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April 10, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Sad State of the Sector

The 2016 New Zealand Tertiary Education State of the Sector Survey, conducted by the Tertiary Education Union (TEU), “paint[s] a picture of a sector under pressure,” with respondents describing the situation as worsening in the last ten years.

However, senior management from VUW have suggested that many of the problems highlighted in the survey are not major issues for this institution.

The survey considers a wide range of tertiary education providers, including private and public institutions.

Main factors identified include academic staff’s lack of voice, unsustainable workloads, and stress and alienation. “The overall picture is one of staff coping as best they can to provide quality education in the face of increasing challenges.”

The report reveals that completion rate requirements set by the Tertiary Education Commission have put pressure on staff to inflate grades, make assessments easier, lower standards of acceptance into courses, and turn a blind eye to cheating in some instances.

63% of respondents said they had come under more pressure in the past decade to pass a higher percentage of students.

One respondent reflected, “the emphasis on successful completion rates is hurting education standards. Lecturers [are] under intense pressure to pass students by managers; leading to acts of shameful manipulation, low quality assessments and exams.”

VUW Acting Vice-Provost Chris Eichbaum said that, although VUW were required to report to the Tertiary Education Commission on pass rates, this “has no influence on assessment decisions.”

“The assertion that we are being influenced in our assessment practices by central government expectations goes to the heart of the integrity of this institution and is simply not true.”

VUW’s academic policy provides that scaling decisions are made by the course coordinator, with reference to the head of school in instances where the grade is scaled 10% or more. Scaling methods must “follow defensible principles; be appropriate to the underlying problem; be stated clearly and objectively; and be fair to all students.”

The Education Act’s purpose describes “the freedom of the institution and its staff to teach and assess students in the manner they consider best promotes learning.”

However, more than 50% of survey respondents stated that opportunities to influence decisions in their faculty, school service area, and decisions made by the council of their institution had become worse over the past decade.

One respondent stated, “we have lost autonomy even over our teaching — our expertise. There is managerial micro-management everywhere. It is soul-destroying stuff.”

Eichbaum reflected that “the university’s governance structure is predicated on a high level of staff participation, for example, on faculty boards through to the University Council, which have student and staff representation.”

The Staff Workload Policy provides that “the allocation of work must be made in consultation with the staff member” and that “all reasonable attempts must be made to reach agreement with staff on their workloads.”

The TEU said that the National-led government have been the root cause of many of these issues — as reflected by TEU Industrial and Professional Vice-President Phil Edwards: “successfully tackling the issues this report identifies isn’t just about individuals, it’s about addressing the problems National’s reforms have caused right across the tertiary education system.”

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