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TEU Tertiary Update - Volume 12, Number 14

MINISTER CALLS FOR MARKET DRIVEN EDUCATION

"High on our agenda is simplifying the funding system and lowering compliance costs. We also want less central planning – in other words, the needs of students and the economy should drive the provision of tertiary education."

Those were the thoughts of minister of education, Anne Tolley, in a speech last week at the New Zealand Tertiary Education Summit. The summit, which many in the sector did not hear about until after it was reported in the media, gave some indication of the new government’s thinking around tertiary education ahead of this month’s budget.

On the question of the EFTS cap funding shortfall, which appears to have grown in many tertiary institutions following significant roll growth this year, Mrs Tolley signalled that the government intends to limit its fiscal liabilities:

"I know that the question on everyone’s lips will be whether there is going to be additional funding available to ease some of those enrolment pressures. I’m not going to talk about what’s in the Budget today, but what I can tell you is that, while we do appreciate the issue, right now is a time when our imperative has to be to constrain overall Government costs."

Meanwhile, after earlier in the same speech having called for less central planning and lower compliance costs, Mrs. Tolley also stated her desire for a higher level of publicly available reporting on tertiary education institution performances.

"We need meaningful and robust public reporting. A current example is a comprehensive, aggregate report on tertiary sector performance that sets out full-year 2008 progress of publicly-funded tertiary education providers against quantitative performance indicators, which cover student enrolments, retention and completions."

ALSO IN TERTIARY UPDATE THIS WEEK:

1. Student concern at upcoming budget
2. Wānanga negotiations near the end
3. Govt pulls plug on Otago design school
4. Parents return to work for less money
5. Scientists concerned about free speech
6. News from Australia

STUDENT CONCERN AT UPCOMING BUDGET

Student representatives, along with staff representatives, were not invited along to the ‘tertiary education summit’ where Minister Anne Tolley gave her speech on the contributing to the nation’s future, but they were concerned nonetheless.

Sophia Blair, the president of NZUSA was philosophical about missing out on the conference: “Maybe they just forgot to invite us. The cost to attend was quite high.”

However she was less sanguine about the minister’s upcoming policy direction:

“The minister’s speech effectively said there would be no new money for the tertiary education sector. I’m worried about quality. With the importance of dealing with the recession and investing in education, no new funding effectively means a cut in quality.”

Blair is concerned that the end result of this signalled policy direction could see an end to the fee maxima next year. “We believe education is a right, and it needs to be better funded so that students are not turned away. It would be really terrible if we were to come out of this recession with fewer tertiary educated people that we started with,” said Ms Blair.

Jacqualene Poutu, Tumuaki of Te Mana Akonga (TMA), the national Māori tertiary students’ association, expressed similar concerns:

“If funding is not increased, institutions may have to cap enrolments due to increased demand for tertiary education, or may be given greater flexibility around student fees to allow the option of increasing student fees higher than the current fee maxima policy,” said Ms Poutu. “Māori students are underrepresented in terms of participating in tertiary education and any such moves will serve as an additional barrier to them accessing education,” Ms Poutu added.

GOVT PULLS PLUG ON OTAGO DESIGN SCHOOL

The government has withdrawn an offer of capital funding to Otago Polytechnic to help build the proposed Otago Institute of Design. The institute had been widely supported locally as a collaborative education proposal that would support 800 students and staff.

The previous government had agreed to a suspensory loan of up to $12.5 million. Now the current government has withdrawn that offer, saying that Otago Polytechnic failed to agree to certain terms and conditions.

"Otago Polytechnic did not accept a key condition of the funding offer made in 2008 by the previous government," said tertiary education minister Anne Tolley. "The polytechnic requested that this condition be varied, and Cabinet considered this request. However, after careful consideration, the government has decided that it is not willing to vary this condition and therefore the offer has been withdrawn.”

However the polytechnic and former government minister involved Pete Hodgson have disagreed with Mrs. Tolley. Otago Polytechnic Chief Executive Phil Ker told the Otago Daily Times that the disputed condition of the contract was a requirement that the polytechnic agree to the appointment of a Crown manager to oversee its financial transactions.

He said this condition contradicted an earlier verbal agreement with a TEC staffer that the polytechnic would get the money it if agreed to a lower-level Crown observer being appointed to ensure the building project had no negative financial impact on the rest of the polytechnic's operations. Ker said a crown manager would be unacceptable to the Polytechnic.

Mr Hodgson said he had been assured before last year's announcement that the polytechnic and TEC had agreed to the level of Crown involvement in the polytechnic's financial affairs.

"Otago Polytechnic was not, and is not, in a severe financial state . . . but some financial supervision seemed appropriate… My suspicion is the Government has simply reopened the dispute over Crown management as an excuse to walk away."

WĀNANGA NEGOTIATIONS NEAR THE END

TEU members at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa are poised to vote on whether to accept a new collective employment agreement after nearly seven months of negotiations and a period of mediation. Prior to the mediation, TEU members at the wānanga conducted an industrial action ballot to break the negotiating impasse.

Negotiations between TEU and the wānanga have been hindered by the presence of an in-house union established by the employer. The wānanga had offered different pay and conditions to the two unions, and before Christmas 2008 settled with its own union, TUIA, for a 3.8 percent pay increase and a lump sum of $1100 per TUIA member.

After several months of negotiations and mediation, the wānanga has now agreed to offer TEU members 3.6 percent and the same $1100 lump sum. In the meantime TEU members continued to challenge other employment conditions, including compulsory drug testing and performance-based remuneration that TUIA negotiators have purportedly agreed to.

TEU branch co-president, Te Aroha Lemke is pleased that a potential settlement may now be within reach:

“He tīmatanga tēnei - this result gives us a starting point, something to build on, and it shows that a strong, nationwide union that grows its local membership can make its presence felt, even when the employer starts off not wanting to listen.

“Sadly, at the wānanga the biggest problem we have is that you can see two kaimahi working beside each other, doing the same mahi, but paid differently because of their union affiliations,” Ms Lemke concluded.

Voting on the recommended settlement will conclude on 15 May.

PARENTS RETURN TO WORK FOR LESS MONEY

Parental leave is working well for women and children, but also for the retention of workers in the workforce.” That’s the view of TEU women’s vice president, Sandra Grey, upon reading a released recently study that suggests most mothers who take up paid parental leave return to the workforce within a year.

The Work Patterns after Paid Parental Leave study was produced by Statistics NZ, and funded by the Department of Labour. Since 2004 working mothers have been entitled to 14 weeks paid parental leave, and up to 52 weeks of employment-protected parental leave (transferable to fathers).

The legislation aimed to encourage greater female workforce attachment, and gender equity in the labour market and within families, It also sought to support families by providing income replacement, ensuring the health and wellbeing of new mothers and families, and improving New Zealand’s compliance with international human rights policies that provide for paid maternity leave.

The study found that three-quarters of recipients returned to work within 12 months of starting parental leave, and two-thirds of those returned to work after taking six months leave or less. Most people who returned to worked within 12 months of starting leave returned to the same employer, while one-fifth started a new employment relationship.

Many people reduced their earnings after returning to work, with around one-third earning considerably less than before. Those who did not return to the same employer, but started a new job, were much more likely to have reduced earnings.

Dr Grey says it is important we know why women are returning to less pay – whether it is related to returning to part time work, changing to more flexible jobs, or moving to places that better support their childcare needs, or factors like transport.

“New Zealand still has to figure out how to help workers with childcare and other return-to-work costs that are really impacting on low paid women who this study shows are less likely to return to work,” concludes Dr Grey.

SCIENTISTS CONCERNED ABOUT FREE SPEECH

The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) says that the business model of management in place in government-funded science institutions, such as Crown Research Institutes (CRIs), needs examination. This follows the dismissal of Jim Salinger, one of NIWA's principal scientists and a leading spokesperson on weather and climate issues.

NZAS president, associate professor Kathryn McGrath, says that scientists need to be able to speak freely in their areas of scientific expertise without inappropriate corporate constraints or threat of dismissal:

“Communicating scientific advances to the public and commenting publicly on relevant science issues is an essential part of the scientific process, particularly in non-commercial areas supported by the taxpayer.”

NZAS is a nationwide association of practicing research scientists spanning the universities, technical institutes, crown research institutes, government departments, industry, museums, and other scientific organizations.

“All of us, as scientists, believe it is essential that the general public have access to good scientific comment and information,” said Dr McGrath. “Without science the New Zealand economy and social infrastructure is weakened, so it is in the public interest to have freely accessible information that allows politicians, the ordinary public, and funding providers to make good decisions. That requires us to feel that we can comment when we need to or are asked to do so.”

“The requirement of scientists to act as communicators to a broad range of people should be a fundamental right, and an expectation even. Not just a right that we choose to use or not, but a professional expectation that all of us should aspire to live up to,” concluded Dr McGrath.

You can listen to the full interview on scientific free speech with associate professor McGrath (1.2mb MP3 file – with some background student noise!)

NEWS FROM AUSTRALIA

Major investment losses by Australian tertiary institutions has added pressure on the federal government to increase funding to the cash strapped sector in its upcoming budget. Several of Australia’s best known universities have been ravaged by the global financial crisis, with the University of Melbourne reporting a $245.7 million drop in the value of its investments, the University of NSW acknowledging an $87 million writedown, and the University of Western Australia losing more than $100 million from its investment portfolio.

The impact of these losses on these universities' financial reserves will reduce their ability to fund wages and salaries, building projects, scholarships, and research.

But the vice-chancellor at the University of Sydney has managed to find savings in an unexpected place. Under a new employment agreement offering a 15 per cent pay rise over three years to regular staff, the casual teaching workforce is predicted to shrink.

It is the first agreement to reflect the National Tertiary Education Union’s nationwide industrial campaign to reverse the Howard-era trend towards increased numbers of casual teaching staff. The NTEU's Sydney branch president Michael Thomson said that under the new agreement casual teaching hours in a faculty must not represent more than 5 per cent of the hours taught by academics from lecturer through to professor level.

"My guess is that (the casual teaching percentage) is quite a lot more than that," he said. The University of Sydney would have to create permanent positions where casual teaching exceeded the limit, and casuals could apply for these jobs.

Education minister Julia Gillard surprised TAFEs (equivalent to NZ polytechnics) last week when she announced an "earn or learn" policy that requires young people under 20 to be in training in order to receive the Youth Allowance, a ruling that is expected to affect almost 60,000 young people.

This is despite already near-record student-staff ratios at many universities and TAFEs, in a system already stretched by the overseas student boom. Unsurprisingly TAFEs and universities are looking for more details about the government’s proposed new scheme.

Ms Gillard also said that under-25s will receive a guaranteed learning entitlement in the form of a training place, so that they can upgrade their qualifications and best position themselves for the jobs of the future.

Universities likewise are concerned that they will struggle to meet the government's targets on boosting numbers of students from poor backgrounds. University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis warned that Victoria’s universities were unlikely to be able to meet the target unless they poached from each other, because there simply were not enough young people in the state who met the government definition of ‘poor’.

The Government has set a goal of raising the proportion of students from poor backgrounds at university from 17 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020, a total increase of about 55,000 students.

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TEU Tertiary Update is published weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the Tertiary Education Union and others. You can subscribe to Tertiary Update by email or feed reader. Back issues are available on the TEU website. Direct inquiries should be made to Stephen Day, email: stephen.day@teu.ac.nz

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