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TEU Tertiary Update Vol 15 No 19

Canterbury decision highlights value of independent council

Emma Johnston, one of the student leaders who led the You Are UC campaign to oppose the closure of Canterbury arts courses, says staff and students would never have had any success at council had it consisted only of senior management and government-appointed members, nor would there have been three hours of debate and cross-examination leading up to the vote.

"If university councils cease to be democratic, our universities will cease to be democratic, and our educational futures will be dictated by a privileged few and prone to corruption," said Emma Johnston.

The University of Canterbury's council voted twice to oppose the vice-chancellor's plans to close arts courses, thus saving cultural studies and theatre and film studies. A vote to close American studies only passed after the chancellor used his casting vote to split a voting deadlock. In each instance, the four staff representatives on council consistently opposed the closures, thus saving jobs and learning opportunities for many staff and students.

The votes highlighted the important independent role staff, as stakeholders in their university, can play on councils. The minister of tertiary education, Steven Joyce, has recently said he intends to reform university councils, and that he believes they are large and unwieldy. TEU is lobbying the minister to ensure university councils retain staff and student representation and retain their independence from government.

TEU is also fighting, through the Employment Relations Authority, Canterbury University council's decision to close two other courses, American studies and an operations research programme in Management Science. The closures will affect seven full time-equivalent staff and 154 full time-equivalent students.

The Press reports TEU's claim to the authority accuses the vice-chancellor of failing to follow procedures set out in the collective agreement when proposing to disestablish the courses.

Mediation between the parties failed last month and the university applied to have the matter heard by the Employment Court. A hearing date has yet to be set.

TEU organiser Gabrielle Moore said she hoped the court would decide the university was in breach of procedure, causing it to overturn the closure decisions.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Allowance cuts spark anger and arrests
  2. Austerity causing global education crisis
  3. TEU joins campaign to oppose class size rise
  4. Otago VC says academics' community service stable or growing
  5. The youth unemployment crisis: is there a skills mismatch?
  6. Other news

Allowance cuts spark anger and arrests

Student protests are growing as the implications of the government's budget announcements about cuts to allowances sink in. The government's changes, which will restrict all allowances to 200 weeks and a rise in the student loan repayment rate from 10 percent to 12 percent, saw a second round of student protests at the University of Auckland last week, at which the police arrested 43 people.

TEU's University of Auckland branch condemned the arrests saying the police used tactics known to incite rioting. The branch also said finance minister Bill English helped incite the arrests by telling students 'they need some Greeks to show them how to do it'.

"We are offended by the dismissive and antagonistic language of the minister,” said TEU branch president Paul Taillon.

"We support the cause of the students in fighting for quality higher education that is widely available and designed for the public good,” said Paul Taillon. "And we insist upon the right to peaceful protest when democratic values are under threat."

Many postgraduate students have been particularly scathing of the funding changes saying they greatly influence whether or not they could continue with their post-graduate study.

Massey University's extramural student president Ralph Springett said students who wish to undertake post-graduate qualifications – which will be the minimum required to train as a primary school teacher – will have to borrow to live if they do not also work. These students (except those studying bachelor degrees with honours) will be unable to get a student allowance.

"The government seems determined to prevent as many as possible from studying part-time, and penalising all postgraduate students," Ralph Springett said. "If the government's own tertiary education strategy requires people to achieve at higher levels how can students do that unsupported?"

Austerity causing global education crisis

Education throughout the world is facing an austerity crisis according to global trade union Education International (EI). Across the globe, the continuing economic crisis is devastating education budgets. Cuts in education are leading to staffing shortages, salary and pension cuts, reduced support services, and rising tuition fees.

Governments are increasingly promoting privatisation of education services and the deprofessionalisation of teaching as expedient measures.

EI says no one has assessed the full impact of austerity measures, but already there are clear signs of deteriorating working conditions and trade union rights infringements. EI has launched a campaign called Education In Crisis to draw attention to the problem, and to prevent further cuts to education funding.

"Continued under-investment risks exacerbating social inequality and undoing many of the hard-earned economic, health and social development gains of recent decades," said EI's general secretary Fred van Leeuwen.

CTU economist Bill Rosenberg places New Zealand within that global trend for austerity.

"Treasury’s analysis is that over the next four years, Budgets will be contractionary. It requires huge faith in private sector and export growth, and the Christchurch reconstruction, to be confident that the economy will not go into recession."

Likewise, Cambridge University's Ha-Joon Chang argues in a different forum, the Guardian, that austerity policies are not working, and more importantly, they have never worked.

"It is increasingly accepted that these policies are not working in the current environment. But less widespread is the recognition that there is also plenty of historical evidence showing that they have never worked. "

"As for the need to cut social spending to revive growth, there is no historical evidence to support it either. From 1945 to 1990, per capita income in Europe grew considerably faster than in the US, despite its countries having welfare states on average a third larger than that of the US," said Ha-Joon Chang.

TEU joins campaign to oppose class size rise

TEU has joined the campaign to prevent the government implementing its recently announced plans to increase class sizes significantly in the compulsory education sector last Friday.

The Government indicated it will use the money saved from teacher salaries by increasing class sizes to fund teacher appraisal. TEU's national president Sandra Grey says rather than pushing through its performance pay agenda, the Government would do well to focus on supporting schools and teachers to address the many challenges they face in meeting the learning needs of a diverse student population.

"Unfortunately rising class sizes is a problem of which the tertiary sector is all too cognisant," said Sandra Grey. "Student: academic staff ratios rose by eight percent in tertiary institutions in the last four recorded years. In wānanga the student to academic staff ratio is over 40:1."

TEU extended the union's support to sister education unions NZEI and PPTA and their growing campaign.

Sandra Grey said a quality education sector requires teachers having the time to focus on individual students and their learning needs.

"Our young people have diverse learning needs, including those who struggle to remain engaged in learning, and those who seek to challenge themselves beyond the expectations of the curriculum. Increased class sizes will disengage those who already have a tenuous hold on their learning, and will affect their chances of leaving the compulsory sector with qualifications, skills and knowledge that will equip them for further learning or employment. As well, the potential loss of teachers from individual schools will compromise each school’s ability to provide a broad range of subject areas that meets the varied interests of learners."

Otago VC says academics' community service stable or growing

Otago University's vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne has responded to comments in Tertiary Update last week that PBRF has had an adverse impact on the contribution academic staff are making in the area of community service.

Harlene Hayne says Otago’s annual assessment of its academic staff involvement in community service shows "a striking stability over the past 15 years in both the percentage of staff who devote time to community service in any year (typically 90-95 percent of respondents), and in the average percentage of time devoted to service (typically in the range of 7 to 8 percent of their time in any given year)."

"Indeed, if anything, what one sees over time is a small increase in both the time devoted to service: between 1997 and 2001 (pre-PBRF era) our survey found survey respondents spent an average of 7.3 percent of their time. Over the last five years (2007-2011), the average time spend has been 7.8 percent."

TEU's national president Sandra Grey says the Otago University branch has not examined the staff involvement survey results, but says that nationally and locally there is growing anecdotal evidence that PBRF research is putting pressure on other aspects of academic workload.

In 2005 Jonathan Boston from the Tertiary Education Commission and Roger Smyth from the Ministry of Education raised concerns that PBRF could impact on community service.

"It is likely that active researchers (or those seeking to build a stronger research profile) will be even more reluctant to undertake demanding administrative responsibilities within their TEOs and somewhat less eager to be involved in professional or community service (or undertake their 'critic and conscience' role) – unless this takes the form of activities that can be legitimately included within the 'peer esteem' and 'contribution to the research environment' components of their EPs.  This experience suggests generally positive outcomes with respect to overall research quantity and quality but more questionable implications for teaching quality (especially at the undergraduate level) and community service by academic staff."

Middleton (2004) and Duke and Moss (2009) have raised similar concerns.

Sandra Grey says PBRF is a constant source of pressure and stress for staff at universities around the country and it is important that all universities are realistic about the expectations they place on research active staff.

The youth unemployment crisis: is there a skills mismatch?

Following the financial crisis, the global youth unemployment rate saw its largest annual increase on record.

Most people agree that youth unemployment is unacceptably high, argues Education International's special advisor on higher and vocational education and training, David Robinson. However, there is a growing debate over why so many young people cannot find work. While youth unemployment rates remain stubbornly high, some politicians and economists now point to jobs that are going unfilled because employers cannot find workers with the right skills. The implication is that there is a growing "mismatch" between what the education system teaches students and what skills are actually needed by employers.

There are several things wrong with this line of thinking according to David Robinson.

"First, across the world today we have the most educated and skilled youth cohort in history. It's difficult to see any shortage of talent and skills."

"Secondly, the fact that there are jobs that go unfilled at any given moment shouldn't come as a terrible shock to anyone, let alone economists. Labour markets are dynamic.  Jobs are routinely being created as some employers expand and new businesses take root. At the same time, other firms are simultaneously eliminating jobs as they scale back or go out of business. The point is that as long as there is this flux and churning in the labour market, there will always be job vacancies unfilled at any point in time. To call this a "mismatch" or a skills shortage is absurd."

David Robinson says teachers' unions need to be especially wary of the skills mismatch argument. Flawed as it is, many nevertheless use it to push regressive reforms to public education.

There is a further problem arising if policymakers accept the skills mismatch argument. By seeing youth unemployment as a structural issue rather than what it is – a failure of the economy to create enough decent jobs – governments risk not developing an effective youth jobs strategy. Clearly, the focus should be on stimulating aggregate demand and expanding education and training opportunities. Sadly, many governments are going in the opposite direction, imposing strict austerity measures and cutting funding for education and training.

Other news

Trainee teachers are accusing the Government of "moving the goalposts" by proposing a policy that would require new teachers to attain a postgraduate qualification before they can work - The New Zealand Herald

A pair of scientists have accused BP of an attack on academic freedom after the oil company successfully subpoenaed thousands of confidential emails related to research on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. The accusation heightens fears among scientists of an assault on academic freedoms, following the legal campaign against a number of prominent climate scientists - The Guardian

The phrase "class warfare" has been thrown around a lot in the media and within political circles recently – usually without much basis. But in Victoria, Australia, it is very real; the current Liberal Government has declared open class warfare on the state’s workers through the drastic downsizing of publicly funded TAFE institutes - The Conversation

"Every now and again someone will convince the government we are slipping behind Australia and we will get a bit of a boost. Science has become diluted down in some way. Senior people were being forced to spend an increasing amount of their time writing reports to get funding. The increase in competitiveness has really generated enormous problems and enormous waste in New Zealand. It's not a good way of funding research." - The cancer cell and molecular biology group leader at the Malaghan Institute, Mike Berridge

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