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TEU Tertiary Update Vol 13 No 47

Could trade agreement let for-profit US universities sue NZ polytechnics?

The government is currently negotiating, in secret with eight other countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). This proposed agreement will dramatically increase the ability of private foreign firms, including tertiary education providers, to sue future New Zealand governments and New Zealand public tertiary institutions.

TEU national president Dr Tom Ryan says that for-profit universities in the United States are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to increase their share of both the domestic USUS market and overseas markets. 

Recently, for-profit Keiser University lodged a lawsuit against the community college Florida State College, alleging that negative public comments by staff at the college devalued Keiser's share price and reduced its enrolments. Keiser subsequently withdrew its lawsuit after the two institutions "agreed to put their differences behind them." Florida State College also told the media it "never intended to disparage Keiser University or its principals or to cause harm to the institution."

"If we are not careful, foreign investment rules in the TPPA could give for-profit institutions s from the United States, or other countries, the right to sue New Zealand tertiary institutions for making it hard for them to do business here," said Dr Ryan.

"The agreement might include rules governing the monitoring of academic quality, institutions, qualifications their staff should hold, or the content of the courses they offer. Once TPPA investment rules are set they cannot be reversed, and as Keiser University showed, for-profit institutions will use rules like these aggressively."

NZQA has already said it is providing support as required for the TPPA negotiations as the agreement may include qualifications recognition clauses.

Inside Higher Ed notes that American for-profit universities are increasingly active outside the United States and offer many on-line degrees internationally. They are also buying or starting universities in other countries, linking with overseas institutions. For example, the University of Liverpool in the UK is the partner of Laureate Education, a large US for-profit, and works with Laureate on many on-line degrees). The US for-profits also offer many on-line degrees internationally.

For more on for-profit universities, check out Stephen Colbert's analysis of the sector in the USA.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Otago Uni sacks people who deliver government tertiary strategy

  2. Weltec staff opposed to 55 more hours a year

  3. NZQA takes over quality assurance of polytechnics

  4. Retirement Commission wants to raise retirement age

  5. Clarification

  6. Other news

Otago Uni sacks people who deliver government tertiary strategy

The Otago Daily Times reports that the Foundation Studies Ltd company owned by the University of Otago is preparing for a second round of redundancies.

The company, which offers English language and general tuition to international and domestic students, cut 3.6 positions in August. Now it is reviewing management and support positions.

The Otago Daily Times has been told at least three further positions will go, but the company's board chairperson, Ian Simpson, said he could not confirm that. The review would be completed before the end of the year, he said.

TEU national president Dr Tom Ryan said these cuts undermine one of goals of the government's Tertiary Education Strategy, in that the TES aims to get more young people, Māori, and Pasifika people into tertiary education. 

"It really is a catch-22 situation. Foundations studies course like this are integral to the success of government's own tertiary strategy, and yet staff are being made redundant because of the government’s cap on student numbers."

Foundation Studies at Otago University has had its domestic student places cut by 44 percent next year. Because most of the courses at Foundation Studies are less than a full year, and it takes several students to make up one student place, the reduction will affect hundreds of students.

Many of the subsidised places have been filled by students who had not performed well enough at school to obtain university entrance and have previously needed a one-semester intensive boost to make the grade. Asked what would happen to those students, Mr Simpson said they would "have to make sure they passed UE at school" or wait until they were 20 and apply for a university place as an adult student.

Dr Ryan said that government decisions were undermining the government's own strategic goals. 

"The students that the government says it most wants tertiary institutions to take in are also the ones that it attaches the least funding value to. The situation simply doesn't make sense."

Weltec staff opposed to 55 extra hours per year

TEU members at Weltec are currently voting on whether to begin industrial action because their employer is trying to increase their duty hours from between 34 and 36 hours a week (which are core conditions across the sector), to 37.5 hours a week.

Weltec's proposal claim for increased duty hours, in exchange for a 1.5 percent pay rise, would result in up to 55 extra hours of work a year for staff members.

Weltec wants claiming an increase the duty hours in order to boost productivity.  However, Weltec already has one of the highest student-staff ratios in the country; 24 students for each academic staff member.

TEU organiser Phil Dyhrberg said the union has been willing to discuss so-called productivity improvements, including possible changes to duty hours and timetabled teaching hours, but members have already formally rejected the employer's arbitrary increase of duty hours.

The ballot on industrial action will close at 4pm today.

"I think it is regrettable, given members' willingness to negotiate on these matters, that Weltec is insisting on attacking core conditions.  TEU members are already angry about the manner in which trade tutors were recently laid off at the polytechnic," said Mr Dyhrberg.

NZQA takes over quality assurance of polytechnics

From next year the Qualifications Authority (NZQA) will assume direct responsibility for quality assurance of institutes of technology and polytechnics, taking over the role from ITP Quality, which has held the responsibility since 1993.

The Minister for Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce, said ITP Quality has voluntarily returned the delegation for quality assurance to NZQA.

"The benefits of strong, independent quality assurance across the tertiary sector will help maintain and further improve confidence both here in New Zealand and internationally."

A dedicated unit to provide services to the ITPs will be established within NZQA. The unit will undertake course approvals, degree applications approval and external evaluation and reviews of individual ITPs. An ITP Advisory Forum will also be established to provide advice to NZQA.

The unit will undertake course approvals, degree applications approval, and external evaluation and reviews of individual ITPs. In addition, an ITP Advisory Forum will be established to provide advice to NZQA on the quality assurance of the sector.

NZQA currently manages quality assurance for the PTE sector and for wānanga. The university sector retains responsibility for its own quality assurance.

TEU’s ITP academic vice president, Richard Draper, said there was considerable disquiet about this proposal when it was first mooted. He said many in the sector were concerned that NZQA was not in the best position to assume this responsibility in terms of staffing and expertise.

"It is a consequence of the unfortunate decision of the CEOs of the 'metro' group of polytechnics to split from ITPNZ in 2009. ITP Quality is an independent committee of ITPNZ. Although all of the polytechnics were keen to see ITPQ continue in its role, when ITPNZ split into the newly formed NZITP and the 'metro' group has clearly, it undermined the position of ITPQ. It is no great surprise to see this change."

Retirement Commission wants to raise retirement age

TEU president-elect Dr Sandra Grey says that, if the retirement age increases to 67, New Zealand needs to start working to get rid of age discrimination in the labour force.

"People who are made redundant or wish to change jobs in their 50s and 60s find it hard in many cases to get a new position," said Dr Grey. "There is already significant age discrimination against many workers and this will be heightened in a tight labour market. If we're going to have people working longer, then employers need to realise the benefits of employing older workers."

Dr Grey's comments follow a call by the retirement commissioner, Diana Crossan, to increase the age of entitlement for superannuation from 65 to 67 to ensure it remains affordable over the long term. Ms Crossan says the age of eligibility should start to increase from 2020 by two months per year, until 2033 when it would reach 67.

She also advocates a means-tested benefit, to help people such as manual workers who can no longer realistically work after the age of 65, to cope financially until they turn 67.

Dr Grey said means-tested benefit this could be particularly hard on those workers in the tertiary education sector who do manual labour – such as cleaners and caretakers.

The Council of Trade Unions secretary, Peter Conway, says that the proposal to remove universal entitlement at age 65 and replace it with a selective means-tested benefit for some people until they are 67 represents a major change to the notion of a universal entitlement.

"There is a case for additional support – such as subsidised power bills – for those on low incomes, but not for any removal of basic entitlements. The fundamental problem is that we have low wages and that translates into low savings. That is what needs to be addressed, rather than reducing incomes and entitlements in retirement," said Mr Conway.


"Cutting budgets won't necessarily save money" the headline of our article on Dr Rosenberg's comments last week was misleading.  The statement in the story "there is no evidence that cutting spending is actually saving money" did not accurately reflect Dr Rosenberg's comments either. Dr Rosenberg's actual point was that cutting government spending isn't necessarily a cure to a range of economic problems despite being commonly sold as that. As he said, "the evidence that smaller government as such is better for growth or innovation or quality of life is simply not there". However, Dr Rosenberg notes that cutting expenditure may lower revenue requirements or help pay off debt and that will sometimes be necessary. His full commentary, upon which our story was based was confronting the notion that 'smaller government is necessarily better government'.

Other news

EIT chief executive Chris Collins said that, other than the positions of Tairāwhiti chief executive Judy Campbell and five members of her senior management team, there would be no more redundancies in the short term as a result of the EIT-Tairāwhiti merger. Mr Collins says he will hire extra academic staff to teach new programmes in Gisborne –Dominion Post

TEC Chief Executive Roy Sharp has announced his retirement, as of 3 April next year, the day he turns 65 –Education Directions

TEU members and staff in the library and IT at Victoria University have this week invited to complete a pay and employment equity survey. The survey is a critical element of the limited pay and employment equity (PaEE) review that the university is undertaking to determine whether women's employment opportunities and rewards in those two areas of the university are affected by gender. The review is part of ongoing PaEE work in the sector, continuing despite the government's closure of the PaEE unit in the Department of Labour.

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:

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