A $26 million funding boost for universities has been earmarked for increasing the salaries of university staff.
The extra funding, announced late last month by Tertiary Education Minister Michael Cullen, has impressed members of the Association of University Staff (AUS) as they work through their latest round of bargaining negotiations.
Cullen says that the funding has been allocated to provide “some assistance to the universities to give an above-normal salary increase in the coming financial year”. The Government has no official role in the setting of salary levels but Dr Cullen has indicated his expectation that the funding will “maintain the quality of teaching and research”.
Cullen’s announcement comes on the back of tripartite discussions between the Government, Vice-Chancellors and the unions, which AUS General Secretary, Helen Kelly, says were conducted in “good faith”.
Kelly says that the funding boost is“definitely ongoing” and that universities will benefit from an extra $26 million “per annum”. Dr Cullen is less emphatic – he says that “hopefully [the Government] can do some more next year and the year after,” but ultimately “future funding will be determined by the proposed tertiary reforms.”
Kelly says that addressing salaries must be the top priority within the “first dollop” of increased funding, because universities “compete over salaries, and at the moment they’re losing … and actually if you think about what a university does, if you don’t have good staff, there’s no point having nice buildings.”
New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations Co-President Joey Randall agrees, and says that university staff are “the most important asset of New Zealand universities”. He believes that the extra funding means that “there will be no excuses for student fee increases for 2007.”
Chair of the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee Professor Roy Sharp says that “it is gratifying thatthe tripartite process has achieved a concrete result for universities.” He warns, however, that it is only a first step towards addressing funding and salary issues at New Zealand’s universities. Bargaining will continue until July 14 and union members will vote on the recommendations of their representatives “as soon as possible”