AUS Tertiary Update

Published: Thu 24 Nov 2005 01:06 PM
Legal action to stop further dismissals at Auckland
Legal proceedings were filed in the Employment Authority this week by the Association of University Staff (AUS) to stop the dismissal of six lecturers and senior tutors from the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland. All were employed on a series of consecutive, fixed-term employment agreements, one of them continuously for twelve years, but were told their employment would end as a result of a decision to consolidate approximately twenty-one jobs into about half of that number. A further five cases initiated by the AUS have been settled at mediation.
AUS Auckland Branch Organiser, John Leckie, said around 80 percent of the staff in the School had been employed on fixed-term agreements, and that the Dean, Professor Sharman Pretty, believed she could simply cut numbers by letting their current fixed-term agreements end rather than going through a proper consultation and management-of-change process.
Mr Leckie said that the University did not have genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds for using fixed-term agreements, and he believed that the jobs were permanent ones. He said the University had also breached the Employment Relations Act by failing to advise the staff, before employing them, of the reasons their agreements would come to an end. “As such, we believe that all six are permanent employees, and the University is not entitled to simply dismiss and, in some cases, replace existing staff with new ones.”
Earlier in the year, the University was forced to reinstate a senior music lecturer after it refused to confirm his appointment at the end of an initial period of employment. The Employment Relations Authority also ordered the University to pay $10,000 compensation and reimburse lost salary. Although the University has appealed this decision, it is now trying to invoke a redundancy process involving the staff member before the appeal is heard.
A broader view on the use of fixed-term employment agreements, following the recent decision of the Employment Relations Authority in the case between Susan Wood and television New Zealand can be found on the AUS website at:
Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Loan loophole to be scrutinised
2. Universities top contributors to research
3. Questions remain for universities over trade agreements
4. Stub out tobacco-funded research, says lobbyist
5. Open Polytechnic’s unimpressive salary offer
6. VCs attempt to kick unions off campuses
7. UK universities still plagued by discrimination
8. US slashes student-loan programmes
9. Dons clash with Cambridge over intellectual rights
Loan loophole to be scrutinised
The Minister of Education, Dr Michael Cullen, says the Government may move to close a loophole which allows borrowers to reclaim repaid student loans in order to take advantage of the Government’s new interest-free-loan policy. Under current legislation, student loan borrowers who have made voluntary repayments are permitted to request a refund of those repayments up to six months after making them.
In Parliament yesterday, the National Party leader, Dr Don Brash, used the example of a former student, Thomas Banfield, who had asked Inland Revenue to refund $15,000 he had voluntarily repaid a few months previously so that he could place the money on interest-bearing deposit.
Mr Banfield told Morning Report today that, while he feels bad about it, obtaining the refund was within the rules of the student-loan scheme and allowed him to invest the interest-free loan money at between 8.5 and 9 percent interest.
While Dr Cullen told Parliament that, though he had no information on the particular case, he doubted Mr Banfield would be the only person who would request a refund in order to reinvest the money, and he would discuss the issue with Inland Revenue.
The Inland Revenue Department’s latest estimate was that $167.4 million was made by way of voluntary repayments in 2004.
Universities top contributors to research
Universities are the major contributors to New Zealand’s research outputs, according to a briefing paper prepared for the new Minister of Education by the Ministry of Education. The paper reports that nearly two-thirds of all New Zealand indexed research outputs are produced from universities, New Zealand ranks second out of twenty-two countries in indexed research outputs per million dollars invested in research, tenth when measured per person, but twentieth when measured by citation.
The 2003 quality evaluation for the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) showed that around half the researchers are producing work of national or international reputation. Philosophy, archaeology, anthropology and most of the natural and physical sciences were particularly high-performing areas. Most university research-income growth has come from increases in research contracts other than through Vote Research Science and Technology, suggesting that universities’ research activities are increasingly responsive to the needs of industry and other stakeholders.
The report also says that the PBRF seems to be delivering improved focus on high-quality research. However, it says this has led to a tension within universities between research and teaching outcomes, with research often taking priority because of the explicit and direct link with funding. The labour-market dynamics of competition for researchers with higher grades could have wider implications for quality and lead to further variance within the sector. The new performance element of the student-component funding may shift this balance slightly more in favour of high-quality teaching, although the prestige value of research over teaching is likely to remain, as the quality of research establishes academics’ and universities’ reputations, both nationally and internationally.
The full Ministry of Education briefing paper to the Minister can be found at:
The Tertiary Education Commission briefing paper to the Minister can be found at:
The Tertiary Education Commission Annual Report can be found at:
Questions remain for universities over trade agreements
The Minister of Tertiary Education has moved to reassure the university and polytechnic sector that it will not be forced to compete for public funding with overseas-owned tertiary providers by the establishment of trade agreements, but concerns nevertheless remain, according to the AUS.
In response to questions from Green Party Education spokesperson, Metiria Turei, Dr Michael Cullen told Parliament that current trade negotiations will not affect New Zealand’s ability to regulate the educational area nor would the establishment of the Friends of Private Education Exports, set up to protect and advance the interests of New Zealand’s private-education exporters in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (or GATS) negotiations. “The group was explicitly set up to pursue improved export opportunities in private, not public, education,” he said. “Of course, those providers that already meet New Zealand regulatory standards in the private sector can be overseas owned. That is the current situation.”
Ms Turei also asked the Minister why the Government is pushing for further free-trade agreements in education when there is a real risk that New Zealand will lose the right to limit the number of universities, the number of overseas students, and the number of English-language schools, or lose the right to require that educational facilities be not-for-profit or have staff and student representation on their boards.
In response, Dr Cullen said that the Government would not be making any initial offers that would limit the Government’s right to provide, fund or regulate public services such as health and education. “One can jump at shadows on the wall in that respect, but they are puppet shadows, not real ones,” he said.
AUS National President Professor Nigel Haworth said, however, that controversy over the quality and duplication of some courses and the explosion in sub-degree enrolments illustrated the very real need for the Government to be able to regulate the entire industry. “Given that officials have not yet even defined private education within the WTO rules, one wonders why Government would make it harder for itself to protect the public-education sector by entering such broad trade agreements.”
Stub out tobacco-funded research, says lobbyist
The Smokefree Coalition is calling on New Zealand universities to introduce formal policies that prohibit them from working with the tobacco industry, following revelations in an article by University of Otago researchers that associations between universities and the tobacco industry have continued until at least 2004.
The paper, by George Thomson and Louise Signal from the Wellington School of Medicine, examines the extent of the relationship between the tobacco industry and New Zealand universities, and the institutional mechanisms that have been used to limit such associations. It shows that one multi-national company, Philip Morris, invested at least US$790,000 into research at the University of Auckland between 1988 and 1996.
According to the paper, there are few formal policies in New Zealand to prevent associations with the tobacco industry but, by contrast, a number of prominent Australian universities have introduced formal limits. “If the evidence of harm to the public interest from associations with the tobacco industry is accepted, then, despite the risk to academic freedom, formal policies to address such associations may be warranted,” says the paper. “To be most effective, policies by research institutions and funders on tobacco-industry associations should be formal and explicit, and also need to be comprehensive and effectively implemented.”
Smokefree Coalition Director Leigh Sturgiss says that the tobacco industry knows that associations with New Zealand universities will give it more credibility in the eyes of the public, and add legitimacy to its research. “Such associations risk universities remaining silent about industry behaviour and tobacco harm, university research being perverted by the industry and the diversion of public, scientific and government attention from tobacco harm.”
Ms Sturgiss urged all universities to introduce policies against associations with the tobacco industry.
Open Polytechnic’s unimpressive salary offer
Academic staff at the Open Polytechnic have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking industrial action if an offer of a 1.5 percent salary increase from their employer does not improve. The staff, who are members of the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE), say they find it difficult to reconcile the employer’s offer, made during current collective employment agreement negotiations, with a salary increase paid to the Chief Executive Officer and with reported surpluses of $4m for the last two financial years.
Phil Dodds, ASTE Central Region Field Officer, said that union members were dismayed at the pay offer, especially given that they accepted a “bonus-type” payment in 2004 to “assist” the Polytechnic deal with its struggling financial position. “Already this year, inflation is hitting 3.4 percent,” said Mr Dodd. “Members have asked the question: Where is the logic in such a miserly offer from the employer?”
Mr Dodds said that some other polytechnics, whose financial positions were considerable worse than that of the Open Polytechnic, had acknowledged the contribution of staff with reasonable pay deals. “Staff recognise that The Open Polytechnic is an important institution for delivering distance education across the whole of New Zealand. However, they want real acknowledgement that their goodwill has contributed to the institution’s overall success,” he said.
The Open Polytechnic was among the top seven performers in the polytechnic sector last year, returning a surplus of 5.6% in 2004. In addition, its 2004 Annual Report shows that it has nearly $14m in investments and one of the highest student-to-academic-staff ratios.
VCs attempt to kick unions off campuses
Vice-chancellors at three New South Wales universities have attempted to use government funding requirements to kick unions off campuses and adopt discriminatory commercial practices. Letters received by the Australian National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) order it to vacate office space at the University of Newcastle, Southern Cross University and University of New England. Newcastle management is also refusing to allow unions to commercially lease premises, drawing accusations of discrimination.
The Australian Government is making $A260 million funding contingent on individual universities meeting its Higher Education Workplace Relations Requirements, which include restricting union involvement, restricting the content of enterprise agreements and forcing staff onto Australian Workplace (Individual) Agreements.
Chris Game, State Secretary of the NTEU (NSW), said that it appeared that the managers of the universities concerned wanted to proactively use the new workplace requirements to attack the Union. “We will resist management’s attempts to pander to Minister Nelson by adopting a belligerent anti-union approach. In the meantime, we’re not going anywhere,” said Ms Game. “We will also be investigating legal avenues such as trade practices and anti-discrimination legislation, given that [Newcastle] University sees fit to lease out considerable office space to many other organisations and businesses, but not the unions.”
UK universities still plagued by discrimination
The true diversity of the academic workforce and the need for modernisation are both revealed in a major piece of research published in the United Kingdom this week by Association of University Teachers (AUT).
The Diverse Academy paints a picture of universities in which approximately half of professional staff are women and where a large number arrive from many different backgrounds and nationalities, but where women and non-white staff continue to be paid less. Worryingly, it says, few UK black and minority ethnic (BME) staff choose to enter a career in higher education.
The report’s key findings include that 40 percent of academics are women, yet men receive 14 percent more in pay; women are far more likely to be employed on fixed-term contracts than men; BME academics are paid 13 percent less than their white colleagues; and that UK nationals from a black or Asian background are heavily under-represented in the UK academic population.
AUT General Secretary Sally Hunt said that, while the diversity of backgrounds among staff in higher education is something that great pride can be taken in, it is clear that pay and employment discrimination on the grounds of gender and ethnicity continues to bedevil UK universities.
The Diverse Academy can be located at:
US slashes student-loan programmes
The United States House of Representatives has narrowly approved, by 217 votes to 215, legislation that will cut about $US50 billion from federal entitlement programmes by the end of the decade, with more than a third of that ($US14.3 billion) coming from the Government’s student-loan programmes. Fourteen Republicans joined almost all of the Democrats in opposing the Bill.
College lobbyists and advocates for students had waged an aggressive campaign to defeat the measure, citing a report, released this month by the Congressional Budget Office, that said the budget-cutting Bill would impose $US7.8 billion in new charges on students and their families, resulting in an average increase of $US5,800 in the interest individual students pay on their loans. The rest of the student-loan cuts would come largely from reductions in government subsidies to private lenders and student-loan-guarantee agencies.
American Federation of Teachers Legislative Director, Kristor Gowan, said the cuts were at the expense of America’s most vulnerable citizens.
Dons clash with Cambridge over intellectual rights
Cambridge University is bracing itself for a battle over the right of its academics to own their inventions in what is being seen by some as a test of the leadership of Vice-Chancellor Alison Richards. The University is planning to reform its system of intellectual property rights, a move it says will clarify who owns researchers’ inventions. The plan involves controversial stipulations that mean the university would play a part in every application for a patent. Rebel academics are claiming that the wording of the plan is an attack on Cambridge’s uniquely liberal system, which currently allows them to own their discoveries and control how and for what purposes they are patented.
Ross Anderson, a computing professor and a key figure in the academics’ Campaign for Cambridge Freedoms, which is opposing the changes, said he objected to a rule which could allow the University to bind academics to doing research on behalf of external sponsors without their agreement. “I simply don't trust our bureaucrats to write contracts for us. It is critically important that academics retain a veto over their work. Otherwise people will make a deal with side-effects which could trash their work without them knowing,” he said.
Academics at the 800-year-old institution have a unique role in the running of their University and, along with owning their own intellectual property rights, members of the University’s Regent House can lobby for a vote on all amendments and additions to the University's governing rules.
Education Guardian
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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