Class sizes need to drop in tertiary education, too

Posted By TEU on Jul 10, 2014 | 1 comment

Tertiary Update Vol 17 No 22

Labour’s new policy is kicking off a debate about class sizes with TEU calling for parties to tackle overcrowded lecture theatres.

Having a smaller student to staff ratio in universities and polytechnics would reduce the fatigue faced by academic staff and boost student achievement, says TEU president Lesley Francey.

“We know that tertiary education sector staff are overworked with an ever-increasing number of students to teach, papers to mark and theses to supervise.”

“Reducing the student to staff ratio will improve the quality of research our academics produce and increase the time teachers can spend with each student.”

Francey says the ratio in New Zealand has been climbing in recent years.

Ministry of Education figures show in 2008 there were 227,920 students for 12,739 academic staff, or 17.9 students per staff member.

By 2012 student numbers had ballooned to 243,969 while staff numbers had fallen to 12,711, pushing the ratio to 19.2 students per staff.

“The ratio of students to staff increased 7.3% between 2008 and 2012. That means lower quality research and lower quality education for New Zealand’s students.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation has deteriorated even further in the last couple of years, with the number of reviews, restructuring and redundancies underway in the tertiary education sector presently.”

New Zealand’s student to staff ratio was among the highest in the OECD, with fewer staff per students than Sweden, Finland, Norway, the United States and Poland. The OECD average student to staff ratio was just 15.6.

The ratio is also an important factor in where universities are placed on international rankings. The blowout in the student to staff ratio and stronger performance from overseas universities had led New Zealand’s institutions to fall down the 2013 QS rankings, says Lesley Francey.

She says the TEU would like to see all political parties committing to a ceiling of 19 students per staff member by 2015. The move would cost around $12 million extra per year to hire the additional staff required, including the associated infrastructural costs.

“Last week we celebrated 16 inspiring teachers with Ako Aotearoa Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards. If we want more great teachers like them, we need to give academics the time to be excellent.”

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

1. Legal challenge against Faculty of Education

2. Diplomats, alleyways and rape culture: How safe are our students?

3. Teaching-only universities next big thing?

Other news:

UK investigation uncovers huge foreign student visa fraud – University World News

Timely research begins into Indian domestic violence at Waikato – Scoop

Prize-winning economist calls Abbott government’s tertiary reforms a ‘crime’, while a new poll shows 70 per cent of Australians are against higher university fees – Sydney Morning Herald

UK tertiary staff do battle over Living Wage with marking boycott -and win – New Statesmen

University of Otago to spark Dunedin’s next building boom? – Otago Daily Times

The CTU says Labour’s tax plan makes life “fairer for working Kiwis” – NZ Council of Trade Unions

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