Sector pleads poverty

New Zealand's university sector is in a parlous state, according to a report that backs claims by vice-chancellors and the country's main higher education staff union, as the sector awaits the Government's announcement of new funding arrangements.

Australian academics are paid 36 per cent more than their New Zealand counterparts, according to a report prepared by accounting firm Deloitte.

It notes that Australian universities receive 46 per cent of their funding from the state compared with 38 per cent in New Zealand.

While New Zealand academic salaries are significantly lower in terms of purchasing power than in Australia, Canada and the US, the report indicates that they are similar to those in the UK.

But it is the comparison with Australian universities, where the report says income per student is 87 per cent higher than in New Zealand, that most concerns vice-chancellors, given the close economic ties and open labour market between the two countries.

When making particular comparisons, the report uses the Group of 8 in Australia, which comprises the country's leading universities. In the UK, Bristol, Birmingham, Lancaster, Leeds and York universities are chosen as "reasonably comparable in size and stature" to New Zealand universities.

The report is part of a campaign by vice-chancellors and staff to pressure the Government for more money.

Threatened industrial action over pay was averted last year, chiefly because ministers told the disputing parties there was no prospect of money for salary increases unless both groups came up with a sound, united case.

That advice has been taken to heart. On the day the Deloitte report was released, students showed their support by marching on Parliament. The results of this unprecedented show of unity are expected within the next month.

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