Structural change needed to let academics debate publicly

Posted By TEU on Oct 17, 2013 |

Tertiary Update Vol 16 No 35

Academics have a duty and privilege to engage in public debate but they cannot fulfill that role until there are fundamental changes to the structures of New Zealand’s universities, according to journalist Nicky Hager.

Nicky Hager, who was addressing the Council of Trade Unions’ biennial conference last week, said New Zealand needs more academics to bring their work into public view rather than hidden in prestigious but inaccessible international journals that few New Zealanders will ever read.

“First I think we need to make some fundamental decisions about what universities are,” said Nicky Hager. “Are they like shopping malls, banks, cafes and the like where students pay money and  get a set of services, or are they important democratic and social infrastructure? That is a very different set of goals.”

He says many academics feel restricted by management pressure, and by pressure to produce publications, which means they cannot perform their proper public ‘critic and conscience’ roles. Universities need structural changes to funding that encourages and recognises public contributions on the same basis as it recognises publishing in academic journals.

“If you could get as much employment benefit from writing a well-constructed opinion piece for a newspaper, many people would choose to do that. The incentives are wrong.”

“It’s not impossible. It’s not a boat drifting away from our shores that cannot be recovered.”

However, he believes, on a national scale New Zealand does not have enough academics to have so many wasted in a structure that discourages their public voice.

Nicky Hager says that both government and university leaders need to lead this fundamental structural change in our universities.

“Too many of the wrong people are leading our universities. One of the main products of the Rogernomics years was not the policies, it was that a generation of marginalised people disappeared, including academics. Meanwhile a generation of people who did well from those reforms prospered into positions of leadership. They remain in those positions long after ordinary people have moved on from Rogernomics.”

(Article originally from Academic Freedom Aotearoa)

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Cost of education racing ahead of inflation
  2. Injury rates in education workplace can improve
  3. Joyce proposes to streamline ‘unwieldy’ parliament
  4. New Ako Aotearoa contract gives certainty

Other news

TEU vice-president Sandra Grey and The University of Auckland vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon both lambast Steven Joyce’s proposals to remove staff and student voice from councils – Radio New Zealand 

Aoraki Polytechnic is proposing the redundancy of 41 staff, to be replaced by 11 positions. The staff review is on the back of Aoraki forecasting about 400 fewer equivalent full time students (EFTS) than budgeted and a deficit of $2.3 million for the year – Fairfax

Most Kiwi kids don’t get pocket money – but for those who do, boys get $3 more a week on average than girls and chores to earn it are based on gender – New Zealand Herald

A private company in the United States takes control of Rutgers University’s online tuition including the ability to censor online course materials it considers inappropriate, raising fears about a threat to academic freedom – New Jersey Online

The major research funding agencies in Canada are looking for feedback on a policy that will require federally-funded research in peer-reviewed journals to be freely available to the public within one year of publication – CBC News

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