Union backs criticism

Brent LovelockThe University of Otago is refusing to respond to criticism from a top lecturer that it neglects teaching, but many of his comments have been backed by the union representing academics.

Associate Prof Gordon Sanderson, who at Parliament on Tuesday night received the country's ''supreme award'' for teaching excellence, earlier hit out at the university for placing too much emphasis on research, saying it was ''not very enthusiastic about teaching''.

The co-president of the Otago University branch of the Tertiary Education Union, Associate Prof Brent Lovelock, yesterday backed many of Prof Sanderson's comments, saying the union would like to see the university give teaching more recognition.

''There is a perception among our TEU academic members that teaching is perhaps given less attention for purposes of staff promotion and that the real focus is on their research outputs,'' Prof Lovelock said.

The union agreed the way research was funded through the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) had diverted attention away from teaching at many New Zealand universities.

''We have observed a reduction in non-research staff in some departments, in order to appoint more research active staff. This national refocus on PBRF has led to many excellent teachers being lost,'' he said. The union supported a more ''balanced approach'' where teaching, research and service to the university and community were ''valued and recognised''.

''The TEU strongly supports ways of making sure that good quality teaching is not just encouraged but is rewarded when it is present. Promotion should recognise people, such as Prof Sanderson, who take time and effort in their teaching.''

The union recognised the value research could bring to teaching and that it could make teaching ''more real and alive''.

''We would like to see more use of a range of ways to assess lecturers' teaching rather than the current strong reliance upon standard student surveys.

''We believe that lecturers who challenge their students, or those who teach harder compulsory papers, or those who are adopting innovative ways of teaching, must also be recognised and rewarded through a fair system,'' he said.

A reader who commented on the online edition of yesterday's story congratulated Prof Sanderson for speaking out and brought up an example from the past year where the university had laid off a ''magnificent'' teacher from the College of Education because they did not engage in research.

An Otago University spokeswoman said the university did not want to respond to any of Prof Sanderson's comments.

Meanwhile, the Southern District Health Board responded to Prof Sanderson's comments it merely ''tolerated'' the School of Medicine and did not take full advantage of it.

DHB chief executive Carole Heatly said in a short statement the board ''highly'' valued its relationship with the School of Medicine.

''We recognise the university allows us to recruit and retain staff that otherwise would not be in Dunedin and I cannot understate how important that is to the community.''

- vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

NZ research funding vs number of researchers

Grover: New Zealand funding of research is much too low. We spend 1.3 per cent of GDP on R&D whereas the OECD average is 2.4 per cent. It is true that we have a higher proportion of researchers then the OECD average (7.8 vs. 6.6 per 1000). However, almost 45 per cent of our "researchers" are postgraduate students.

Teaching

Everyone in education knows that teaching is totally undervalued in NZ. An example is the fact that the only nationally recognised teacher is Irene Van Dyk, who is famous for netball and just happens to be a teacher.

The research funding situation is a valid question though: we have too many researchers for our population base to support, and we have chosen not to fund them adequately as a result.

The fact that so much research is known to be a waste of time doesn't help though: PhD theses that prove sheep are afraid of cardboard boxes, research into female Maori sexual experiences, Helen Clark's husband getting millions, the 1080 fiasco where nobody believes any of the official line, the Agent Orange fiasco, the Gisborne Cancer fiasco, the list goes on. If research wants better funding, it needs to study something valid and come clean over the failures of the past.

Part of the teaching sickness is in treating students like customers, and assessing the pass rate as proof of excellence and a step in getting more funding. The PC revolution has impacted teaching more than any profession.