Posts Tagged ‘NZ tertiary education’

Levels of health research funding a sick joke

August 8, 2008

Well, it wouldn’t have taken much sleuthing to find out that NZ’s medical reasearch funding is pathetic compared to other developed countries’. But good on the media for running with this story. (The report doesn’t appear on the UA website at the time of typing.)

“New Zealand will have fewer, and lower quality, medical students within a few years if research funding doesn’t increase, the country’s two medical schools believe.

“The country is haemmorhaging health staff, facilities and research, because its health research funding is up to 12 times lower than other countries, they say.”

Yep, that’s a factor of twelve. The report shows NZ’s government funding for health research is equivalent to $10.2 per capita. This compares to around $34.6 per capita in Australia, $54.3 per capita in the UK and $126 per capita in the USA.

I’ve discussed the dire state of university funding in an earlier post. So the problem to which the deputy deans have drawn attention is not unique to one part of the university system. But it illustrates the point well:

“[The primary health research funder] the Health Research Council, … invested $63 million in this year’s recent funding round. This funding has remained at a static level for the past four years despite research costs rising by almost 9% per year. Around 85% of submitted projects do not receive funding.”

It is a tribute to the dedication and ingenuity of NZ’s health researchers that we do as well as we do in this area. But we can’t keep exploiting health and other academics endlessly…

One way that academics compensate for the crappy salaries that they get compared to their private sector counterparts is to substitute intrinsic rewards for the extrinsic shortfalls. The opportunity to research is probably the chief compensation for most academics, with teaching a good second. But we are falling down on the research side.

Where to from here? Well, the Labour-led government made some modest progress, particularly when Cullen was Minister. Frankly, Hodgson is a disappointment. But National looks worse. Traditionally anti-intellectual, the signs from Bill “Loose Lips” English are not good. I despair.

[Postscript: My friend who left last week for a job at a Melbourne uni reports vastly superior research funding in addition to the huge salary increase that he awarded himself by going there.]


University funding: yawning chasm of credibility?

May 27, 2008

Remember the Knowledge Wave? The Government’s Growth and Innovation Strategy? We’re all agreed that, in the face of intensifying global competition, NZ needs to up its productivity and its innovation. This imperative underlies the “trans-Tasman income gap” and “OECD league table” debates.

The Labour-led governments of the last 8 1/2 years grasped this early on and made concerted efforts to improve our performance in these areas. That the results have been modest can be put down to a number of factors, including bureaucracy. Too many bureaucrats producing too many glossy reports, e.g. here. Last week’s Budget shows that the Government itself must take some share of the blame.


Does “study” merit so much attention?

May 21, 2008

It really is a good week for media beat-ups. Hot on the heals of Phil Goff’s revelations that his Party could lose the election (see previous post), we have a beleaguered academic struggling against “PC bullies” to raise issues about Pacific Islanders’ economic contribution in NZ, according to the NZPA.

First, just what are we looking at here? The Herald refers variously to a “report” and a “study” by “economist” Greg Clydesdale, of Massey University’s management and international business department. The DomPost even labels it a “discussion document”.


NZ universities & what the market will bare

May 3, 2008

In case you missed it, earlier this week NZ’s largest university posted on its website a picture of a bikini-clad recent graduate posing seductively in the surf, for the publicity. It got it, of course.

The university staff union objected. Of course. It labelled the piece “one of the most banal news features emanating from a university this year.” (This decade is more like it.) And within hours the picture was replaced by a head and shoulders shot.

NZers were then treated to lengthy treatments of the story on what passes for “current affairs” TV here. This included the host of the supposedly more serious show interviewing the glamorous graduate. I’m not sure that John Campbell’s reputation for seriousness was enhanced, I’m fairly certain that Massey University’s reputation for brainy graduates was not, but I guess the University’s PR staff revelled in the publicity.

At one level the event raises questions about the continuing use of the sexualised female body to sell things, and the wider consequences. Elements of the news media have instead sought to portray the union as fuddy duddies and prudes. [Update: the Tabloid on Sunday says that the union President should “get out … more”.]

That’s wrong. The objectification of women is not a trivial issue. When a university posts this type of picture on its website it reinforces widely held views about female sexuality and its availability, and adds its authority to these views. Others will no doubt have more to say about this, and say it with more weight than me.

At another level, we might ask what this event tells us about the state of NZ’s tertiary education system. Is it a sympton of the decay that some say followed the imposition of the market-led model since the 1980s?

The authors of Crisis of Identity?, a study of the effects of these reforms, argued that the best American universities “retain a more robust sense of themselves as embodying an academic mission, and more clearly understand that it is the academic mission which confers on them their distinctive social purposes, than seems to be the case with our universities.”

It is fitting that the university that sought to use the sexualised image of a partly-clad woman to sell university education is the one that embraced the market-led approach most vigorously. Today, Massey University is NZ’s largest university by number of students because it pursued a strategy of growth by acquisition and expansion from the early 1990s. It epitomises the reforms.

It did not concentrate on doing those things that universities traditionally do. Thus, in the 2006 research assessment exercise it ranked a poor sixth out of NZ’s eight universities, out-scoring only the two most recent entrants into the university club. Perhaps it needs to focus more on the unique academic mission that it has as a university, and less on gratuitous sexualised self-promotion.

[Declaration of interest: In the past I have held office at branch level in the Association of University Staff.]