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TEU Tertiary Update Vol 13 No 4

WITT PREPARES DRASTIC MEASURES FOR 2011

Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT) has released a consultation document to its staff called 'Towards a Sustainable Future - Meeting the Challenges of 2011 and Retaining WITT's Independence and Autonomy'. It identifies a significant reduction in revenue that will occur in 2011 as a result of changes to government funding. The document seeks feedback on its proposals by 5 March, with final decisions to be advised to staff on 22 March.

The report notes that funding to New Zealand's twenty ITPs is scheduled to drop by over $44 million, or seven percent, next year. Funding specifically for WITT is scheduled to fall by $2.17 million, or 13 percent of WITT's previously planned funding for 2011.

This reduction includes the elimination of a $1.3 million grant to recognise and compensate for WITT's small scale. From 2011 all ITPs will be paid the same rate, regardless of size. The report also notes that more than $800,000 of funding for ‘student performance’ from the Tertiary Education Commission is now at risk.

WITT's proposal to address this reduction in government funding is to grow as much as it can within its EFTS cap, identify alternative revenue streams (such as more overseas students), to increase fees, and reduce costs, including staffing costs.

It proposes to save $615,000 in direct staffing costs next year. Also WITT plans to make savings by reducing its health and safety payments to third party suppliers, reducing its contingency budget and reducing its training costs.

TEU national President Dr Tom Ryan says the government needs to own up to the damage it is doing to New Zealand polytechnics.

"WITT's ‘Sustainable Future’ proposal is anything but that. It is a desperate attempt by a small, regional polytechnic to stay afloat in the face of an increasingly hostile government. And the whole situation reflects particularly badly on a government that claims to be the defender of the interests of rural constituencies," said Dr Ryan.

ALSO IN TERTIARY UPDATE THIS WEEK:

1. PM calls tertiary education problems ''increasingly urgent"
2. Scientists say research funding is worse than a lottery
3. Govt focused on trades training for teenagers
4. Otago polytechnic CEO wants subcommittee for staff and students
5. Massey negotiations conclude with 1.5 percent proposal

PM CALLS TERTIARY EDUCATION PROBLEMS ''INCREASINGLY URGENT"

Prime minister John Key in his opening speech of the year told Parliament that there are ''increasingly urgent problems'' in tertiary education. However, TEU national president Dr Tom Ryan says the prime minister's negativity towards our tertiary education sector is undermining the world-class teaching and research being done by staff and students in our universities, polytechnics, wānanga, and other providers.

Mr Key said universities suffered from an inflexible and bureaucratic funding and policy framework, and that many sub-degree level programmes have drop-out rates he considers to be too high. His government will focus its tertiary education efforts this year, he said, on ensuring that courses are relevant to the job market and of a high quality.

The prime minister also continued to hint that the government was looking at restricting access to student allowances and loans.

''We will take a careful look at the policy settings around student support to ensure that taxpayers' generosity is not being exploited by those who refuse to take their tertiary studies seriously, or who show little inclination to transition from tertiary training in to work.''

NZUSA co president David Do said students were alarmed by threats of future cuts to tertiary education funding.

"We reject the characterisation that students do not take their studies and work seriously. Many juggle part time work with full time study, and borrow to live from the student loans scheme simply because they are not eligible for student allowances."

New tertiary education minister Steven Joyce responded, making one of his first public statements on the sector, by telling the New Zealand Herald:

"The prime minister has signalled previously that the principle of the student loan scheme as zero interest remains the same. What we are looking at is around the edges where there are potentially issues in terms of whether it's being used effectively to advance people's studies or not."

SCIENTISTS SAY RESEARCH FUNDING IS WORSE THAN A LOTTERY

The New Zealand Association of Scientists has released a survey showing that many scientists feel forced to spend too much time on administration and meeting funding grant requirements.

Association president James Renwick said the survey – representing a population of nearly 6000 scientists and technologists – showed it was time for an overhaul of the science system in New Zealand, and that the situation is critical.

University-based scientists make up two-thirds of the country's scientific population and the survey sample; 250 polytechnic scientists also were included in the sample.

The survey painted a rather bleak picture of the profession in this country, with just 42 percent of the respondents saying they would recommend science to young people as a career. Many of those surveyed said science is stifled by unreasonably high levels of bureaucracy.

One area of particular concern, especially for university-based scientists, was the degree to which science was influenced by political agendas, and the unfair way that science is funded. A significant minority of scientists agreed that holding a lottery would be a fairer way of distributing money than the current model of funding research.

Three-quarters of scientists said that the government's research agenda responds more to political priorities than it is to the potential for scientific advance.

Over two-thirds of university scientists felt that it was not the government's role to define what should be investigated or funded. By comparison, a majority of crown research institute scientists agreed that this was an appropriate role for government.

An overwhelming 95 percent of scientists agreed that, even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research that advances the frontier of knowledge is necessary and should be supported by public funding.

In contrast, the government's recently released Tertiary Education Strategy says that research funding in universities should be directed to research that is of direct relevance to the needs of firms and should be focused on economic growth.

Associate Professor Kathryn McGrath, immediate past president of NZAS,said that while the government had a right to say what areas of science should be funded, the Foundation of Research Science and Technology, which controls what are priority areas of funding, is making decisions without enough background in scientific research or any significant involvement of active, respected scientists.

GOVT FOCUSED ON TRADES TRAINING FOR TEENAGERS

Prime minister John Key noted in his opening address to parliament that his government would be placing significant emphasis this year on ensuring that secondary-aged pupils have greater opportunities to learn trades and practical skills.

"We don't accept that a university education is a prerequisite for a good job, and we don't think our school system should function as if it is", he said.

The links and transitions between secondary and tertiary education, particularly for students who are not succeeding or participating in secondary school, has been an area of focus for both this government and the previous one. The prime minister noted that the government planned to introduce both legislative and funding changes.

"We will also be continuing the reforms necessary to support our Youth Guarantee policy of providing 16- and 17-year-olds with the option of pursuing their education in the setting which best suits their needs, be it a school, polytechnic, workplace or other training provider."

TEU national president Dr Tom Ryan hopes that the prime minister’s continued interest in skills and trades training for young new Zealanders will mean an expansion of the youth guarantees programme.

"This year the Youth Guarantees scheme is in a small pilot phase which is available only through selected providers - in regions that government has deemed in high need. If the scheme were to become more universal it would give many more young New Zealanders the chance to learn skills and contribute to their local communities and economies."

ALSO: Listen to the minister of tertiary education Steven Joyce and other commentators discuss this issue on National Radio this morning.

OTAGO POLYTECHNIC CEO WANTS SUBCOMMITTEE FOR STAFF AND STUDENTS

Otago Polytechnic, like other New Zealand's other 19 ITPs, is preparing to cut its non-ministerially appointed councillors down to just four. The Otago Daily Times reported this week that CEO Phil Ker was recommending a "hybrid" system, with one or two continuing to be nominated by local Māori, and two or three people appointed using a skills-based system.

He recommended that students and staff be represented via subcommittees, rather than being included as formal council members.

Mr Ker also proposed that, as CEO, he did not need a formal seat on the council, thus creating space for another appointee.

Meanwhile Otago Polytechnic Students Association president Meegan Cloughley told the Otago Daily Times that she is no longer fighting for student representation on the council.

Trying to guarantee a seat for a student representative was "a waste of time", she said. Even if students were allocated a seat, that seat would be guaranteed for only one year.

Instead, the Otago Daily Times reported, Ms Cloughley and her organisation would be supporting chief executive Phil Ker's suggestion of representation via a student subcommittee.

MASSEY NEGOTIATIONS CONCLUDE WITH 1.5 PERCENT PROPOSAL

Collective agreement employment negotiations concluded last week at Massey University, with the assistance of an external mediator. Massey was one of two outstanding universities not to reach a settlement last year with staff who are union members. Now the only remaining university to have not settled its 2009 employment negotiations is Lincoln University.

The proposed settlement, which union members will vote on shortly, includes recognition of union member rights, a 1.5 percent increase to all salaries and printed pay rates to be applied from 11 January 2010, and a $350 lump sum payment (pro-rated if employed part time) as an alternative to backdating the pay increase to July last year.

The proposed settlement does not establish a working party to examine salary scales, despite earlier advocacy for this from the university. Instead, it proposes that unions and the university jointly commission independent research into pay systems at Massey.

The full Terms of Settlement now need to be formally agreed in writing; once this has occurred union members will begin voting on whether to ratify the settlement or not.

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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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