AUS Tertiary Update Vol. 4 No. 36

Published: Thu 18 Oct 2001 08:40 AM

In our lead story this week…..
Further to last week's story concerning negotiations about education in the General Agreement on Trade in Services, the AUS President, Neville Blampied has written to Education Minister, Trevor Mallard seeking information on what happened at last week's talks in Geneva on the issue. New Zealand was one of two governments that tabled papers at the meeting promoting the extension of existing commitments on education services. Information received by AUS indicates that the European Commission (EC) is concerned at the New Zealand stand, believing it could potentially undermine the public nature of education as well as the ability of governments to regulate to ensure universal quality education. Mr Blampied is seeking, under the Official Information Act, New Zealand's response to the EC's concerns.
Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Criteria announced for change fund
2. Nats demote tertiary education
3. Outlook grim for regional polytechnics
4. Wanganui polytechnic staff defiant
5. Call for investment boost to tackle 'crisis'
6. A dream benefactor!
7. South American universities in turmoil
The government has announced the criteria for funding under the newly-established Tertiary Education Strategic Change Fund. The money – totalling $35m. – is being made available to help public tertiary institutions make the changes needed to respond to the new funding and regulatory environment which will come in to effect in 2001. Institutions will have to show that any changes they want to make will contribute to social, environmental and economic development, will build on their current position, and are in line with the new approach for the sector.
“Tertiary Update” notes with concern that the portfolio which includes tertiary education, information technology and research is now ranked 27 out of 27 in the National Opposition ranks. We sincerely hope that this does not forebode a lack of commitment to these vital areas.
The Minister in charge of Tertiary Edcuation, Steve Maharey says the government will be putting around $50m this year into addressing the problems created as a result of funding levels during the 1990s. In a speech to launch the Skilling the Nation conference, Mr Maharey said polytechnics had the task of ensuring New Zealanders had the skills they needed to prosper in the 21st century, but acknowledged they were being held back by a lack of money. He also called on polytechnics to play their part. “We are asking polytechnics to get strategic, focused and to identify the kind of tertiary education needed for a knowledge-based economy," the Minister said. But the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE) paints a grimmer picture of the future of the country's polytechnics, and the regional ones in particular. President Jill Ovens says delegates at last week's ASTE conference heard a "chilling" message from the chairperson of the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission, Russell Marshall. She says he made clear that TEAC was concerned about the 'top' and 'bottom' of the sector, namely universities and foundation education. She says the voice of vocational education in the 'middle' appears to be "absent from the debate".
Staff at Wanganui Regional Community Polytechnic are challenging the Minister to come up with the figures to prove it cannot survive as a stand-alone body. Steve Maharey has proposed that Wanganui merge with UCOL in Palmerston North, but staff are not convinced the merger is needed. They are taking issue with the criteria being used by the Ministry of Education's Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit to decide on the viability of individual institutions, saying it is a "one-size-fits-all" model that smaller polytechnics cannot hope to meet. Meanwhile ASTE President, Jill Ovens said after a meeting with Wanganui staff that if there was to be a merger in the interests of saving governance and administrative costs, members wanted to see a strong commitment to maintaining a degree of local autonomy at Wanganui. She stressed that a decision was needed soon on the future so staff could get on with teaching and research, and students could plan their studies for next year.
And in an editorial on the merger proposal, the Manawatu Evening Standard says parochial doubts and fears need to be put aside to focus on what is best for the Wanganui community. But the paper points out that this is not an isolated problem, and that "small-town polytechs everywhere are struggling to remain viable". While the ideal of making post-compulsory education accessible to all New Zealanders everywhere is a laudable one, the paper comments, it is clearly not working in its present form.
In Australia, a major report by a senate committee has called for a significant rise in the level of public investment in higher education over the next ten years. The report – entitled "Universities in Crisis" – refers to serious and growing problems faced by Australian universities. It says the teaching loads of professors have doubled in the past decade, as a result of a 70% increase in enrolments, but no increases in faculty staff. The recommendations include boosting the low salary levels of academics to stem the flow of qualified staff to overseas positions. The report also suggests the system of tuition and university operating grants be reviewed. The senate committee spent a year researching the report, holding 14 public hearings across Australia during which it heard from 219 witnesses.
Hungarian-born financial, George Soros is to give a $US250m. endowment to the main campus of the Central European University in Budapest, the largest gift ever given to a European higher education institution. Mr Soros and a group of intellectuals and former dissidents came up with the idea of the university in 1989 and it was first established in Prague in 1991. The financier has been contributing to the running of the university since then, but said the endowment would help secure its future as a centre for educating new generations of leaders for the emerging democracies of the world. Critics have questioned Mr Soros' decision to give the money to a single institution saying it could have been more effective to share the money out among other institutions that have revitalised their teaching programmes since the end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe.
Public universities in Argentina and Brazil are facing strikes and disruption as staff take industrial action over low salaries and fears that university education will be increasingly privatised. There have been no undergraduate classes for around two months at 50 of Brazil's 53 public sector universities as thousands of staff strike in support of a 78% wage increase and an end to a four-year-old freeze on hiring new staff. Academic staff say they are paid the equivalent to a lieutenant at a local fire station. Former AUS president Jane Kelsey reports a similar situation in Argentina. She met staff at the University of Buenos Aires in August when they had just received a 13% pay cut. She says students have been occupying university buildings, staff have been on strike, and there have been mass protests over what is happening in universities as a result of a requirement, imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for the government to keep its spending in line with revenue. Ms Kelsey says there are fears student fees will be introduced, and that higher education will be further extended as the government tries to meet its commitment to the IMF.
AUS Tertiary Update is produced weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the union and others. Back issues are archived on the AUS website:

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