Kicking The Tyres

November 13th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Victoria University publish a book reviewing each election campaign the year after.

The 2011 book is called “Kicking the Tyres:The New Zealand General Election and Electoral Referendum of 2011

It’s a must read for political professionals and enthusiasts. You can pre-order it from the link above, and it is launched on the 26th of November by no less than the Prime Minister.

Some of the topics are:

Kicking the Tyres includes among its authors some of the winners of the 2011 election – New Zealand First’s Winston Peters; the Greens’ Metiria Turei; National’s Steven Joyce; United Future’s Peter Dunne; and the Greens’ Mojo Mathers. 

What went wrong is the subject of chapters written by participants from other parties, including Labour’s Grant Robertson and high-ranking candidates from the Maori Party, Mana and ACT. 

Kicking the Tyres views the campaign and the election from a variety of angles and perspectives. New Zealand’s wittiest political commentator, Jane Clifton, writes about ‘the worm’ and other inanities of 2011. Jon Johansson and Colin James discuss John Key’s leadership and the impact of the Pike River mine disaster and the Christchurch earthquakes on the government and the country. Other contributors examine the images and ‘brands’ of New Zealand’s political parties and their leaders; the role of Facebook in the election campaign; the opinion polls and pollsters – which were the worst, which the best; how well New Zealand television performed with its political experts and ‘pundits’; how the government’s coalition was formed; and Maori politics, Parliament, and the future of the Maori vote.

Kicking the Tyres includes a special section on the MMP referendum, with chapters from the leaders of the pro- and anti- groups – the ‘Campaign for MMP’ and the unsuccessful ‘Vote for Change’ – and an analysis of the vote and its aftermath by well-known commentators Therese Arseneau and Nigel S. Roberts. 

I’m looking forward to buying and reading it.

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The great PBRF scam

March 26th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve had forwarded to me a number of documents and reports from within Victoria University over its attempts to what can only be called a rort of the PBRF, or Performance Based Research Fund. The TEC says that:

The primary purpose of the PBRF is to ensure that excellent research in the tertiary education sector is encouraged and rewarded. This entails assessing the research performance of TEOs and then funding them on the basis of their performance.

As I will detail below though, in fact it seems the universities gain funding on the basis of their ability to manipulate employment contracts.

The annual value of funding from the PBRF is around $500 million, so universities are highly incentivised to maximise their share of it. Sadly it seems that rather than encouraging academics to do more and better research, VUW (and probably others) have unleashed the HR Department to try and manipulate their results. The ironic thing is that if all universities do what VUW does, then no university actually gains a comparative advantage.

A complaint was made to the VUW University Council by an Associate Professor in the Accounting Economics & Finance Department, who said what VUW was doing was effectively accounting fraud.  He gave eight examples:

  1. Individual A, who is not active in research and who has a fixed-term contract maturing after June 2012, was asked to terminate this contract in favour of another one terminating in early 2012 coupled with a further contract starting in late 2012.  The effect of this would be to exclude A from the calculation of the University’s PBRF score in June 2012.  Individual A rejected this proposal on ethical grounds.      
  1. Individual B, who is not active in research and had a series of fixed-term contracts with the last maturing in 2011, was offered at that time a replacement contract with a significantly shorter duration than before and that would mature in early 2012, with the effect that they would not be included in the calculation of the University’s PBRF score in June 2012.  B accepted this contract.    
  1. Individual C, who is not active in research and has a conventional academic contract, was asked to temporarily depart from University employment in 2012.  The effect of this would be to exclude C from the calculation of the University’s PBRF score in June 2012.  C accepted this offer.  Within a week of Mr Corkill’s inquiry being set up, these arrangements with C were cancelled.
  1. Individual D, who is not active in research and had a conventional academic contract, was asked to retire early and was offered a fixed-term contract for teaching work in 2012 with the contract period excluding June 2012.  The effect of this would be to exclude D from the calculation of the University’s PBRF score in June 2012.  D accepted this contract.
  1. Individual E, who is not active in research and had a conventional academic contract, was asked to retire early and was offered fixed-term teaching contracts for early 2012 and a further period in late 2012, with the effect of excluding them from the calculation of the University’s PBRF score in June 2012.  E accepted this contract. 
  1. Individual F, who is not active in research and had a conventional academic contract, was asked to retire early and was offered a fixed-term teaching contract for late 2012, with the effect of excluding F from the calculation of the University’s PBRF score in June 2012.  F accepted this contract.
  1. Individual G was offered teaching contracts in 2012 with the terms of the contracts such that G would be excluded from the calculation of the University’s PBRF score in June 2012.  In addition, G was advised by a University manager that this PBRF consideration was the rationale for the terms offered and that the terms were chosen sufficiently well away from the June 2012 date to avoid suspicion.
  1. A Head of School circulated an email to staff in their School advising them that academic staff members of a particular type counted for PBRF and instructed staff to therefore ensure that none of this type were employed on the June 2012 census date. 

There is also other stuff happening to massage the numbers, such as putting some staff onto teaching only contracts, so they get excluded. That is arguably more legitimate, but I struggle to see how having employment contracts that exclude the month of June, purely to avoid the PBRF census can be a correct or ethical thing to do. It also undermines the whole point of the PBRF.

The VUW Chancellor appointed a QC to investigate. His full report they refuse to release, but a summary was released. It is worth noting that his “advisor” was the Chair of the University’s Audit & Risk Committee. I regard that as a conflict. Members of the University Council naturally wish to maximise the funding for VUW. They would be concerned about behaviour that costs VUW money, but be motivated to take a tolerant view of unethical behaviour which gains VUW money.

The report summary is here – Corkill Executive Summary. A response to it from the Accounting Associate Professor Martin Lally is here – PBRF Allegations and Investigations-to dist list. Note that Martin Lally is not the person who supplied these to me. I have had no interactions with him at all. A response from the Chancellor is here, which basically tells him to go away and even declares he will not entertain further correspondence on the issue – Chancellor Letter 28 Feb.

If you bother to read the response from Lally, he points out that the summary is so lacking in details, that he can  not know whether or not his allegations are correct. VUW refuses to allow him the full report.

Further to the original allegations, there is then the e-mail below:

Now to be fair, this is not just happening at VUW. I understand there are complaints about this gaming happening at other universities also. Apart from the low ethical standard the universities are providing to students (Lally’s  concern is the university is doing something that he lectures students on, as being accounting fraud), it would be simpler if all the universities just agreed they won’t game their numbers, if the others won’t.  The amount of time and energy put into this gaming is significant. Every Department in every Faculty has to take part.

There are a lot of unhappy academic staff about this. Since I gained the original materials, I have spoken to several acquaintances who are academics and they all confirm that this is wide-spread.

I understand TEC are aware of all this. I can’t understand why they haven’t said “No you can’t sack a staff member in May and rehire them in July, just to make your PBRF ranking look better”.

This poses an issue for the Minister also. $500 million of taxpayer funds go towards universities and others through the PBRF every year. The PBRF was set up by (I think) the last Labour Government. The intention of it is good – that universities which are producing more research and better research gain more funding. I spent a couple of terms on the Otago University Council and recall that even at Otago, there were some academics who produced minimal original research. PBRF should be encouraging more original research.

But the gaming of the system must seriously bring into question whether the $500 million is going to the right institutions in the right proportions. In theory getting rid of staff for a month who are not doing much research doesn’t actually gain an institution more money directly (as I understand it), but it increases their relative ranking, which benefits them for decisions on other issues such as where new schools might be located, or attracting staff.

At a minimum, in my opinion,  the PBRF rules need to be reviewed to discourage such gaming of the system. Ideally there would be a proper external inquiry into all the universities, to discover how widespread this gaming is, and whether it it ethical and legal.

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VUWSA not learning

December 5th, 2011 at 10:56 am by David Farrar

VUWSA is voluntary from next year. The idea is that they focus less on being a branch of the Labour Party, and more on actually doing good stuff for students.

However they have struck a dirty deal with the university, where VUW will fund them using taxpayer and student money so they can function even if no students wish to join them. This is obviously a sign that VUW is awash in surplus funds and doesn’t need any further taxpayer contributions.

For let’s have a look at how the 2012 VUWSA President plans to use VUWSA assets funded by taxpayers and students:

Now you can’t blame the VUWSA flunkies entirely for this. They have had years of a culture of entitlement where they see VUWSA assets as being available for their personal political activites.

Whom I blame is the Council and Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University. The whole idea behind VSM is to give bodies like VUWSA an incentive to provide better representation and services to students. Handing over a large cheque every year with next to no accountability, means they are unlikely to change.

If I was the new Minister of Tertiary Education, I’d be thanking the Council and VC of VUW for making their job much much easier. If at anytime in the next four years before the Govt gets the books back into surplus VUW asks for more money, then it is an easy “No” as they obviously have lots to spare. Of course some of the academic staff may get upset that they’ll go four years without a payrise, just so VUWSA gets to keep its van for trips to Young Labour conferences.

UPDATE: VUWSA President-Elect Bridie Hood has e-mailed to clarify:

I just wanted to clarify a few of the issues mentioned in your blog post this morning entitled ‘VUWSA Not Learning’.

As has been mentioned in the comments section, all VUWSA Affiliated Clubs are able to access the VUWSA Van for use. Most of the youth political groups are affiliated VUWSA clubs (including VicLabour, VicNats, Greens@Vic, Act on Campus etc), and those which are not have the opportunity to become so. The process is transparent and fair. VUWSA does not privilege any particular groups simply by dint of their political affiliation. 

 As stated on the VUWSA website (http://www.vuwsa.org.nz/other-services/van-and-trailer-hire/) there is a $90 per day fee to use the Van and clubs must also pay for petrol.This is not a service fully funded by the University and/or VUWSA. It is, however, offered at a cheaper rate than other companies such as Hertz and Rent-a-Dent to allow clubs to participate in events.

Regarding my comment on the Young Labour Summer School event page, I was suggesting that VicLabour could hire out the VUWSA van (if it was available) so they could travel to the event at a lower cost than flying.

I’m disappointed to see that a personal facebook post has been interpreted in such a way.Anyone who knows me and knows my work at VUWSA knows that I would never use a VUWSA resource, such as the van, for my own personal gain.

Please let me know if you have any questions on this issue and I am happy to discuss VUWSA policy with you if the need arises. I hope you find the time next year to come and visit us, I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the changes that have been made over the last few years.

A fair response by Bridie, and I accept there was no intention of private gain. I do think there is a wider issue about using income gained through compulsory means to benefit the small minority who are involved in clubs and socs. I’d have no problem with that, if there was a voluntary membership fee and that was one of the “perks” of joining. But the whole idea with VSM is that compulsory sources of income should be used only for essential student services such as a class rep system, a union building.

But full marks to Bridie for the tone of her response.

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Those lights in the sky

October 22nd, 2011 at 5:43 pm by David Farrar

In case Wellingtonians have been wondering what those lights in the sky have been, they are spotlights from three of Victoria University’s campuses who teamed up with   Fuji Xerox, Dimension Data, EMC, Mainzeal, Downer and NEC Business Solutions to light up the skies during the Rugby World Cup.

So they will show for the final time tomorrow night. After that maybe they could go to the Air Force for use as an anti-missile laser defence system :-)

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A question

May 13th, 2010 at 7:03 pm by David Farrar

When TVNZ ran their story tonight on Victoria University closing off enrolments, did they not know the student they interviewed (Caleb Tutty) talking about his anger was the International Secretary of Young Labour, and Judith Tizard’s former electorate agent?

Or did they just decide it wasn’t relevant?

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International perspectives on electoral finance reform

April 13th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Otago University and the VUW Institute of Policy Studies have organised a public seminar on National’s proposed electoral finance reforms, and international perspectives on such reforms. The key details are:

Friday 14 May 2010
RW501 Level 5, Wellington Railway Station (West Wing)
8.40am to 12.15pm

The programme is:

8.20-8:40: Registration and coffee/tea
8:40-8:45: Welcome by Jonathan Boston
8:45-9:00: Andrew Geddis – New Zealand’s proposed new political finance rules.
9:00-9:50: Jacob Rowbottom – What lessons does the U.K.’s experience have for New Zealand’s proposals?
9:50-10:40: Colin Feasby – What lessons does Canada’s experience have for New Zealand’s proposals?
10:40-11:00: Coffee/Tea Break
11:00-12:15: Joo-Cheong Tham and Graeme Orr – What lessons does Australia’s experience have for New Zealand’s proposals?

Please note the Symposium will be followed by a seminar by Jacob Rowbottom entitled The British General Election and the Prospects for Electoral Reform

If you wish to attend then email: law.reception@otago.ac.nz (please include the “political finance symposium” in the subject line of your email).

I’m attending and looking forward to it.

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Moronic Thugs

September 22nd, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Students hurled eggs and grappled with security guards at a meeting about raising course fees at Victoria University.

About 30 protesters crowded the public gallery of the university’s council chambers yesterday, shouting slogans against a proposed 5 per cent increase.

They were also angered by a move to raise the Student Services Levy, which funds counselling, financial support, and career advice, from $251 to $510.

“We will not allow anyone who wants to raise fees to speak,” shouted one protester.

As university vice-chancellor Pat Walsh tried to explain the reasons behind the proposed increase, he was drowned out by chants demanding free education.

Chancellor Tim Beaglehole issued two warnings to the protesters, before closing the meeting to the public.

An orange and several eggs then rained down from the public gallery, just missing council members.

That crosses the line from protest to intimidation and thuggish behaviour.

Scuffles broke out with security guards as about 10 protesters moved to occupy the council chambers.

“The guy just launched into me,” said Joel Cosgrove, a former student president and veteran protester. “I just dropped to the floor. They were being pretty rough.”

I don’t suppose we can give the university security guards tazers, can we?

Incidentally I agree the increase to $510 is quite outrageous. 95% of students would not get even a fraction of $500 worth of value from the services that levy provides.

I suspect the university is increasing the student services fee, because it can not increase the tuition fee. Another reasons why the fee maxima policy is flawed.

UPDATE: I now understand that this was an incomplete article by the Dominion Post.  The projectiles did not miss.  At least two Council members were hit by eggs and VUWSA President Jasmine Freemantle was visibly shaken after being hit square on the head by an orange.  It was clear that the members of the Workers Party (wearing tee shirts and carrying banners advertising their membership) seemed to be targeting Freemantle who was expelled by the party earlier in the year.

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MMP Symposium

August 11th, 2008 at 2:48 pm by David Farrar

Dean Knight has the full details, but here is the short version:

For people who are interested in a systematic assessment of the MMP, the New Zealand Centre for Public Law, in conjunction with Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington
and the Centre for New Zealand Studies, Birkbeck, University of London, is hosting a symposium on MMP and the Constitution on 26 and 27 August 2008 (simultaneously video-cast in London, with a number of international speakers):

New Zealand Centre for Public Law
GBLT1 and GBLT2,
Government Buildings
15 Lambton Quay
Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington
New Zealand
6:30pm-10:00pm, Tuesday 26 August 2008
7:00am-10:30am, Wednesday 27 August 2008

Centre for New Zealand Studies
ST274 and ST275, Stewart House
32 Russell Square
Birkbeck, University of London, London
United Kingdom
7:30am-11:00am, Tuesday 26 August 2008
8:00pm-11:30pm, Tuesday 26 August 2008

The programme is here. And one can register here. $25 for students, $175 for academics and a fairly expensive $250 for others.  I was going to attend until I saw the $250 cost. That’s too much for me, just to cover the event on the blog.

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Reason No 7,562 for VSM

May 20th, 2008 at 9:16 am by David Farrar

Almost every single student at Victoria is forced to fund VUWSA, and the salary of its President – this year Joel Cosgrove.

If you do not approve of the jobs VUWSA does, you can not resign. If you are disgusted with the President – you can not resign. The President andor Exec members can treat students with absolute contempt because their funding is guaranteed.

And we see this in a story on the Salient blog (photos by Sean Gillespie), about the capping ceremony at Victoria. Capping is a big day for most students. They have worked three to five years or more to get their degree. It means a lot to them, and their families. It is not about the Professors or the people on stage – it is for the students – the very ones who fund VUWSA against their will often.

Now this photo is of the stage, and the one standing out is VUWSA President Joel Cosgrove. Now the issue isn’t actually being scruffy, even though I think that is a bit disrespectful. I had the privilege of serving on the Otago University Council and even though I hated suits would wear them when it was appropriate. Also as a Council member I was eligible to wear academic regalia even though I had no degree. I remember having a very cool purple hood. I never actually got around to finishing my degrees so my only graduation ceremonies was as a Council member. Anyway the not wearing regalia is not the issue. Salient notes:

At the parade on Thursday Cosgrove was wearing a suit. So why did he feel the need to wear the t-shirt on Friday’s ceremony? He could have chosen something more appropriate to the occasion, but the university should not have allowed him to sit on the stage at all.

This is a prime example of the complete lack of respect he holds for students.

This is the issue. That is just 100% inappropriate. Graduating students walking along the stage should not be confronted with a “I love my penis” t-shirt. The fact the t-shirt is part of a campaign for a good cause – sexual health checks – is irrelevant. It is about what is appropriate for the occasion. Cosgrove was not there as “Joel Cosgrove”. He was there as President of VUWSA.

Now some may say this is an issue over someone being a dickhead, not about VSM (Voluntary Student Membership). That you get dickheads everywhere. And yes that is true. You get dickheads everywhere and sometimes they get elected as President of VUWSA.

But the nature of compulsory membership does make the problem worse. It increases the chances of getting a student President who, like Joel seemingly, has a contempt for students. When they have no ability to resign in protest or even not join because they think everyone involved is a dickhead – well it is little surprise you get a student president who thinks it is appropriate to wear a penis t-shirt on stage at Capping.

Imagine how pissed off the graduating students are – this is one of the biggest days in their lives – they are walking across the stage receiving their degree and the person who is meant to be their representative, who they have been forced to fund paying him a full-time salary, is sitting them with a “I love my penis” t-shirt on.

It’s a bit of a pity that one of the graduating students didn’t have the presence of mind to grab the microphone as he walked past and say something like “On behalf of most of the students here today, I’d like to just say our President is a douche and we wish he wasn’t here being a douche”. They would have got a standing ovation I reckon.

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