Anger over rule change for merged NZ university

September 24, 2004

The University of Aukland has won special treatment for future research assessment after a merger this month with a teacher- training college.

The combined scores of the university and Aukland College of Education in the 2003 Performance-Based Research Fund assessment pushes Auckland into second place in the league table behind the University of Canterbury.

But the Government and the Tertiary Education Commission agreed to a request from Auckland that the two institutions be assessed separately in the next assessment round.

According to Ann Clark, Tec general manager: "Including staff from the merged institution would impact on the public's ability to accurately assess trends from one quality evaluation to another."

Steve Maharey, spokesperson for the Minister of Tertiary Education, said Auckland had suggested the change to protect its reputation.

But James Chapman, head of Massey University's College of Education, said the change was insulting to staff at the Auckland college, and immoral. "If you believe teacher education belongs in universities, you do it, and if there's a cost, you wear it. If you're worried about your reputation and seek to change the rules for that reason, that's when I use the term immoral."

Massey and Waikato universities amalgamated with colleges of education during the 1990s. But Tec allowed them no relaxation of the rules in the 2003 assessment. Although they performed better than non-university colleges, they failed to score highly and there has been much discussion since about how well suited the PBRF model is to educational research.

But Professor Chapman said the research assessment had been beneficial, and that to "quarantine" college-of-education staff within a merged institution could hamper the development of a strong research culture.

Dugald Scott, principal of Wellington College of Education, which is engaged in an amalgamation process with Victoria University, said separate assessment removed a disincentive for a university to merge.

That will leave two colleges, in Christchurch and Dunedin. Both have strengthened their links with neighbouring universities, but are resisting talk of mergers.

The Government favours having colleges within universities. Trevor Mallard, the Minister of Education, said it was inevitable but could take many years.

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