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March 2, 2009 | by  | in News |
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College of Education not so hot for teacher

Last November, staff at Victoria’s College of Education looked set to take out protest and legal action against a second round of redundancies—18 announced that month, on top of the 17 voluntary redundancies that took place back in July. The Association of University Staff (AUS) argued that this second round of cuts breached a promise that the July cuts would be sufficient, and claimed that those affected “learned of the proposal only through rumour and innuendo and by discovering that they had not been timetabled for any teaching for 2009.”

However, due to AUS action Victoria University of Wellington instead accepted another 13 voluntary redundancies instead of the 18 proposed. Senior College of Education staff member Dr. Joanna Kidman had said that staff would protest via an “information boycott”, as “information provided by staff appears to have been used to target individuals for redundancies without them knowing it would be used for this purpose.”

Victoria Communications Adviser Heidi Stedman disputed AUS’ claim that staff hadn’t been notified of the cuts, pointing out that University policy is to personally notify staff affected by any potential changes. Although Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) Prof. Dugald Scott did advise College staff in June that there would be no more cuts, the second round “was prompted by forecasting for the 2009 budget.”

While the voluntary redundancies removed the need for the boycott, the quality of teaching the College can now offer remains a concern. In particular, AUS told Salient that reduced staffing numbers mean lecturers are now having to teach outside of their specialist areas, and so are not providing the quality of training promised in the Education Act. Stedman told Salient that the allocation of teaching responsibilities is ultimately the job of the Head of School “in consultation with staff.”

Besides staffing reductions, Dr Kidman also claimed that “face to face hours between lecturers and student teachers have been cut by more than half—from 66 hours to 25 in English, say, or 58 to 25 in Maths.” This further reduces the quality of training—for which students continue to pay the same level of fees.

The cuts to the College of Education are a result of the way university funding is allocated between different subjects. In August 2006, as Victoria University’s budget surplus fell below the level recommended by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh stated that “The level of fees increases proposed in 2007 will need to address the issue of the under-resourcing in our humanities & social sciences and education programmes.”

The TEC’s recent review of the Performance Based Research Fund suggests such under-resourcing is compounded by assessment procedures that favour the physical and biological sciences over the humanities. On 26 November, the Vice-Chancellors’ Committee stated that it is “nonsense” for the Government to restrict fee rises via the Fee Maxima, as they do not understand funding requirements, with Auckland University’s Hugh Fletcher pointing out that law students should be paying a lot more than history students “because of the difference in lifetime earnings.”

Perhaps most damaging, the increased allocation of university funding to research has come about at the same time that New Zealand’s colleges of education were absorbed into her universities (the final merger between Vic and the College of Education didn’t take place until January 2005, and mergers in Dunedin and Christchurch were ongoing throughout 2008). We expect teachers to help sculpt us into capable adults, but their training appears to be dangerously undervalued.

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Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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