TEU Tertiary Update Vol 15 No 2

Column – Association of University Staff

Ministry responds to funding cuts with commercialisation The Ministry of Education released its briefing to the incoming minister to the public last week. Or, at least parts of it that are not being withheld under the Official Information Act were released. …

Ministry responds to funding cuts with commercialisation

The Ministry of Education released its briefing to the incoming minister to the public last week. Or, at least parts of it that are not being withheld under the Official Information Act were released.

The ministry begins its briefing by noting that total expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of gross domestic product (excluding student loans) fell from 2.0 percent in 2009/10 to 1.9 percent in 2010/11. Total tertiary expenditure, excluding student loans, will fall by a further 4.8 percent over the next five years.

The admission that the government is actively and continuously cutting tertiary education funding shapes many of the recommendations the ministry makes. Its overarching approach is to target increasingly limited funding on those areas and students it believes will best match the government’s economic growth goals.

It also aggressively seeks external private funding, both through export education, and by greater links between tertiary education, research and private companies.

TEU national president Dr Sandra Grey says funding pressures are leading the ministry to abandon a commitment to broad-based, equitable and accessible education.

“The ministry’s narrow focus on picking winners for the economy and on generating private income to cover its public funding shortfall undermines New Zealand’s historical commitment to open accessible public tertiary education,” said Dr Grey.

TEU general staff vice-president Helen Kissell said, “The intention of the ministry to interfere with the autonomy of tertiary institutions to ensure they aren’t teaching or researching in ‘lower priority’ areas, as defined by government, is a fundamental threat to academic freedom.”

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Commission suggests change in tertiary strategy
  2. Proposed settlement at Waiariki
  3. Commercialisation can distort good research
  4. Unions drive up pay in education sector
  5. Ports of Auckland dispute about casualisation
  6. A competition
  7. Other news

Commission suggests change in tertiary strategy

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) could use ‘Compacts’ with individual tertiary education institutions in conjunction with performance linked funding to drive the government’s economic growth strategy.

In its publicly released, but highly censored, briefing to the incoming minister TEC notes that overseas jurisdictions such as Australia and some US states have successfully used ‘Compacts’ – long term strategic agreements between large education providers and central government. These compacts use performance as the basis for funding high-level strategic initiatives, in tandem with more mechanistic funding of “throughput” at an individual student level.

“Such mission based compacts can tie an institution’s strategy and activity with national objectives by defining in advance reward payments for specified achievement rather than micro-managing inputs.”

Towards the end of its briefing TEC suggests the minister may want to develop a new tertiary education strategy (TES) in the next few months, setting out the government’s tertiary education goals, even though the current TES does not expire until 2015. Quickly following that recommendation are three and half pages of briefing that TEC has withheld from the public under the Official Information Act.

Education Directions’ CEO Dave Guerin noted earlier this week that the chance of a new TES seems low.

“We may be reading far too much into the first bullet on p.38 (stating that a new TES would be needed by the end of Feb 2012 to fit the next investment cycle) and some withheld text on p.30 (just after a statement about the current TES). The TEC also wrote that the next few months is ‘an important, time limited opportunity’ for the Minister, so it’s always possible he might use it.”

TEU general staff vice-president Helen Kissell is concerned that information about a series of major decisions to be made about tertiary education by March this year has been withheld.

“Is one of those recommendations the business case for the Canterbury region or wider TES following the Christchurch earthquakes? Who would know? I am concerned about the increasing tendency to use the Official Information Action to suppress what we could reasonably expect to be public information. ”

Proposed settlement at Waiariki

Waiariki Institute of Technology may join the growing list of polytechnics to reach a settlement with TEU members in recent months, with a two year collective agreement that will increase union members’ pay by 1.5 percent this year and again next year. TEU members at Waiariki will vote on the proposed settlement next week.

The settlement would leave NorthTec, as the only institution not settled of all polytechnics that have been in negotiations over last year. TEU members at NorthTec are holding a crucial stop work meeting today where members will be assessing options.

TEU advocate Enzo Giordani who negotiated the settlement at Waiariki said as well as the increase to salary rates and allowances, the new agreement, like many of its recent predecessors includes a change to the hours of work provisions.

“Where the employer has a claim that is important to them, and reflects existing practice, such as is the situation at Waiariki, then we can talk to see if we can find a compromise that works for everyone,” said Mr Giordani. “But, if the employer’s claims are bad for staff and bad for education then we’ll stand together to stop it happening. That’s the way unions work.”

Commercialisation can distort good research

Dangers arise when governments bypass the scientific community and bind research too closely to industry needs warns Education International’s senior consultant on higher education, David Robinson.

New Zealand’s government through its Tertiary Education Strategy, as well as the Treasury and the Ministry of Education are all advocating increased emphasis on closer links between business and research.

Dr Robinson says the Canadian experience shows that good research does not emerge from political diktats.

“Compared with the US, more than twice the percentage of Canada’s university research is funded by industry. This has accelerated since 2002, when the Government and the country’s university presidents signed an unprecedented ‘innovation agreement’, whereby public funding for academic research would be doubled, with universities in return agreeing to triple the commercialisation of their research.”

“The result has been a significant increase in funding, but at a price. There has been a drastic reorientation of large swaths of scientific research. The obsession with commercialisation has narrowed the agenda and undermined the integrity and independence of the academy. And it ignores a vital truth: that the world’s most important scientific discoveries typically have come from basic research.”

Mr Robinson says commercialisation has often distorted research priorities in ways that do not serve the public interest.

“Medical researchers have warned that the focus on market outcomes has encouraged a misguided emphasis on research that produces minor modifications to existing care, rather than fundamental explorations of illness.”

Mr Robinson will be visiting New Zealand as a guest of TEU during 27 Feb-2 March, where he will give presentations in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington on the Vandals at the Gate – the global state of higher education.

Unions drive up pay in education sector

This week’s Labour Cost Index statistics show the crucial importance unions are playing in protecting fair working salaries.

On average salary and wage rates, which include overtime, increased 2.0 percent in the year to the December 2011 quarter. However, education and training professionals working in the public sector earned pay rises of 2.4 percent on average. Public sector education workers are much more likely to belong to a union than workers in other sectors are. On average, these education workers have managed to win pay increases ahead of inflation (CPI was 1.8 percent for the same period).

Education and training professionals working in the private sector (where very few people belong to a union) saw their salaries increase by only 1.5 percent over the last year.

TEU national president Sandra Grey says the data shows there is clear benefit in belonging to a strong union.

“In the public sector, education workers received on average nearly a percentage point more than education professionals in the private sector. The big difference between those two groups is that in the public sector strong education unions like TEU have lots of members advocating for fair pay and working conditions.”

The Labour Cost Index surveyed employers asking them the reasons that they gave pay rises last year. Thirty-eight percent of employers who gave pay rises cited the existence of a collective agreement as a reason for doing so. By comparison, only 10 percent cited the need to keep staff, one percent gave pay rises to attract new staff, and 25 percent cited the need to match market rates.

“Employers are much more likely to give pay rises because a collective agreement requires them to than because they decide to out of a desire to hold onto their own staff or respond to what other similar employers are doing. Without unions and collective agreements, employers would lose a major incentive to lift pay-rates,” said Dr Grey.

Ports of Auckland dispute about casualisation

The employment issues being argued out on the Auckland wharves are the same ones that tertiary education workers face according TEU national secretary Sharn Riggs.

“The port has told its workers that it wants an agreement where they concede almost complete flexibility in hours of work and rosters. Port management has also said that if the workers will not accept this agreement then it will sack all 330 workers and replace them with contract workers.”

The Port’s proposed new collective agreement completely removes any restrictions on the employment of permanents, casuals or part-timers and provides for no guaranteed shifts, hours, days off or stable work. It provides no protection for workers required to work consecutive shifts. It would mean the Port can change the status and duties of an employee unilaterally, and could allocate any worker to any task.

The Maritime Union says if workers accept the current offer they will not know from day to day what hours they have to work or if they are working at all. They will wait by the phone to know if they are working. “That’s not fair on them or their families.”

Ms Riggs says casualisation is not good for workers.

“Even where there is already a lot of flexibility, workers are expected to give up any hope of a structured and healthy life. New Zealanders need jobs that are secure and safe.”

A competition

You may have noticed from reading this week’s Tertiary Update, that large parts of the official briefings to the Minister of Tertiary Education were kept from the public, “withheld under 9(2)(f)(iv) of the Official Information Act 1982″. We can only speculate what that advice may have been before it was blanked out, so that is just what we will do. E.g. “The need to match tertiary education outputs to business requirements, and to generate greater business funding to replace dwindling public funding, creates the opportunities for many public-private synergies. For instance, the economy would be better served if businesses were able to require institutions to teach courses in ‘indentured servitude’.”

Send us your best guesses about what you think ministry or TEC officials consider too secret for us to read, and we might publish the best efforts next week (anonymously if you wish). Alternatively, we might withhold the best answers you send us under the Official Information Act. Either way, we will rustle up some prizes for entries that make us either gasp or giggle.

Other news

“Treasury’s proposed road map for stability and for ‘improving the wider living standards of New Zealanders’ is missing a crucial element – investment in high quality public tertiary education. In fact, it attacks the very engine-room that is crucial to economic growth and stability.” – TEU national president Sandra Grey at The Standard.

Plans to “Monday-ise” public holidays have inched closer to reality after legislation to make the change went onto Parliament’s business programme today. ” There are no plans to shift commemorations – they will still be celebrated on the actual dates – but it doesn’t seem fair that where workers are entitled to a day off they are sometimes missing out – New Zealand Herald

More than 50,000 students will flood into the heart of the south next year when the doors open at Manukau Institute of Technology’s new campus. It will initially house between 50,000 and 65,000 fulltime-equivalent students. Up to 150,000 fulltime-equivalent students are expected to use the facility once stage two and three are completed – Papakura Courier.

A graph showing the share of income that the richest 1% of people in New Zealand has received over the last 90 years together with union membership over that period gives a clear picture. Income inequality has risen when union membership has been falling, and inequality has fallen when union membership has been strong – Bill Rosenberg for the Council of Trade Unions.

The education sector union NZEI Te Riu Roa says the country’s first university degree for teachers in Maori immersion schools is welcome acknowledgement of the importance and status of teaching te reo. Te Aho Tatairangi has been launched by Massey University. It is a four-year degree course, which aims to supply 200 Maori immersion graduates by 2020 – NZEI Te Riu Roa

Students around New Zealand, increasingly struggling to make ends meet, have claimed almost $3.5 million in emergency financial assistance from the Ministry of Social Development during the past three years. The number of special needs grants to tertiary students has increased by 58% during the past three years – Otago Daily Times

Authorised by Sharn Riggs, Tertiary Education Union, 8th Floor, Education House 178-182 Willis St, Wellington 6011.

TEU Tertiary Update is published weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the Tertiary Education Union and others. You can subscribe to Tertiary Update by email or feed reader. Back issues are available on the TEU website. Direct inquiries should be made to Stephen Day.

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