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TEU Tertiary Update Vol 12 No 42

MINISTER SEARCHES FOR NEW COUNCILLORS

The minister for tertiary education, Hon Anne Tolley, announced last week that she was looking for nominees to fill the four ministerially-appointed councillor roles in up to 31 tertiary education institution councils, including universities, wananga and institutes of technology and polytechnics.

The minister's notice to interested parties noted that she will have a number of council appointments to make throughout 2010, and that she would like to pull together a pool of quality candidates who are interested in being considered for appointment.

Mrs Tolley's call for nominations, which arrived at the Tertiary Education Union late on Thursday evening last week, closed on Monday this week, giving potential nominees just two working days to submit their expressions of interest. The union is unaware of any earlier public call for nominations, other than the email sent last Thursday.

Sections 171 (4) and 171 (5) of the Education Act suggest that candidates should reflect the ethnic and socio-economic diversity of the communities they serve, and that half should be male and half female. There should also be a sufficient number of members with expertise in management, experience of governance, and specialist skills.

The minister’s statement says that ideal candidates will have a portfolio of public, private, or not-for-profit sector board appointments; and/or a career history that includes executive level leadership of private or public sector organisations; and/or expertise in a relevant professional area such as education, finance, law or social policy.

TEU president Dr Tom Ryan says that these appointments could have particular significance for the ITP sector, as a new and less democratic council structure is likely to be introduced there early next year.

"Those ministerial appointees to ITP councils will effectively have a voting majority from next year, so people the minister picks will from now on be playing an important role in the direction of education for our polytechnics and institutes of technology."

"It’s unfortunate we have been unable to forward any nominations for these positions. Two days is an impossibly brief time to try to complete such a process."

ALSO IN TERTIARY UPDATE THIS WEEK:

1. Bargaining concludes at Auckland, Waikato, Otago and Vic
2. Minister replaces training allowance with smaller loan
3. Keep education out of WTO agreements
4. 'What? There is no University of Newlands?'
5. Govt readies NZ for spending cuts
6. 60-year-olds rack up student loan debt

BARGAINING CONCLUDES AT AUCKLAND, WAIKATO, OTAGO AND VIC

TEU deputy-secretary Nanette Cormack has written to the vice-chancellors of the universities of Auckland, Otago, Waikato and Victoria withdrawing the combined unions' claim for a multi-employer collective employment agreement at their institutions. Union members at the three universities are now organising ratification ballots to vote on individual collective agreements at their respective worksites.

The four universities have each agreed not to make any cuts to existing working conditions, unlike in many institutes of technology and polytechnics currently still in negotiations. The universities have offered pay rises which, though less than what was originally sought by members, reflect a fair settlement according to the respective bargaining teams at each university.

Ms Cormack says it is good to have reached a settlement in half of the universities before the summer holidays.

"We have been in negotiations now since July, and it has been a hard process. The Universities of Otago and Victoria made a positive contribution to negotiations and worked hard to reach a settlement that union members could vote for. The University of Waikato currently faces tougher financial circumstances than some of its peers, and that has limited its ability to respond with a more favourable pay offer."

"By contrast, the University of Auckland is in the unique and unfortunate position of dealing with pay issues outside of the collective negotiations. That circumstance is going to cause it significant employment problems in the future, but thankfully not this year."

Local bargaining teams at the other universities have also been given authority to withdraw the unions' multi employer collective agreement claim if they get to the point in negotiations where it is appropriate.

MINISTER REPLACES TRAINING ALLOWANCE WITH SMALLER LOAN

The New Zealand Herald reports that Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has compromised on cuts to Training Incentive Allowance for single parents and those on invalids' benefits in tertiary education study. She announced yesterday that the allowance will be replaced with a new loan of $500 for those studying in nursing, medicine, midwifery, vetinary science, and teaching courses.

The $500 interest-free loan will be available to domestic purposes beneficiaries, invalids, and widows benefits, as well as those on the emergency maintenance allowance, and will be available from February 2010 to January 2011. The minister expects about 800 people to use the loan.

Under the old Training Incentive Allowance, successful beneficiaries were en pd to a maximum of $3862 a year for childcare, course costs and transport.

The newly proposed loan follows controversy over Ms Bennett's decision to cut Training Incentive Allowance earlier this year.

Ms Bennett told the Herald the loan was not a concession that she was wrong to restrict the Training Incentive Allowance, saying difficult economic conditions meant resources had to be focused where they were most needed. However, she had received a number of letters making a "compelling case" for extra help for those who faced extra costs and were limited in the work they could do over holidays.

The loan must be repaid at a minimum level of $4 a week, once the recipient has finished the course or goes off the benefit. It will be available from February 2010 through Work and Income.

KEEP EDUCATION OUT OF WTO AGREEMENTS

Education and other public services are basic human rights which should not be viewed as commodities or be subjected to commercial trade rules, according to Education International (EI), the global body for education unions.

Education International has told the 7th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation, which is taking place in Geneva this week, that the overriding principles and objectives of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) are in conflict with educational values.

Education International strongly supports increased mobility and exchanges of students and staff. It argues that international education cooperation and educational values should prevail over commercial interests and motives.

"The GATS is a commercial agreement with the aim of expanding business opportunities for investors. By contrast, the goal of education is to serve the public interest: education advances human understanding, preserves and promotes cultures, and strengthens civil society and democratic institutions," EI general secretary Fred van Leeuwen says.

"There are many unanswered questions about the potential impact of GATS on education. Once a country has agreed to commitments, GATS rules may enforce open education markets and enable offshore institutions and companies to engage freely in education activities. Local authorities, including accreditation and quality control agencies, may have little control."

EI is advising countries to resist making commitments on private education services, particularly at the tertiary level, because it is extremely difficult to define legally which education services are supplied strictly on a non-commercial basis. Commitments on private education services may expose the public education system to GATS disciplines.

Also EI is calling for the possibility for countries to withdraw commitments already in education without having to pay any compensation.

'WHAT? THERE IS NO UNIVERSITY OF NEWLANDS?'

The New Zealand Herald reports that an American authority on university degrees wants New Zealand to criminalise issuing or purchasing unapproved educational qualifications, after putting New Zealand on its list of countries that churn out "fake" degrees.

The Oregon Office of Degree Authorisation has named four institutions it says are operating out of New Zealand - Presscott University, University of Honiara, University of Honorius and the University of Newlands - as being either ‘degree mills’ or lacking any authority to issue degrees.

The Herald says the term ‘degree mill’ refers to "substandard or fraudulent colleges that offer potential students degrees with little or no serious work".

"These range from either degrees that can be purchased outright, or those that require some nominal work from the student but not at the level of study normally required for a degree."

TEU president Dr Tom Ryan says that New Zealand already has in place substantive rules around what constitutes a degree-granting institution, as well as a range of quality assurance processes for academic programmes. He agrees with the Oregon authority that a clamp-down on degree-mills, as well as on individuals falsely claiming qualifications, is well overdue.

"There are continued instances of people in this country claiming they have degrees that either never were properly awarded or else were bought from a fake institution. In recent years we have seen a member of parliament, the head of a major television channel, and a senior public servant all exposed as qualifications rorters of these sorts".

"And these are probably just the tip of the iceberg. It's wrong that such frauds should gain professional and economic advantage over other people who have genuinely invested effort and money in gaining proper qualifications."

GOVT READIES NZ FOR SPENDING CUTS

The government's forthcoming Tax Working Group cannot help but appear moderate in contrast to the widely derided Taskforce 2025, headed by ex-national party leader Don Brash, which released its recommendations earlier this week.

The TWG is set to release its recommendations by the end of this year, and is tipped by the business media to recommend cutting New Zealand's top income tax rate from 38 percent to 30 percent, to align it with the company rate. The estimated NZ$1.6 billion ($1.1 billion) annual cost could be made up by increasing the sales tax, and imposing a land tax or levies on capital gains from investment property.

Finance Minister Bill English said he is open-minded on what new taxes could be introduced.

"The only proposition that’s been ruled out is a capital gains tax on people’s individual home," Mr English told reporters after his speech to the working group conference this week. "We’ve avoided ruling anything else out."

In contrast to many of his comments throughout this year, the finance minister said that New Zealand was in comparatively good financial state and should be looking to ‘reinforce its status as a low-tax country':

“While our public finances aren’t in great shape, they are not as bad as other countries, and there is an opportunity for us to enhance our relative position as a low-tax country.”

TEU president Dr Tom Ryan warned that low taxes would probably mean low investment in important public infrastructure like tertiary education.

"Achieving lower taxes may be an admirable aim, but not if it undermines important social and economic institutions like universities, polytechnics and wānanga. It's almost inevitable that bodies like Taskforce 2025 and the Tax Working Group, which advocate lower taxes, also want to reduce government investment in education.”

"Whether a lower tax regime is designed by Don Brash or by Bill English, disinvestment in education can only result in our tertiary system falling further behind that of Australia, and never catching up with it," said Dr Ryan.

60-YEAR-OLDS RACK UP STUDENT LOAN DEBT

Student loan and allowance figures just released by Statistics New Zealand show that students aged 60 or more had the highest leaving debt in 2007, with an average of $22,000. That was a 60.3 percent increase on their average leaving debt of $13,720 the year before.

A large proportion of students aged 60+ (72.2 percent) attended a private training establishment, and data is not available on their level of study. The number of endebted students aged 60+ who completed in 2007 more than doubled, compared with the year before, increasing from 960 students in 2006 to 2,136 in 2007. However, students aged 60+ made up only 2.5 percent of all leavers with debt in 2007 (2,136 out of 86,445).

The figures also show that those aged 60 or more are less likely to pay off their debt over time. Borrowers who left study in 2003 had repaid an average 23 percent of their leaving debt over the next five years. In contrast, students who were aged 60 or more owed 14.2 percent more in 2008 than when they left study in 2003.

The loan and allowance statistics also show an increase in the percentage of students borrowing to study, and an increase in the average leaving debt for students. Significantly, the statistics show that last year was the first year since 1998 that average income for those who have just left study has not increased from one year to the next.

The average income one year after leaving study for leavers aged less than 20 decreased from $19,870 (for 2006 leavers) to $19,550 (for 2007 leavers). For leavers aged 20–24, their average income one year after leaving study decreased from $30,140 (2006) to $29,870 (2007).

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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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