Sensible to fund disciplines with skill shortages

November 21, 2012

The University of Auckland graduation ceremony we attended  was for optometry and science degrees for people with surnames in the last half of the alphabet.

If appearance and names could be relied on as a guide, a sprinkling of the graduands were Maori or Pacific; more than a third were Pakeha and nearly half were Asian.

That was three years ago and it sounds like there still aren’t many Pacific students opting for science.

A Pacific community leader has warned of a “Pasifika uprising” if the Government goes through with a threat to force Auckland University to take more engineering students, which may cause redundancies in other faculties.

Rev Uesifili UNasa, the university’s chaplain and head of Auckland Council’s Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel, said the move threatened Pacific participation in the university, which was concentrated in faculties such as arts and education. . .

The strategy he is attacking is designed to encourage more students in disciplines with skills shortages.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce told a Herald series on job/skill mismatches, which began yesterday, that he would direct the university to take more engineering and science students if it did not do so voluntarily in response to funding changes.

This year’s Budget lifted funding for engineering by $42 million, or 8.8 per cent, and for science by $17 million (2 per cent), while funding for all other subjects was frozen.

Funding disciplines in need of graduates is sensible policy which makes best use of scarce public funds.

The chaplain would be serving his students better if he dropped the rhetoric and put his energy into dealing with whatever stops all but a few considering science or engineering which are far more likely to lead to job opportunities.


Seeking stats good and bad

August 10, 2011

Stats Chat is running a Stat of the Week competition with the chance to win an iTunes voucher:

  • Anyone may add a comment on this post to nominate their Stat of the Week candidate before midday Friday August 12 2011.
  • Statistics can be bad, exemplary or fascinating.
  • The statistic must be in the NZ media during the period of August 6-12 2011 inclusive.
  • Quote the statistic, when and where it was published and tell us why it should be our Stat of the Week.

Next Monday at midday we’ll announce the winner of this week’s Stat of the Week competition, and start a new one.

Follow the link above for the fine print.

Idealog reports that Stats Chat is run by Auckland University’s Department of Statistics.

“We’re looking for bad, exemplary or fascinating examples of statistics,” says blog coordinator Rachel Cunliffe.

Professor Thomas Lumley, a regular contributor, wants New Zealanders to be more aware of statistics and the role they play in the media.”

“We see numbers in the media every day and we want people to think carefully about them – what they actually mean and whether or not they make sense,” he says.

Those who adhere to the Stratford Theory of Numbers will know they often don’t make sense and will have no difficulty finding examples to prove it.


Graduation a multi-cultural revelation

May 10, 2010

The faculty head speaking at a gathering of Otago graduands and their families four years ago said that graduation would mean more to the parents than graduates.

I thought back to my own capping more than 20 years earlier and better understood my mother’s and father’s excitement, possibly in part because I’d achieved something the Depression had prevented them from doing.

I can’t remember who delivered the address at my graduation or what s/he said. The speaker at our daughter’s capping was Jonathon Lemalu. He told us that he’d been on many stages round the world but on none of them had he felt as proud as when he crossed the Dunedin Town Hall stage to be capped.

Fast forward to last Friday and another graduation, this time in Auckland, and even more parental pride.

The University of Otago is a very important part of Dunedin and because of that there’s usually good will between town and gown. I hadn’t expected the same feeling in Auckland, where the university is bigger but less important to the city. However, the excitement of the graduands and their families seemed to be shared by other onlookers as the graduands’ procession passed by.

The procession had a strong muliti-cultural look. That international flavour was reinforced during the graduation ceremony later in the day as we listened to the graduands’ names being called and watched them cross the stage.

 It was particularly noticeable with Optometry. Only 12 of the 37 graduating were men and all of the dozen looked as if they were of Asian descent. If appearance and names are a reliable guide, about 2/3 of the women in the class were also of Asian descent.

Appearance isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of nationality, of course. Many of these people will be New Zealanders by birth, or choice. New Zealand is a melting pot, and there are many positive opportunities for us in that.

I do however, have concerns about another observation – only four of the 37 new optometrists are working in the South Island.

Emeritus Professor Bellamy gave the graduation address and offered five points to guide the new graduates:

* Maintain honesty and integrity in what you do.

* Strive to ensure decisions are evidence based.

* Foster the ability to work in a team.

* Continue to read outside your discipline to broaden your understanding of the world.

* Keeping perfecting your ability to express your thoughts clearly in speech and writing.

After the ceremony we had a celebration dinner at Number 5 . First class service and delicious food in delightful surroundings provided a fitting end to a wonderful day.


Farmaceutical ice cream could counter chemo side effects

October 31, 2009

Ice cream developed by the University of Auckland and Fonterra may be successful in reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.

The ice cream, known as ReCharge, has started Phase 2 clinical trials in New Zealand to assess its effectiveness against Chemotherapy Induced Diarrhoea (CID) and anaemia, but the ‘dessert with a difference’ could also reduce weight loss and damage to the immune system during chemotherapy.

Oncology Centres at Whangarei, Auckland, Waikato, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill are taking part in the trial. Around 10 patients are already signed up for a daily regime that includes eating a 100 gram tub of strawberry ice cream containing two active dairy ingredients that combine to address the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. Cancer Trials New Zealand (CTNZ) is currently seeking 190 additional volunteers for the trial.

If trials are successful it will be great news for cancer patients.

It could also bring benefits for farmers. 

There is huge potential in the development of “farmaceuticals” . These medicines using farm produce could provide opportunities for diversification and added value for producers.


Quality & quantity

October 9, 2009

Eight universities for a population of only four million does suggest we’re over-universitied.

But we can take some comfort from the global ranking of universities which suggests we’ve got quality as well as quantity.

Three of our universities are the top 200 – Auckland at 61, Otago at 125 and Canterbury at 188.

If you judge universities on more than academia, Otago still comes out tops.*

A relatively big university in a small city where most students come from other places creates a unique experience (and I don’t mean the stupidity which captured headlines recently).

More details on results of the comparisons here.

Hat Tip: NBR.

* from the completely unbiased :) perspective of a graduate from both Otago and Canterbury with a daughter who graduated from Otago and is now studying at Auckland.


Chief Science advisor key appointment – Updated

May 21, 2009

John Key has appointed Professor Peter Gluckman as the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor.

Mr Key says Professor Gluckman is one of the country’s leading scientists and he will make an important contribution in the newly created part-time role.

“This appointment delivers on the Government’s goal of including science at the heart of our decision-making.

“I campaigned on creating this role because I recognise that New Zealand’s prosperity rests on our ability to make full use of the expertise that our scientists can contribute.

“Professor Gluckman will provide me with a direct line to advice when I need it. He will be an independent voice that will complement existing channels of advice such as government departments and the Royal Society.”

. . . “This role is one of vital importance that demands not only a high level of science expertise, but also the utmost integrity to fairly represent the state of science knowledge.”

This is both a Key and a key appointment which indicates the government’s high regard for science.

Prof. Gluckman was founding director of the Liggins Institute. He’ll relinquish that position but continue his employment with Auckland University.

He was the NZ Herald New Zealander of the Year in 2004.

AgResearch chief executive Dr Andrew West welcomed Prof Gluckman’s appointment:

“This is an important step in the reinvigoration of science within New Zealand’s culture from being nice-to-have to being essential. The Prime Minister’s message in this appointment is that scientific contribution must once again be a significant component of New Zealand’s well-being and prosperity.”

Dr West and many in the scientific community have long been adamant that recognition of the importance of science to this country has declined in the face of scepticism about the contribution it can make. Such sentiment has been reflected in the stubbornly low priority placed on investment in science and technology when compared to the much greater commitment to S&T in other OECD economies, expressed as a percentage of GDP. This erosion of trust has resulted in short-term focus and excessive compliance expectations. Coinciding with the appointment of Professor Gluckman, there finally seems to be proper attention being paid to recovering trust in scientists and scientific institutions through a recent start to simplifying funding systems.

The announcement of the appointment coincides with much gnashing of teeth about changes to science funding, but as Macdoctor says, the facts on the canning of the Fast Forward fund don’t support the emotion.


It really does taste of cats’ pee

May 13, 2009

A hot day, a shady spot, and a glass of cool, white wine.

Sauvingnon blanc, preferably, with the key flavours of passionfruit, asparagus and a hint of cats pee.

I’ve heard alcohol called piss before, I’ve heard of people who overindulge described as pissed, but this is the first time I’ve come across scientific verification that wine taste like that.

The isolation of cat’s pee, asparagus and passion fruit compounds are just some of the findings of the sauvignon blanc project – a joint study by Lincoln University, Plant and Food, and Auckland University

The six year, $13 million project will help improve the quality of the product, as well as improve overseas sales – a market worth almost a billion dollars in 2008.

I’ll take their word for it and I’m not going to ask know how they know what cats’ pee tastes like.

But if I was in marketing I think I’d be emphasising the fruit flavours in preference to the feline one;


Will she use the title?

April 24, 2009

If it hadn’t been Laws I might have bitten my tongue because while I oppose many of her policies I can’t deny Helen Clark made an impact domestically and internationally.

But I find Auckland University’s decision to award her an Honorary Doctorate of Laws baffling.

This is the woman who forged not just one, but about half a dozen, works of art over 20 years and didn’t understand that it was wrong; who turned her back on her police drivers when they sped through Canterbury on her behalf; and who flouted electoral spending rules then passed legislation to retrospectively validate it and then brought in the Electoral Finance Act in the – mistaken – belief it would let her get away with mis-spending tax payers money again.

The Herald says that  while it is permissable to use the title Dr, it is accepted practice in New Zealand to forgo the title.

Accepted practice or not, given her aversion to titular honours which she reinforced in her valedictory speech, it would seem more than a little hypoctritical to use the honorific.

For other views on the issue:

Keeping stock asks what?

Kiwiblog thinks it should be retrospective

Cactus Kate announces the end of her alumni contributions

Fairfacts Media see the irony

PM of NZ muses on ‘sign of commitment’

While Deborah at The Hand Mirror is far more gracious,  and regards it as a fitting honour


Happiness is a calm website

January 15, 2009

Charlie Brown reckoned happiness was a warm puppy.

Life and technology have moved on and now you can get happiness, or at least learn how to be happy, through a CALM website.

This week’s Listener cover story interview with John Kirwan (preview here) highlights the seriousness of depression. It’s debilitating and people may well find it easier to get help from a website than ask for it in person.

Auckland University psychologists obviously think so because Calm (Computer Assitsted Learning for the Mind) is their initiative,  prompted by the high number of stressed students.

Dr Tony Fernando at Auckland University says many students struggle to cope with everyday life.

“Many of them, if not all of them, are so smart, but some of them don’t have the skills to deal with daily life,” he says.

Skills like maintaining healthy relationships.

That’s a sad commentary on modern life and I wonder if it has anything to do with the time spent communing via text and with websites (and that includes blogs) rather than interacting in person with family and friends.


Otago clan beats Auckland clan

November 12, 2008

Auckland University wondered if when Siobhon Cervin became the sixth and last sibling from her family to graduate it was a New Zealand record.

But of course Otago can better that.

A Dunedin family can not only go one better, but two.

The eight children of Malcolm and Lyn Farry have all graduated from the University of Otago – half of them more than once.

In fact, Yasmin (38), Victoria and Gareth (37), Damon (35), Sasha (34), Lukas (30), Alysha (29) and Samara (26) have amassed a remarkable 16 degrees and diplomas between them, and there is another diploma in progress.

The family has had a graduation ceremony to look forward to for most of the past 20 years, including a memorable day in 1995 when four siblings graduated at once.


Can’t trust them for two days 2

October 22, 2008

Apropos the previous post and Labour going back on its word that it wasn’t going to spend any more of our money, they’ve done it again.

Helen Clark announced $25m over 10 years for the New Zealand Innovation Centre at Auckland University.

As with the extra funding for dental services, I’m not arguing with the policy but as Inquring Mind says:

Adam ’s concern is that the other day the PM was reported as saying no more expensive spending announcements. So instead we will spend money we do not have in dribs and drabs and dress it up as a big thing.

Again spin not substance.

Again still spending, with no information on how it will all be paid for.

After the budget in May Michael Cullen said, “We’ve spent the lot.” That was bad enough but they didn’t stop there and are carrying on to spend money when we’re facing 10 years of deficits.


E- day November 8th?

August 17, 2008

The Herald wonders if the election will be on November 8 .

Remember, remember the 8th of November – at least if rumours from the Beehive are to be believed.

With less than three months to the last possible election day, November 15, that’s when sources are predicting the country will be heading to the polls.

Auckland University political scientist Dr Joe Atkinson expected the Government to set a date shortly and said the election would be left “until the last possible moment”.

“The polls aren’t very good at the moment. The longer Labour can have to criticise National policies the better. That clearly favours the Government leaving the election late.”

Atkinson said polls were notoriously unreliable this far out from an election and New Zealand was a “volatile” electorate.

There aren’t many Saturday’s left before the last possible date for the election which is November 15th. That’s the day after Canterbury Aniversary Day and the extra work involved in special votes generally persuades government’s against holding elections on long weekends.

There is now only one weekend left in September if we’re to get a month’s notice, then the next three weekends fall in school holidays and that too would mean more special votes October 18 is a possibility and that’s John Key’s pick, but that in itself is probably enough to make Helen Clark pick any other date.

The following weekend is Labour Weekend which is another to be avoided and that just leaves November 1or 8.

So which will it be? Only the desperate and dateless one knows and she’s not telling us yet.


Stop digging start apologising.

July 21, 2008

The Herald uses its editorial to tell Winston Peters to stop digging. He should also start apologising.

It was one thing to make a denial without checking all possible sources of his financial support, and flourish a silly sign to news cameras, but Mr Peters did not hear alarm bells even when the Herald discovered an email in which Mr Glenn asked a public relations adviser, “You are saying I should deny giving a donation to NZ First? When I did?”

A wiser man would have run a quick check on all sources of funds related to his personal political activities and his party. Instead our Foreign Minister descended to baseless and disgraceful allegations of his own – against the integrity of this newspaper, its editor, and our fair-minded political editor, Audrey Young.

Definitely not the actions of a wise man.

We were not particularly surprised by that response. Mr Peters has made a career of bluff and bluster and convincing enough poor voters that the media is the enemy. But we have been surprised at his behaviour since he was forced on Friday to concede Audrey Young’s disclosures are true.

At least, that is what he should have conceded. An honourable and decent public figure would acknowledged his error and apologised to her in the course of explaining himself. Mr Peters did neither. After his lawyer, Brian Henry, told him Mr Glenn had in fact contributed $100,000 to his legal costs in 2006, Mr Peters put out a statement that was not only devoid of apology or regret but attempted to give himself some wriggle room in semantics.

This was not an honorable or decent statement.

He did not make a donation to the NZ First Party,” he said of Mr Glenn, “he made a donation to a legal action he thought justified”. Later, at his party’s 15th anniversary conference, Mr Peters maintained this desperate distinction. “Not one cent went to NZ First and not one cent went to me,” he insisted. “A donation was made to a legal case which is a massive difference … “

No, it is not. He brought a case against the election spending of the MP who captured his Tauranga seat. The law hears those actions in the name of individuals, not parties. Had the petition succeeded, the beneficiaries would have been Mr Peters, if the seat had been restored to him, and his party, since an electorate gives a party more secure representation in Parliament. Mr Glenn obviously believed he was contributing to NZ First and to all intents and purposes, he was.

Indeed, it might disturb Mr Glenn to hear that the donation was technically not for a party’s legal action but for an individual MP’s, because that MP is the country’s Foreign Minister and the Monaco-based billionaire would like to be appointed our honorary consul there. It is a humble enough request from an expatriate who leads a multi-national logistics enterprise and has given millions to his country of birth, most recently to endow the new Auckland University business school that carries his name.

Except that buying honary appointments isn’t supposed to happen in an open democracy.

He was also the Labour Party’s largest donor at the last election, a connection noted when he was named in the New Year Honours. Labour weathered that news easily enough and NZ First could have done likewise, had Mr Peters not foolishly denied it. He has put himself in this hole and he would be smarter to stop digging.

And start apologising. Sorry really isn’t that hard to say if you understand what you’ve done is wrong; refusing to say it suggests he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care.


Otago business pioneers in Hall of Fame

July 17, 2008

Two Otago business pioneers were inducted into the Business Hall of Fame last night.

Sir George Fenwick (1847 – 1929) and Shariffe Coory (1866 – 1950) were given posthumus awards.

Previously, the hall of fame had only a virtual presence, but yesterday its new home on a 12m wall at the Owen G Glenn building at the University of Auckland was officially unveiled, followed by a gala dinner hosted by Governor-General Anand Satyanand.

The Coorys were among the first Lebanese to emigrate to Australia where they employed 1500 people in their wholesale and manufacturing business before selling and moving to Dunedin in 1892.

One of Mrs Coory’s great gransons, Malcolm Farry said that she she worked hard to break down barriers and did philanthropic work with the Lebanese community. She set up a workshop where Lebanese women made shirts and aprons for hawkers to sell; and also invested in property.

One of her greatest gifts was passing on her belief in entrepreneurship and “she had a significant influence on her grandchildren”, he said.

Her success is even more notable given that female entrepreneurship was even more of an achievement in her day.

Sir George came to Otago with his family in 1856 and took up a printing apprenticeship with The Otago Witness when he was 12. He later joined the Otago Daily Times and eventually owned both papers.

He edited the ODT from 1890-1909.co-founded the New Zealand Press Association in 1878; founded the Otago SPCA in 1882, the first in the country and was knighted in 1919.

The Hall of Fame, which is sponsored by Fairfax Media,  is a good way to recognise business success which doesn’t usually get the same recognition as sporting and artistic achievements.


Peters should practise principles

July 16, 2008

The Press is calling for Helen Clark and Winston Peters to live up to the principle of electoral finance transparancy which they espouse. In an editorial on the issue of whether or not Owen Glen donated to New Zealand First, the paper says:

A “furious” Peters denounced the reports as “malicious lies”, attacked the newspaper and one of the reporters who first made them, and generally sought belligerently to dismiss them.

They are not so easily dismissed, however, and Peters still has some work to do. The matter also poses a problem for the Prime Minister, Helen Clark. She claims that it is not her concern and she is studiously declining all substantive comment. But as Foreign Minister, Peters has one of the gaudiest baubles in her Cabinet, and a problem for him is inescapably a problem for her. In this case, of course, it also involves a donor who has been a big contributor to the Labour Party and who may be again in the future.

If I’d been ignored by Clark as Glen was at the opening of the University of Auckland business school to which he donated so generously I might not be quite so keen to contribute to Labour now. 

If an Opposition party were involved in this sort of scenario offshore billionaire, large political donations, leaked emails and so on one can imagine Peters’ response. With the shoe on the other foot, though, Peters has reacted badly. Rather than addressing the issue coolly and straightforwardly, as might be expected of a senior minister, and leaving it at that, he has allowed himself, yet again, to lose his temper with the media.

Under the law on electoral finance as it stood at the time, it would have been possible for Glenn to have made his political donations in complete anonymity. If any went to New Zealand First, it is possible that Peters was unaware of them. Whatever the case, it should not be too difficult now to work out what happened and to resolve the confusions and contradictions raised by the issue once and for all. Rather than pointlessly getting angry with journalists, Peters should do that.

If he will not do so of his own accord, the Prime Minister should quietly persuade him of the benefits of doing so. Peters is the man she chose to be her foreign minister. Any questions concerning him inevitably reflect on her and her Government. More particularly, after the last election, both she and Peters made a great to-do about greater transparency in electoral finance and passed a greatly criticised law designed to bring it about. They should live up to all the fine principles they claimed to be espousing when they promoted that law.

That’s the trouble with principles, you have to abide by them yourself or you look, well, unprincipled.


Student Survey Request

June 24, 2008

I received an email with this request this morning – he’s aiming for 1,000 responses: 

Dear Blog Reader,

My name is Andrew Cushen, and I am conducting a survey of New Zealand Political Blog Readers. This survey is part of my research toward a Master of Arts in Political Studies at the University of Auckland.

As the reader of a blog that features postings related to political news, discussion and debate in New Zealand politics, I invite you to participate in this survey.

Please follow this link:

 

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=EJI9pne1hZOuX5IjsKvKnQ_3d_3d
This link will take you to the survey and also provide you with further information on how and why this research is being conducted. If you would like to ask me further questions about the survey or about my research in general, you will find my contact details listed on this page also.

I would appreciate it if you would complete this survey by Friday the 4th of July.

Thank you, Andrew Cushen


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