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TEU Tertiary Update, volume 12, number 39

TREASURY TELLS GOVT TO SLASH EDUCATION SPENDING

Treasury is advising that government’s investment in education may have to decline from its current 6.4 percent of GDP to less than 4 percent by 2050. It wants government to achieve that cut in funding by shifting more of the cost of education services from the government to individual students and families, and by targeting government support to those who will benefit most. It also wants to “improve the productivity of the education system” – using limited funding more efficiently to achieve the same or better results.

Treasury’s report Challenges and Choices, New Zealand's Long-term Fiscal Statement calls for more flexible remuneration systems in the tertiary education system that allow providers to reward high-quality teaching and allow wages to reflect differences in the balance of supply and demand across different parts of the teaching workforce. It also recommends greater mobility of students and staff between high school and tertiary education providers.

Treasury said education spending had doubled to $11.5 billion since 1994. Spending had climbed about 6 per cent a year, but this had to be reduced to 2.8 per cent. It has advised the Government it had a wide range of options to cut spending.

Education Minister Anne Tolley told the Dominion Post she was still considering the report. "We haven't taken any advice as a result of the Treasury report." During the lead-up to the Budget, Mrs Tolley ignored advice from the Treasury against pouring more than $35 million into private schools.

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ALSO IN TERTIARY UPDATE THIS WEEK:

1. Fijian education leader reiterates call for democracy
2. A little bit of interest
3. TEU calls for close link between research and teaching
4. Canterbury College of Education cuts secondary education programme
5. Support for librarians’ professional development
6. Pittsburgh proposes tax on higher education

FIJIAN EDUCATION LEADER REITERATES CALL FOR DEMOCRACY

President of the Fijian Teachers’ Association Tevita Koroi repeated his call for democracy to be restored in Fiji this week despite having already been sacked from his job as a school principal for previous pro-democracy statements.

Mr Koroi was one of the keynote speakers at TEU’s annual conference this week where he thanked the TEU and other New Zealand education unions for their public support of him and the Fijian Teachers’ Association as it stands up to the Fijian regime. Mr Koroi noted that Fiji currently lacked some basic human rights and freedoms:

“Although compared to other troubled spots around the world [our situation] may not be that serious we have had our fair share of deaths while in custody, tortures, detention etc.”

“It is only after going through our current political experience that one can truly realise the value of what we are missing – democracy.”

Mr Koroi noted education was suffering because the regime was not consulting democratically, instead making poorly thought out policy decisions at short notice. As an example he described how the Fijian government’s recent decision to reduce the age of compulsory retirement for civil servants from 60 to 55 without any notice, had thrown Fiji’s education system into a state of disarray. The decision saw about 10 percent of the teaching workforce, most of who held senior positions, forced to retire with no more than three weeks’ notice.

CANTERBURY COLLEGE OF EDUCATION CUTS SECONDARY EDUCATION PROGRAMME

The University of Canterbury is proposing to reduce the number of staff working in its college of education by four and a half full time equivalent positions. The staff affected all work to provide the university’s graduate diploma of Teaching and Learning (secondary) programme. The university is attempting to change the amount of money that the programme allocates back to central university budgets to provide core facilities across the whole university. Currently the programme’s contribution to the central budget is negative 29 percent. University managers want to improve that to positive 15 percent.

The university is seeking submissions up until Monday next week and will then be meeting to attempt to reach agreement on its change proposal which it is likely to implement next year.

At this stage it looks like the university intends to provide the same secondary education course to future students but with fewer staff. Many staff in the college are concerned that this will lead to increased workloads, as the surplus work done by staff who are made redundant is simply reallocated on top of other staff’s existing workloads. There is also a concern that the diversity and number of courses available for students to choose from could diminish in the future.

TEU national secretary Sharn Riggs said that one of the dangers in a restructuring such as this is that a college or department can end up losing its most experienced staff, which puts even more pressure on those who remain.

TEU’s University of Canterbury branch will be making a submission to the university on its change proposal. Following that the university and TEU will need to attempt to reach agreement on the outcome of that restructuring as per provisions in the collective agreement.

A LITTLE BIT OF INTEREST

University of Otago vice-chancellor Sir David Skegg told the Otago Daily Times that the government needs to consider adding "a little bit of interest" to student loans to ensure it has enough money to better fund universities.

"These are testing times for universities. What I am saying is perhaps a little bit of interest [should be added] to student loans... so the Government can fund universities more and we can keep our tuition fees down.

"It is a discussion that needs to happen."

More than 530,000 university and polytechnic students have loans totalling about $10.2 billion. Most students will take more than seven years to repay their loan.

Prof Skegg said the "massive cost" of student loans meant little money was available for other forms of tertiary funding. He described the situation as "very unfortunate".

Sophia Blair, Co-President of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) disagrees with Sir David however, saying that interest free loans have made tertiary education more affordable, particularly for under-represented groups, and has reduced loan repayment times significantly.

“The government reaffirmed its solid commitment to retaining interest-free student loans at the beginning of this year, so the debate has now moved on.”

“Times are tough and universities and polytechnics are under-funded, but revoking interest-free loans is not the answer to the problem,” said Blair. “Contrary to what some are saying, we know that when interest was being charged on student loans throughout the 1990s tertiary institutions opted to significantly increase tuition fees year after year. Suggestions that reinstating interest on loans now will somehow encourage tertiary institutions to keep fees down are extremely implausible.”

TEU CALLS FOR CLOSE LINK BETWEEN RESEARCH AND TEACHING

The first policy to be passed by members at TEU’s first annual conference is advocating that degree-level programmes should be taught mainly by people engaged in research.

The conference argued that involvement in teaching helps stimulate ideas for research, and encourages the researcher to place their activities within a wider context of teaching and learning.

TEU National President Tom Ryan said that a vibrant teaching and research environment is one that recognises and values individual staff strengths in teaching and research and that maintains a mix of experience in both areas.

“Each individual staff member will be working at a different level, but should still benefit from a collegial environment where everyone shares research and teaching knowledge and practice.”

TEU’s position differs somewhat to the principles for staff engagement in research provided by NZQA that says that at some point all staff will be recruited ‘research and/or teaching-ready’.

TEU delegates believed this view did not adequately reflect the requirements of all parts of the sector, particularly ITPs and wānanga. New staff taking up a degree-level teaching position may have strong professional or industry experience, which is valuable in terms of being able to provide current, in-depth subject knowledge. However such individuals may have little or no experience in academic research or teaching, and need support and appropriate professional development time to acquire these skills. Otherwise their tertiary education institution loses the opportunity to employ them.

Dr Ryan said that it is important to recognise the diverse paths academics will take, both entering the career of teacher-researcher and during the course of that career.

SUPPORT FOR LIBRARIANS’ PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

TEU general staff vice-president Helen Kissell says that TEU’s new policy endorsing support for the Library and Information Association of New Zealand’s (LIANZA) professional registration scheme is a positive step for the union.

“It is good to see TEU members endorsing a policy on the professional issues general staff members face and general staff members now will look forward to developing more of these type of policies.”

The policy was passed at TEU’s annual conference and supports the LIANZA professional registration scheme which provides a framework for ongoing professional development for librarians. The policy, which was promoted by the union’s general staff sector group, states that while voluntary registration is valuable, it should not be made compulsory or be used as the sole reason for librarians not being appointed to professional positions.

“Our support for the LIANZA scheme recognises the need for professional development for librarians. But that should not allow employers to abdicate their existing responsibilities around professional development,” said Helen Kissell.

There are photos of the TEU annual conference and links to other news about conference at www.teu.ac.nz/?p=4822

PITTSBURGH PROPOSES TAX ON HIGHER EDUCATION

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has proposed a 1 percent college-education privilege tax. The tax would be assessed on a college student's tuition. It technically would not be a levy on the students or their schools, but rather on the privilege of getting a higher education in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Ravenstahl has proposed the tax as a measure to reduce a $15 million gap in the city’s 2010 budget and to help the struggling Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

"We don't believe that [1 percent] is too burdensome on college students," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "The city taxpayers are paying for the services that are provided to those college students," including police, building inspection and fire service, he said. "The students have a role to play."

Currently tertiary education institutions in Pittsburgh are tax-exempt.

The tuition tax would raise around $16 million a year. Of that, $15 million would cover increased payments to the city's limping pension fund and capital needs. The balance would become a dedicated, annual payment to the Carnegie Library system, which faces a budget deficit that has prompted plans to close four city libraries, merge two others, and move yet another.

The director of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education, which represents the local colleges, could not be reached for comment last week. The University of Pittsburgh has said repeatedly that it will fight any effort to chip away at its tax-exempt status.

Mr. Ravenstahl said he anticipates court, legislative and public relations assaults on his proposal, but he's ready. "When you look at some of the fees these places charge," he said, citing charges for everything from athletic facility use to orientation to security, "we think it's only fair to include a fee for the city."

By Rich Lord at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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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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