direction that the National party took into the election, and its stated preference for more competition and student choice in the tertiary-education sector.
TEC argued in particular in its briefing that institutes of technology and polytechnics need support in shifting to a more co-operative approach. “Previous business models at institutes of technology and polytechnics were largely based on growth. In some cases, this led to significant increases in low-quality courses,” the briefing observed.
“Investment Plans focus institutes of technology and polytechnics on providing high-quality education and achieving relevant outcomes for their regions, within managed funding. The challenge is to work with the sector to transition to sustainable business models that support this focus on quality and outcomes.”
Since receiving this briefing, the minister has remained non-committal on the future role of the commission. And, earlier this week, she declined to comment on previous statements she had made about plans to “trim bureaucracy” at the commission.
Tertiary-education unions have challenged this lack of direction from the minister, with Association of University Staff acting general secretary, Nanette Cormack, warning, “Tertiary-education institutions shouldn’t be competing against each other over the same students. The message of co-operation for the overall good of the communities and the economy was finally getting through. But as institutions watch the TEC wriggle and writhe under the government’s suspended scalpel they are tempted to revert to their old ways,” Ms Cormack added.
Association of Staff in Tertiary Education national secretary, Sharn Riggs, said, “Institutions need to be well-resourced and properly funded if they are to meet the goals of the Tertiary Education Commission and the government. Paring back the TEC simply because of a knee-jerk objection to ‘bureaucracy’ will not help the tertiary-education sector meet those goals.”

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OECD warns against over-commercialising research
The OECD’s recently released report, Tertiary Education for the Knowledge Society, Volume 2: Equity, Innovation, Labour Market, Internationalisation, suggests that member countries such as New Zealand need to be wary of increasing commercialisation of their research-funding structures. The report argues that tertiary-education institutions (TEIs) need to improve knowledge diffusion rather than strengthening commercialisation.
“The shift to competitive and project-based funding in TEIs needs to be examined in relation to the long-term development of the research and innovation system. Investment in equipment and instruments and the share of basic research conducted in TEIs is declining in many countries,” says the report. “The type of research undertaken seems to be shifting towards shorter and safer projects, and this is also linked to performance measures. It is unclear if project-based funding is having an impact on the training of researchers.”
The OECD goes on to note that, while commercialisation activities may provide revenue for TEIs, it is important to remember that the results are highly skewed. It suggests that funding of research and innovation needs to take a long-term perspective because there are often very long time-lags between discovery and application for which commercial or competitive funding mechanisms can sometimes fail to account.
The report’s chapter on equity praises many of the efforts individual New Zealand tertiary institutions have made to improve equity and access for students, noting in particular the role that wānanga and polytechnics play. It argues, however, that the main cause of inequitable access to tertiary education is that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not attain the qualifications needed for entry.
“This means that, to lessen inequality of access to tertiary education, policy needs to intervene at much earlier educational levels. Interventions on these levels may be more effective than at the time of the transition to tertiary education.”
The report opposes excessive testing and tracking of students at school level and argues for an increased focus on “offering second chances to gain from education; providing systematic help to those who fall behind at school; strengthening the links between school and families; and targeting resources at the students with the greatest needs”.

Bleak funding forecast for ITPs
The Tertiary Education Commission’s briefing to the incoming minister paints a bleak financial picture for tertiary-education institutions, particularly institutes of technology and polytechnics over the next three years.
It lists the baseline funding of universities as rising over two years from $1,277 million in 2009 to $1,363 in 2011 or an increase of 6.7 percent. While the consumer price index is currently running at 5.1 percent for the year, Treasury is forecasting inflation to average around 2.4 percent between 2009 and 2011.
This means university baseline funding could increase in real terms over the next two years. However, wānanga baseline funding only increases from $161 million to $167 million, or 3.7 percent, between 2009 and 2011 and ITP funding falls from $596 million to $575 million, a drop of 3.5 percent.
These financial figures from the commission align with comments made by its chief executive, Professor Roy Sharp, at last month’s inaugural TEU conference, where he warned tertiary-education staff that the commission would not be sheltering the sector from whatever the government’s response to the unwinding economic crisis might be.
“You and your members need to understand fully the current environment for tertiary education…. Unfortunately the reality of the current economic environment means there is no real extra money to go around. That means institutions are going to have to get the most that they can out of current budgets,” Professor Sharp advised.

UCOL professor loses redundancy claim
A professor made redundant because of funding problems in the tertiary-education sector has lost his claim to the Employment Relations Authority that the layoff was a sham, according to a report by NZPA. John Dowds was recruited by UCOL human resources manager, Bill Kimberley, and chief executive, Paul McElroy, and employed at the Palmerston North-based Universal College of Learning in 2004 as professor and dean of international programmes.
Mr Kimberley and Dr Dowds reportedly negotiated an employment agreement and, in December 2004, the pair signed off on a five-year fixed-term agreement that included a redundancy clause. Dr Dowds was to enact strategy and develop international collaborations and alliances. The role was a new one and depended on funding.
Dr Dowds and Mr McElroy met regularly and, eventually, Mr McElroy broached the subject of the difficulty of having to make savings because of funding arrangements in the tertiary-education sector. At that point the matter of redundancy arose. A consultation process followed, and Dr Dowd’s employment was terminated before the end of the five-year contract. He was paid his entitlements, including holiday pay, leave, notice, and a redundancy payment.
Dr Dowds, however, complained that he had relied on what he said were oral terms he had agreed upon with Mr Kimberley. He said Mr Kimberley had told him the redundancy clause was “not a matter of moment”, was a standard clause, and should not be of concern. Mr Kimberley denied providing such an assurance.
Dr Dowds said his redundancy was pre-determined and a sham. UCOL, on the other hand, denied the claim. Authority member Paul Stapp said he was satisfied the fixed-term agreement met the requirement of stating the way in which it would end and the reasons for ending it in that way. “Dr Dowds’ position is entirely undermined by the existence of the signed employment agreement,” he said.

Recession a time to build skills, says ITPNZ
Institutes of technology and polytechnics will support the government’s Restart package by providing training for the recently unemployed and others affected by the recession, says Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics New Zealand executive director, Dave Guerin. “The Restart programme appropriately focuses on the most urgent need for people who have lost their job, financial support, while our proposal will support people in the longer term, Mr Guerin said.
According to BERL research commissioned by ITP New Zealand, there will be 46,500 to 76,400 more people unemployed or out of the labour force by March 2011. Unemployment will peak in March 2010 and people with lower skills are likely to make up 75 percent of the increase.
“The growing group of people affected by the recession could be enrolled in high-quality courses to boost their industry skills, preparing them for a higher-level role than they left, or retraining them for growing sectors. This would address both unemployment increases and help develop a more productive workforce and a faster-growing economy in 2010 and 2011, Mr Guerin added.
“ITPs are best-placed to respond with their regional focus, strong networks with their communities, and strength in providing applied professional and vocational education which is developed alongside industry. ITPs have both the capability and flexibility to respond immediately to increased enrolments in skill-development courses.”
ITPNZ has identified four groups most affected by the recession, and expects an increase in ITP enrolments from those groups. They are people who have lost their jobs; people who are under-employed, such as workers in firms working fewer shifts or shorter weeks; school-leavers who delay entry into the labour force; and tertiary-education students choosing to study longer.

The 13 November edition of Tertiary Update quoted the Otago Daily Times to the effect that the University of Otago is “expecting another budget deficit of up to $26 million next year”. It has now become clear that the story was erroneous and confused the operating surplus/deficit with investment in capital facilities.
In fact, as Otago vice-chancellor, Professor David Skegg, has pointed out, the 2008 surpluses are forecast to be $25.7 million for the university and $22.7 million for the group, including companies and trusts. In addition, the 2009 budget projects an operating surplus of $19.6 million for the university.
Tertiary Update regrets reproducing the error.

World Watch
UK academics reject “spying”
Academics and students have presented a 4,500-signature petition to Downing Street, urging the government to withdraw new immigration rules for overseas students in the United Kingdom. From next March, universities will be expected to monitor whether overseas students are attending tutorials.
In response, many academics have complained they are being asked to “spy” on students in a quasi-immigration-officer role. The government, however, replied that it must clamp down on foreign nationals exploiting the system by using student visas as a bogus route into the UK.
The petition has been organised by Ian Grigg-Spall, academic chair of the National Critical Lawyers’ Group and honorary fellow at Kent Law School. Mr Grigg-Spall said that there has to be trust between teacher and student. “Now if they think that we’re wearing two hats, teacher, but also a hat labelled ‘immigration officer’, I think that’s a complete contradiction.” “That’s why I say it’s a breach of our university autonomy and why in fact it’s a breach of academic freedom,” Mr Grigg-Spall added. “This is a slippery slope, this is a dangerous slope, and as a human rights lawyer, I am very worried.”
From next year, universities will have to have a licence to offer places to students from outside the European Union. They will also have to act as sponsors for overseas students and lecturers will be expected to monitor these students’ attendance at tutorials and report if they fail to attend.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said, “Universities have a duty of care to all their students; checking that they are attending and making progress is part of that responsibility. Institutions benefit from bringing foreign students to the UK, so they must share some responsibility for them whilst they are here. These requirements were discussed at length and agreed with Universities UK and other representatives of the higher-education sector as part of our consultation,” the spokesperson concluded.
From the BBC

Push for a national bush university
Australia’s biggest university could be created if a merger of regional universities recommended by the recent Bradley review of higher education is adopted. Two regional universities, Lismore-based University of Southern Cross (USC) and Bathurst-based Charles Sturt University (CSU), have already announced they will merge, and USC vice-chancellor Paul Clark has said that more than 70,000 students could attend the new institution if a third university were to join them.
The move anticipates what is understood to be a recommendation for a new mechanism for higher-education provision in regional Australia, based on a serious fall in participation. It is widely perceived that there is over-provision in some places, no provision at all in others, and a lack of will on the part of governments to address the issue.
In a push aimed at getting greater numbers of poorer rural and regional students into tertiary education, however, the two regionally based New South Wales universities said they had the support of deputy prime minister Julia Gillard for the merger. Professor Clark said, “Both the Bradley review and the deputy prime minister are looking for a really innovative approach to regional delivery. We think a commonwealth university [of regional Australia] will have open to it all of the ways to create a national university.”
Professor Clark’s partner in the merger, CSU vice-chancellor Ian Goulter, said a condition of Ms Gillard’s backing is a requirement that the merger include a third university, but one from outside NSW. “Charles Sturt is about providing professionals for regional Australia and there’s an absolute alignment between CSU’s position as the national university of inland Australia and the establishment of a commonwealth cross-state-jurisdiction university,” Professor Goulter said.
From Guy Healey in the Australian

South African academics seek ruling on academic freedom
About 150 of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s staff have put their names to a petition calling on education minister Naledi Pandor to intervene in an long-running dispute at the university over academic freedom. The argument, reported on in earlier editions of Tertiary Update, has pitted the university’s vice-chancellor, Malegapuru Makgoba, against some of the 4000 staff members, of whom 1960 are academics, and international scholars.
Ms Pandor said at the weekend she could informally meet Professor Makgoba to discuss the issue and the negative publicity it has been garnering for a university she described as one of South Africa’s better-performing higher-education institutions.
The petition was also signed by about 60 academics from other universities in South Africa and other countries, as well as alumni. They joined 34 international academics from universities including Stanford, Oxford, Chicago, New York, London, and Denmark’s Roskilde University, who last month signed a letter of protest addressed to Professor Makgoba and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s council chair, Mac Mia. They warned that the incident could hinder research-collaboration and staff-development programmes between that institution and international universities.
Although there have been rumblings about the status of academic freedom at the university for quite a long time, the issue reached a head a few months ago when the university’s management instituted disciplinary action against two of its top academics who criticised Professor Makgoba in the media. He has put out a communique to staff warning that “academic debates and arguments, unlike political ones, are not won through the mass mobilisation of troops but by the presentation of simple facts and the simple truths”.
From Sue Blaine in Business Day

Challenging times for Solomon Islands education
The Solomon Islands’ only higher-education institution, the Solomon Islands College of Higher Education (SICHE), is facing even greater challenges than those already faced in recent years, according to its director, Dickson Ha’amori, speaking at the college’s graduation last week. Based on a theme of “Relevancy for Education”, the Honiara ceremony saw the graduation of 736 students.
In his address, Mr Ha’amori said, “The physical size of our college is a serious barrier to accessing tertiary-education opportunities and services available here. While the demand for places in SICHE continues to increase, the college needs to be expanded.”
Mr Ha’amori said that the current management is aware of most of the things that need to be addressed, “but needs financial assistance to get them done”. He acknowledged the national government for its continuous support to the college over the years but added that, among the many challenges faced, one is limited houses on campus to accommodate all staff members.
Mr Ha’amori said that the college has been forced to house some of its workers in motels, which is very expensive. “SICHE is stretching its budget when it comes to housing but, despite all these challenges, SICHE will continue to support upgrading its staff,” he confirmed.
From Gina Maka’a in Solomon Times

“Find the excellence”, lecturer told
A senior lecturer at a leading university has spoken out about the pressure across the sector to mark students’ work leniently, detailing examples of his own marking decisions being overturned. Stuart Derbyshire, a psychologist at the University of Birmingham, described how an examiner increased the marks he had given his students and told him he had to “work harder to find the excellence” in his students’ work. Dr Derbyshire also said that, after he failed one essay for being “fatally flawed”, the student got a D grade regardless.
Dr Derbyshire argues that grade inflation is occurring nationally but that “there is considerable reluctance to face the problem”. He has submitted a paper on his concerns to the Commons Select Committee for Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills, which is carrying out an inquiry into university standards. He has been backed by some of his students.
In 2006-07, 13 percent of UK graduates received a first-class degree, compared with 8 percent in 1996-97. A recent Times Higher Education poll of more than 500 readers found that seven out of ten believed that rising numbers of firsts do not reflect improving standards.
Reflecting on his experiences, Dr Derbyshire recalled one instance in which an examiner added three marks to the results for every student on a course. When he complained, the examiner said, “We can’t work according to what it was like 20 years ago. We have to find excellence wherever we can.” That was when he was told, “You need to work harder to find the excellence.”
In another case, Dr Derbyshire said that the way one of his courses was moderated “meant that an essay I failed for being fatally flawed ended up getting a D. The student concerned was then profiled from a 2:2 to a 2:1.”
From Melanie Newman in Times Higher Education

Farewells and greetings
With the imminent formation of the Tertiary Education Union, TEU Tertiary Update will make This edition of AUS Tertiary Update is the last to be edited by Graeme Whimp and the last to appear under that title. It also marks the final departure of Marty Braithwaite, who edited Update for five years and continued to subedit it for most of this year.
its appearance in early February next year under the editorship of Stephen Day, the TEU communications and campaign organiser. Stephen can be contacted in the new year at
We want to thank all our readers for their support, participation, and occasional correction over the years, and extend our best wishes for the new year.

More international news
More international news can be found on University World News:

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: Direct inquiries should be made to the editor, email:

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