AUS Tertiary Update

Published: Thu 9 Oct 2008 09:09 AM
Auckland dealt another blow in ERA
The University of Auckland has been dealt another blow in the Employment Relations Authority, this time in a case brought by the New Zealand Educational Institute over the use of fixed-term employment agreements for a group of eight facilitators employed in the university’s faculty of education. Authority member Rosemary Monaghan has determined that, while the university may have had genuine reasons for using fixed-term agreements, she was not persuaded there were reasonable grounds for their use in respect of most of the staff involved in this litigation.
Ms Monaghan also said that information provided to some staff and the wording of some of their employment agreements was inadequate. She held that the failure of the university to comply with section 66 of the Employment Relations Act, the part that governs the use of fixed-term employment, consequently gives the affected employees the right to treat their employment as on-going.
The case related to staff employed as a result of funding secured through a series of contracts between the university and Ministry of Education to provide, among other things, in-service professional-development support for primary and secondary schools in the Northland and Auckland regions. Core funding was provided on a three-yearly basis, but particular “outputs” were negotiated between the university and ministry on an annual basis, for some of which additional funding was provided. As such, the authority viewed it as conceivable that some facilitators were aligned with specific initiatives, the funding for which is “very fluid”, while others were in “reasonably constant” core areas.
Association of University Staff general secretary, Nanette Cormack, said the decision is very important for university staff and would be particularly relevant across the sector. “This decision invites the question, for example, of whether it is lawful for universities to employ staff on a fixed-term basis where their positions are funded by short-term or contestable grants for what are essentially long-term research projects,” she said. “This decision will help our campaign to ensure that staff in such positions have their employment confirmed as on-going.”
This latest decision caps off a busy year for the University of Auckland in the Employment Relations Authority and Employment Court, particularly with high-profile cases challenging the dismissals of academics Paul Buchanan and Rangihiroa Panoho.
Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Nelson Marlborough action to escalate
2. Angry response to AgResearch job cuts
3. Waikato pulls neo-Nazi study
4. Dr Brash goes back to university
5. Police storm Canterbury food-fight
6. New UK assessment could punish interdisciplinarians
7. In Israel, universities themselves prepare to strike
8. Nottingham city-centre protest
9. Middle-class students should pay more
10. Exam room or Dragons’ Den?
Nelson Marlborough action to escalate
Protest action taken by allied staff at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) last month is set to escalate as a result of the failure of the parties to reach a settlement in mediation. NMIT allied staff, who are members of the Tertiary Institutes’ Allied Staff Association (TIASA), walked off the job last month and protested at a meeting of the institute’s governing council.
Further action is now expected to follow after TIASA members voted overwhelmingly to reject an offer by NMIT that would have union members receiving 0.2 per cent less than non-union staff. “Our members view NMIT’s approach to these negotiations as provocative, and an attack on their union membership,” said TIASA chief executive Peter Joseph this week.
“Their apparent determination to have non-union members in receipt of higher salaries than TIASA members, for the same work ... can only result in strife,” he added. “It is extremely disappointing that NMIT do not appear to want to reach a reasonable and fair settlement for their staff.”
Mr Joseph said the union had been genuine in its attempts to bring about a settlement before NMIT chief executive Tony Grey departed on a month’s leave. TIASA had indicated its preparedness to meet but had not received any response from NMIT management.
It is believed that the anger of union members is exacerbated by the fact that, during the previous round of negotiations, allied and academic staff accepted NMIT management’s claim that anything more than a 3 percent increase in the collective agreement was unaffordable and could jeopardise the institute’s future. The management subsequently offered allied staff on individual agreements a 3.8 percent increase.
Angry response to AgResearch job cuts
Both the Public Service Association (PSA) and the New Zealand Institute of Agriculture and Horticulture (NZIAH) have reacted angrily to the announcement that as many as twenty jobs are on the line at crown research institute AgResearch in an attempt to save up to $5 million this year to maintain its profit level. Expressing concern that the job cuts may be a foretaste of what is to come as a result of unaffordable tax cuts, PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said, “New Zealand cannot afford to cut the jobs of scientists whose research helps generate more than $10 billion of exports a year.”
“The PSA is totally opposed to laying off any scientists at AgResearch. That’s because these scientists are highly specialised after completing years of training and development. To lay them off is devastating for the scientists and a waste of talent and investment,” Mr Wagstaff added.
NZIAH president John Lancashire, describing the proposal as “short-sighted”, said, “It is always bad when there are jobs going from science organisations because there has been a hell of an investment in these people and that is all lost if people with their skills are made redundant.”
Reacting to AgResearch’s claim that the cuts are a response to loss of income from hard-up sheep and beef industries, Mr Lancashire described that as a temporary fluctuation. “We’ve seen banks and finance companies bailed out overseas, why not accept this is a glitch in New Zealand’s primary industry, which is so important to us, and meet the shortfall?” he asked. “It will only be for a short period anyway. We’re already seeing an upturn in the sheep prices.”
Waikato pulls neo-Nazi study
The University of Waikato has abruptly pulled a student’s thesis exploring satanic and neo-Nazi themes from its library after complaints from the subject of the research, a right-wing extremist, according to a story in the Waikato Times. It is believed to be highly unusual to remove a student’s work after its acceptance and release.
The thesis, appearing in the library and online six months ago, is titled “Dreamers of the Dark: Kerry Bolton and the Order of the Left Hand Path, a Case-study of a Satanic/Neo Nazi Synthesis”, and was submitted as part of a master’s degree by philosophy and religious studies student Roel van Leeuwen. Mr Bolton is a well-known figure both in New Zealand and Australia in the far-right movement, and is reported to be a former secretary of the National Front.
The university’s student newspaper, Nexus, has reported that neither Mr van Leeuwen nor the thesis co-supervisor, Professor Dov Bing, were notified prior to its sudden removal. The newspaper said that it had established that no legal threat had been received against either Mr van Leeuwen or the university. Rather, the thesis had only been the subject of a complaint from Mr Bolton.
Professor Bing told Nexus that the thesis was a first-class piece of work and, before being accepted, was externally assessed by two senior academics from other New Zealand universities. They too deemed it to be first-class. Mr van Leeuwen told Nexus that he was surprised that he had not been told that the thesis was being pulled.
Mr Bolton’s website shows numerous letters he has sent to the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Roy Crawford, complaining about the thesis and describing it as “a poorly contrived smear-document against a private individual, namely myself”, one that makes him feel literally and physically sick.
Dr Brash goes back to university
Former Reserve Bank governor Dr Don Brash has been appointed an adjunct professor of banking in the AUT business school in recognition of his “outstanding wealth of knowledge in monetary policy and banking regulation”. In making the announcement, business school dean, Professor Des Graydon, said, “Dr Brash’s understanding of the inner-workings of New Zealand’s financial system is second to none. We are delighted to have him share his insight with staff and students.”
Dr Brash gained his PhD in economics from the Australian National University in 1965. He is highly regarded in some circles for his fourteen-year tenure as governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, where he gained a reputation for keeping tight control of inflation. In July 2002, Dr Brash became a National party member of parliament and was, briefly, leader of the opposition.
Currently, Dr Brash is chair of Huljich Wealth Management and holds directorships with Ocean Partners and the ANZ National Bank, where he is chair of the risk committee. In 2007, he was appointed an adjunct professor at Melbourne’s La Trobe University in the faculty of law and management.
Dr Brash has said that he is delighted at the appointment to AUT. “I am particularly pleased to have been made an adjunct professor at the AUT business school. Not least because I have been associated with the university since the days when it was still the Auckland Technical Institute. At that time, I was a founding member of the ATI Foundation,” said Dr Brash.
Police storm Canterbury food-fight
After a trouble-free afternoon at an ENSOC barbecue, residents of the University of Canterbury’s University Hall were invited onto the hall lawn for a private function which, apparently, erupted into a high-spirited food fight. ENSOC, the university’s engineering students’ society, was, until this year, sponsor of the Undie 500 rally to Dunedin.
It has been reported that as many as 300 residents converged on the hall lawn and began turning tables over and throwing food at one another. Soon after the food-fight began, nine police cars and more than ten baton-wielding police entered the campus grounds to disperse the crowds. No arrests were made, but eyewitness reports suggest that one resident sustained a minor injury after tripping.
Both University Hall staff and Christchurch Police were unavailable to comment on the events. It is believed that no major damage was done to the hall and residents helped to clean the grounds after the police had left.
Students claim that police cars had spent all day circling Ilam Park, where the ENSOC barbecue took place, looking for students to pick on. “The police were out to get us,” said one hall resident. “I think the University Hall staff over-reacted when they called the police. After all, we were just having a bit of fun.”
Residents of University Hall are understood to have expressed anger at the fact that most of them went without dinner.
World Watch
New UK assessment could punish interdisciplinarians
The system being set up to replace the UK’s research assessment exercise (RAE) could discourage academics from working with colleagues outside their own discipline, even though the government is trying to encourage interdisciplinary work, new research suggests. Under the forthcoming research excellence framework (REF), which will replace the RAE after this year, the quality of an academic’s research in science subjects will be judged in part bibliometrically, that is, on the basis of the number of times their published research is cited by their peers.
But a study conducted by researchers at the school of computing and information technology at the University of Wolverhampton has found that interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research is less likely to be cited than monodisciplinary research, in some subjects as much as four times less. The results of the study, “Is multidisciplinary research more highly cited? A macro-level study”, are published in this month’s Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.
The supervisor of the study, Professor Mike Thelwell, said the findings throw “a spanner in the works” of the government’s plans to develop the REF. “Governments around the world are trying to promote interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research. The UK government is moving to the REF and a reliance on citations ... [but] doing interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research is going to get you less recognition and funding under the REF. Something the government wants to promote is going to be discouraged,” said Professor Thelwell.
The study used standard categories from citation databases to divide science and social-science journals into those that cover a single subject and those that cover multiple subjects. It then looked at about 960,000 papers published in the journals in 1995 and their subsequent citations. Although there are differences among subjects, the overall results show that papers published in single-subject journals receive more citations than those published in multiple-subject journals.
From Zoë Corbyn in Times Higher Education
In Israel, universities themselves prepare to strike
The Committee of University Heads in Israel this week emailed 150,000 students across the country stating that “unfortunately under the current circumstances following negotiations with the Ministry of Finance, we cannot begin the academic year”. The university heads explained the decision by saying, “The promises made by the Israeli government, that it would tackle the root of the problem and guarantee the survival of the [education] system for many years to come, have not been fulfilled. Negotiations with the Finance Ministry have not resulted in an accord that would enable the proper function of the universities.”
The statement went on to say that “the higher-education and research system is slowly declining. The neglect of higher education and the universities is a crime against national power, which is based on the creation of knowledge and passing it on to the next generation, encourages the brain drain, and strangles the excellence years of toil have achieved.”
Regarding the effect of the impending strike on students, the university heads wrote, “Your education and your life plans have suffered, and the process of research and knowledge has also suffered, but the Israeli government continues to neglect higher education. We believe that the government’s wrongful decision-making leaves us no choice in our battle for the future of higher education.”
The email adds that the strike announcement could still be withdrawn if circumstances are altered, expressing hopes that “the Israeli government will prevent the harm done to higher education for the third year in a row”.
From Yaheli Moran Zelikovich in Ynetnews
Nottingham city-centre protest
Hundreds of members of the University and College Union (UCU) from all around the UK made clear their opposition to plans by Nottingham Trent University (NTU) to de-recognise the union and cut facility time for union representatives in a protest in the city centre earlier this week. The protestors handed out leaflets explaining the reasons behind the current row to thousands of new Nottingham Trent University students.
Protestors from as far away as Newcastle and London gathered outside the Royal Centre in Nottingham at the lunchtime rally to coincide with the vice-chancellor addressing new students inside. The crowd then heard speeches from supporters, including UCU head of higher education, Malcolm Keight, and Sasha Callaghan, the union’s president.
Local UCU members are angry that the university is formally terminating recognition of UCU, the world’s largest tertiary-education trade union. Despite NTU saying it will continue to deal with the union, it is insisting that it will only recognise UCU if it complies with its new proposals. If there is not a breakthrough in negotiations, staff will take strike action on Tuesday 21 October.
UCU says Nottingham Trent has for months been attempting to tear up the current terms for negotiating with the union in favour of radically inferior arrangements that would marginalise the campus unions and cut facility time for union representatives by 80 percent. The existing recognition agreement signed by the unions and the university provides for nine months’ notice of termination. On 4 July, the university wrote to UCU and said it was aware that it should give nine months’ notice, but had decided to terminate the agreement on 4 October.
On 29 September, UCU members voted by more than three-quarters in favour of industrial action.
Middle-class students should pay more
Middle-class students should be prepared to pay higher university-tuition fees, according to the chancellor of Oxford University, Lord Patten, who added that they could have no objection to paying more than the £3,000-a-year ($NZ8,300) currently levied by most universities.
Lord Patten, former governor of Hong Kong and Tory party chairman, said the government must raise the “intolerable” existing cap, in place since 2006, to allow universities to compete with those in the United States. The comments will increase pressure on the government to increase fees when it reviews existing levels next year, with the National Union of Students recently warning that graduates face average debts of £37,000 ($NZ102,000) if fees rise significantly.
Lord Patten said, however, “Can there be a middle-class objection to higher fees? It is surely a mad world in which parents or grandparents are prepared to shell out tens of thousands of pounds to put their children through private schools to get them into universities, and then object to them paying a tuition fee of more than £3,000 when they are there.”
In a speech to the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 250 top independent schools, Lord Patten also attacked government reforms designed to increase the number of working-class students going on to higher education. He insisted that universities should not admit sixth-formers with lower grades simply to meet official quotas, saying there was “no chance whatsoever” of Oxford hitting targets which call for the university to increase applications from state-school students from 58 to 62 percent by 2010.
“Vice-chancellors and governing bodies have to account for their use of the taxpayer’s money, but they should not be treated - or behave themselves - like local social security offices,” Lord Patten said.
From Graeme Paton in the Daily Telegraph
Exam room or Dragons’ Den?
Assessments modelled on a pub quiz or on the television show Dragons’ Den are among the unusual practices pioneered in universities as an alternative to traditional exams and essays, a survey by Times Higher Education has revealed. Amid growing concern that traditional “sit-down” tests could encourage students to adopt an “instrumentalist” approach to their learning, universities are embracing new ways to challenge their students.
At Aston University, 230 psychology students were tested in teams in the format of a pub quiz at the end of term. “We felt that a pub quiz would promote interaction, mutual dependence, and shared problem-solving,” said Peter Reddy, a teaching fellow.
Engineering students at Harper Adams University College have been pitching their designs before a Dragons’ Den-style panel of staff members, while retail management students at Bournemouth University complete a five-month consultancy exercise that culminates in an hour-long boardroom presentation in front of senior managers from major retailers, including Tesco and B (Britain’s largest home-improvement and garden-centre chain).
“My estimate is that no more than 40 percent of a student’s degree classification would be derived from traditional exams, and often less, depending on their study programme,” said Abigail Hind, head of educational development at Harper Adams.
Some students are now formally assessed on “wikis”, websites that can be edited by others, or websites they create on their own or with fellow students. Students are also submitting internet podcasts, video diaries, and blogs. Role plays and simulated scenarios are other formats being used.
Students taking a module on the European Union at the University of Salford act out roles in simulated EU negotiations, while students of interdisciplinary science at the University of Leicester act as expert witnesses in a mock courtroom trial.
From Rebecca Attwood in Times Higher Education
More international news
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AUS Tertiary Update is published 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 inquiries should be made to the editor, email:

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