AUS Tertiary Update

Published: Thu 15 Sep 2005 02:27 PM
University staff urged to think carefully about election result
Two days out from the General Election, Association of University Staff (AUS) General Secretary Helen Kelly is urging union members to consider very carefully the election policies of the main political parties before voting, adding that the current AUS bargaining and education-policy strategies are reliant on the current Government’s employment law and tertiary strategy.
Helen Kelly says that the National Party has made it clear that it will end the University Tripartite Forum and the tripartite approach to resolving long-standing salary and funding problems in universities, and will re-introduce draconian Employment Contracts Act-style industrial legislation, similar to that of the 1990s.
Helen Kelly said that the current Government is committed to building relationships with public sector unions and resolving the salary and funding problems through a tripartite process. She described the University Tripartite Forum as the most important development in the university sector in the last fifteen years.
By contrast, the National Party has said it will not commit itself to resolving university-salary issues through the tripartite process, and has explicitly ruled out any increase in funding to the tertiary-education sector. It will also make cuts to the public sector, and has highlighted education as a primary target.
“The consequence of that, combined with National’s policy of scrapping the tuition-fee-maxima legislation means that, once again, we will be back into the same situation as in the early 1990s when staff pay claims were pitted against student fee increases,” Ms Kelly said. “It was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now.”
Helen Kelly said that the current Employment Relations Act provides the legislative support for multi-employer bargaining and recognises the exclusive rights of unions to engage in collective bargaining. National, by contrast, has policies clearly calculated to attack worker and union rights, including axing four weeks’ annual leave, abolishing the minimum time-and-a-half payments for working on public holidays, making it easier to sack workers, cutting workplace health and safety protections, and removing the right to take strike action over national bargaining.
“The choices have never been more clear,” said Helen Kelly. AUS is not politically aligned, and members will vote based on a number of issues, but in terms of AUS making progress in the policy areas members have identified as key, a change of government will set that work back, possibly irretrievably.”
Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Waikato University union members reject pay offer, Massey accept
2. Loans policy affordable, says Cullen
3. Student debt hits $8 billion
4. National’s different face for tertiary education
5. LMU dispute over
6. Research loses out in $A250m teaching bonanza
7. More students heading for university
Waikato University union members reject pay offer, Massey accept
Union members at the University of Waikato have rejected a salary offer from their employer of 3 percent from 1 June, saying that it is the worst made by any New Zealand university in the current bargaining round. The offer annualises to a figure of 2.5 percent and follows low salary settlements in the previous two rounds of negotiation.
While Waikato staff have rejected their offer, Massey University staff have accepted an offer to increase salaries by 2 percent from 4 July, with a further 2 percent from 1 September and 0.5 percent from 1 January 2006.
Waikato combined unions’ spokesperson, Dr Stan Jones, said that the salary offer there was simply not good enough and indicated that, in making an offer less than the rate of inflation, the Vice-Chancellor showed no real commitment to resolving long-standing salary problems across the university sector.
Dr Jones said that the recent achievement of a national umbrella agreement between vice-chancellors and the combined university unions, setting out a process for the parties to work actively and constructively with each other through the University Tripartite Forum, was a real opportunity for the parties to address salaries problems right across the whole sector.
“The national umbrella agreement only becomes effective when all local university agreements have been settled so, by making a provocatively low salary offer, the Vice-Chancellor has not only shown disregard to his own staff but risks impeding the national processes,” said Dr Jones. “The Vice-Chancellor has failed to appreciate the benefits of settling the current pay round and getting on with the tripartite process, which will deliver the best long-term benefits.”
Dr Jones said that union members are also angry that the Vice-Chancellor is attempting to downgrade the importance of the unions by refusing to negotiate provisions in the collective agreement which recognise their constructive role in the bargaining process.
Staff at Auckland, Victoria, Lincoln and Otago are currently participating in ballots to determine whether or not the salary offers at those universities will be accepted. Most results will be available by next week.
Negotiations at Waikato are scheduled to resume on Friday this week.
Loans policy affordable, says Cullen
Finance Minister Michael Cullen says that Labour’s interest-free student-loan policy is easily affordable and, even over a fifteen year period, would have a negligible impact on government debt. Yesterday, the Ombudsman directed the Minister to release the initial Treasury costings of its interest-free policy after an appeal by the National Party, which claimed the cost of the scheme is higher than that claimed by Labour.
A preliminary Treasury costing, of $924 million by 2020, was based on an anticipated loan uptake of 95 percent of students. A second costing, requested by Dr Cullen, was based on a lower take-up rate and put the cost at $500 million by 2020. Currently 55 percent of students use the loan scheme.
Dr Cullen said that it was important to understand correctly the status of the figures provided by the Treasury. “They [the initial figures] were of a highly preliminary nature, had not been subjected to any of Treasury’s usual quality-assurance controls and were scenarios intended to provide a sense of the order of magnitude of he different policy options rather than formal costings,” he said. “I have already said publicly that I did not agree with the assumptions underpinning the first set of costings. These were that the take-up rate for full-time students would rise to 95 percent for fees and 75 percent for living costs with the rates for part-time students rising to 40 percent for fees and 30 percent for course costs.”
“I considered these estimates all too high, not least because officials hopelessly over-estimated the increase in the take-up rate when Labour made loans interest-free during study, predicting that it would rise from 50 percent to 90 percent when in fact it rose by only five points to 55 percent,” Dr Cullen said.” I am full satisfied that these [the second set of] assumptions are realistic and that Labour’s costings are robust.
Supporting Dr Cullen, the New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA) has said the costings show that the no-interest-on-loans policy is both affordable and realistic. “No interest on loans will go a long way to addressing the student debt monster,” said Camilla Belich, NZUSA Co-President. “Treasury’s initial predictions were based on an unrealistic estimate of 95 percent of students taking up loans. People generally steer clear of getting into debt when they can avoid it. Students are no exception.”
Student debt hits $8 billion
Total student borrowing is thought to have hit the $8 billion mark this week, according to information released to the New Zealand University Students’ Association under the Official Information Act. In a letter to NZUSA, the Minister of Education, Trevor Mallard, said that the nearest possible date at which total gross student-loan borrowing reaches $8 billion is estimated to be mid-September 2005.
The figure has been described by NZUSA Co-President Andrew Kirton as staggering and a serious threat to New Zealand’s society and the economy, while the Public Tertiary Education Coalition has described it as intergenerational theft and a symbol of educational and social failure.
“Student debt is forcing overseas the very graduates we need here; it is making it increasingly difficult for young people to own their own homes and is delaying people from having children,” said NZUSA’s other Co-President, Camilla Belich. “The burden of student debt for the 460,000 New Zealanders will be reduced by giving more students a student allowance, wiping interest on student loans and reducing tertiary fees. It’s that simple.”
An NZUSA pledge, asking political parties to commit to increasing the student-allowance eligibility, has been signed by six of the major political parties. Only National and ACT have refused to commit to increasing support for students.
Camilla Belich said that voters must ensure the election of a government that will deliver for students, graduates and their families.
The $8 billion debt figure follows the release of a nationwide Colmar Brunton poll which concluded that 74 percent of New Zealanders believe more students should receive a student allowance and three weeks after a similar poll found that 76 percent of New Zealanders think the student-loan interest rate is too high.
Meanwhile, an international report, Global Debt Patterns: An international comparison of student loan burdens and repayment conditions, released this month, shows that, at 7 percent, New Zealand currently has the highest interest rate on student loans out of eight comparable OECD countries.
Responding to the release of the report, Andrew Kirton says that Labour’s policy of no interest on student loans for resident graduates would make New Zealand one of the lowest in the OECD, while National’s plan would see New Zealand remain charging the highest student loan interest rate in the developed world.
National’s different face for tertiary education
National leader Don Brash has said that, if he is elected Prime Minister on Saturday, the face of tertiary education in New Zealand is going to be very different. Speaking outside Te Wananga o Aotearoa on Tuesday, he said that he would remove any distinction based on race and fund tertiary education institutions based on their ability to deliver high-quality courses which represent good value for money for taxpayers and students. He is reported attacking “Treaty-separatism”, race-based funding and “soft, meaningless” tertiary courses, which most students never bothered to finish, saying they would be well and truly over. The implication was that the Wananga was guilty of all.
Dr Brash blamed the Prime Minster for the Wananga’s woes, saying that it had become a symbol of much that is wrong with the tertiary-education sector under the Helen Clark Government and a monument to the political correctness which has seen the country lose its way.
But inside, Dr Brash told his audience that, while he had some misgivings about some aspects of this Wananga, he looked forward to working with it and predicted a long and successful future under a National-led Government.
Responding to Dr Brash’s comments, the Minister of Education, Trevor Mallard, said the National leader has demonstrated that he is confused and out of date in relation to tertiary-education policy. “His pronouncement that all tertiary-education funding should be merit-based and not race-based is quite amusing, since that is the way the tertiary system operates now,” said Trevor Mallard. “Dr Brash’s memory must be fading again. In addition, the Government has undertaken a major shake-up of tertiary provision, and made a series of key decisions – announced back in July. These decisions will support and strengthen regional provision in the tertiary sector, and shift funding to high-quality courses that are good value for taxpayers and students, from areas of low quality and low value.”
LMU dispute over
Lecturers at London Metropolitan University have voted “almost unanimously” to accept a new collective employment agreement, bringing to an end one of the longest-running industrial disputes in a UK university. The dispute centered on the University’s threat to sack 387 academic staff who refused to accept new, inferior employment agreements following the merger of the University of North London and London Guildhall University to create LMU. In April last year, the University told staff they had until 31 August to accept the new agreements or be dismissed. In turn, that led to a series of strikes and protest actions which were brought to an end recently after arbitrated talks forced by the refusal of many lecturers to hand over examination marks.
Bringing the dispute to an end, 97 percent of lecturers voting in a ballot have agreed to accept a new collective agreement, negotiated recently between their union, NATFHE, and LMU management. However, another crisis now looms over the University’s insistence on docking the pay of lecturers who had taken industrial action short of strike action, such as withholding marks. Many lecturers have had 40 percent of July’s salary deducted from their pay packet, and further cuts in their August pay.
In a ballot completed last Friday, 86 percent of the lecturers said they do not accept the docking of pay, and NATFHE is now preparing for legal action.
Roger Kline, head of the universities department at NATFHE said that, with that dispute over, and the contract returned to almost the terms of the national contract, NATFHE had hoped that we could all move forward, but senior management has unfortunately chosen not to take this opportunity.
Research loses out in $A250m teaching bonanza
The Australian Government is to allocate almost $A250 million to universities rated for their teaching strengths rather than research. Under a new Learning and Teaching Performance Fund, universities that score highly on a range of seven indicators will receive additional grants of more than A$50 million next year, with a further A$82 million in 2007 and A$109 million the following year.
It is the first time the funding emphasis has switched from research to teaching. Brendan Nelson, the Education Minister, wants universities to lift the quality of their teaching and believes that linking millions of dollars to student outcomes will focus attention on the issue.
Under the scheme, 55 per cent of a university's total score is based on results from the annual course-experience questionnaire that is completed by graduates four months after finishing their degrees; a further 22 per cent of the score relies on statistical data from university surveys of graduate employment and continuing study outcomes; and the final 23 per cent is calculated by the Education Department from student dropout rates and the proportion who undertake higher degrees.
Critics of the new scheme claim that universities could manipulate the survey results, with others noting that the new money will go to universities which are already performing well, with nothing to help the rest improve their standards. Three of the top research institutions - the Australian National University and the Universities of Melbourne and Queensland - were among the top six, meaning the big three will not only receive a major slice of research funding but may now collect additional grants for teaching as well.
Times Higher Education Supplement
More students heading for university
University enrolments in the United Kingdom have risen by more than 29,000 compared with last year, according to figures published this week. Of the 511,669 applicants, 387,662 have now had places confirmed.
The figures, published by the university admissions service, Ucas, showed that the overall number of students applying for university this year rose by more than 38,000 compared with last year.
The biggest increase in the number of students gaining places was found in the 25 years and older age group, which saw a 9.7% increase. The number of students aged 21 and under who have accepted places was up 8.2% on last year.
To date, acceptances of Welsh applicants to Welsh institutions rose by 7.3% this year, from 9,141 to 9,808. The number of acceptances of Scottish applicants to Scottish institutions fell by 1.5% from 24,967 to 24,596.
Acceptances of students from European Union countries were up by 18.7% from 11,289 to 13,401, with increased acceptances from new EU countries, including Lithuania, where acceptances rose from 52 to 272, the Czech Republic, from 141 to 213, and Slovakia, from 88 to 145.
The number of acceptances from China was down by 20%, from 5,225 to 4,181, and from Singapore by 17.2%, from 740 to 613.
From the Times Higher Education Supplement
AUS Tertiary Update is compiled weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the Association of University Staff and others. Back issues are available on the AUS website: . Direct enquires should be made to Marty Braithwaite, AUS Communications Officer, email:

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