Shake-up coming to the university

By Ged Cann

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A decade of avoiding change has left the University of Waikato in desperate need for a shake up according to Vice Chancellor Neil Quigley.

And a recent request for academic staff to resubmit their courses for consideration has one university insider worried the step may herald more redundancies.

Mr Quigley said there were several occasions over the last decade when change was mooted and the University had got itself into a situation where change was absolutely required.

"I don't have the choice to back off and hope everything will be fine, because it won't," he said.

"At the beginning of the year we did some back-of-the-envelope estimates comparing our staff numbers to those at the other universities and they showed we're over-staffed for the student numbers that we've got."

Static enrolment numbers for almost 12 years has added to the strain.

"Given the constraints on government funding per student, those sorts of things over time, it really is difficult to manage change in an organisation that isn't growing," Mr Quigley said.

"When you grow you have extra income and the discretion to use that to drive the change, but if you're not growing that's hard."

This was more apparent in some faculties than others, but Mr Quigley was unwilling to get into specifics.

"I don't think it's appropriate for me to be talking about individual programmes while the people closer to the coal face and the university are working through the issues we've got."

Mr Quigley said it appeared there were too many general staff for the size of the University as well, but said the University was midway through implementing a new admin system which, in about two years' time, would give a clearer idea of staffing excesses.

Mr Quigley confirmed a document had been circulated to staff suggesting the University had to grow from 10,000 students to 14,000 but said it was intended as a means of floating the idea for staff feedback and no decisions had been made.

"We are trying to make some changes which will involve getting the university to grow, and at the same time we may need to have some redundancies in some areas," he said. "As with everything that necessitates changes, there will always be people whose personal interest is for there not to be change."

A senior staffer at the University, who asked not to be named, said some academic staff had been asked to reapply to teach all of their papers by Monday.

"I've never heard of this happening before, so of course it gives management another tool for redundancies by saying 'well - your papers haven't been accepted so you have no job'."

The source also said staff had been told all second and third year papers had to be reduced from 20-point papers to 15-point papers.

"That means taking out content and taking out appraisals," he said.

"We have got no academic justification for this, but we do know the University gets more money for the more students it passes.

"We've been told in our re-submissions to indicate how we are reducing content and the level of appraisal."

Mr Quigley said these actions were all part of a curriculum review project which had been going on for two years and he was surprised it had come as a shock to any staff.

"The change in points value was something that was agreed around the University ages ago."

He said both the re-submission of courses and suggested alterations to make all level two and three courses 15-point was being done in an effort to standardise grading and give students more freedom to construct their degrees as they saw fit.

"It reflects that there were a mixture of point-value courses across the University, some 15 and some 20.

"That was quite inconvenient for students because they would end with a few more or a few less than they needed for a degree. It was decided we would standardise all undergraduate courses to 15 points."

Mr Quigley said while a 15-point course may have less content, the same points requirement still existed in the overall degree, and therefore no student would depart the University with a shallower education base than those who graduated before.

Tertiary Education Union co-president of the Waikato University branch Dr Lars Brabyn said there was a curriculum enhancement project in progress and papers were being rationalise and reduced to align with other Universities.

"Another objective is to decrease teaching time so staff have more time for research. There is no official link between this and future redundancies, but it is fair enough that staff are suspicious," he said.

- Hamilton News

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