Students unhappy over university travel bill

By Siouxsie Wiles 01/08/2011

Last night TVNZ One News ran with the story that the University of Auckland spent $24 million last year on travel for staff. It was a pretty emotive bit of journalism:

“Our biggest university is racking up big bills at the travel agent which you are helping to pay”

“The University has a policy of reimbursing staff who buy alcohol on work trips”

Says Joe McCrory from the Auckland University Students Association:

“Its a bit unfair for students who are struggling to enter university to see that there is a lot being spent on conferences and travel”

According to an email to staff from the VC today, the amount was actually $19 million and included travel by staff (and some students) to:

  • present papers at conferences,
  • take part in competitions,
  • upskill through research and study leave,
  • collaborate on research,
  • seek commercial research revenue,
  • recruit fee-paying students, engage in fund-raising,
  • check out current infrastructure, administrative and IT systems at leading universities.

Its a common misconception that when the students are on holiday, academics are on holiday too. In actual fact, they are all breathing a sigh of relief and getting on with the rest of their job. Doing research (often with collaborators overseas), applying for money to do their research, presenting research at conferences, … In fact, students may be surprised to learn that the average academic is contracted to spend only 40% of their time on teaching, with 40% spent on research and 20% on administrative duties. Attending conferences is a crucial part of an academics life, ensuring we stay up to date with the latest techniques and developments in our fields.

Attending a research-led teaching institution as he does, Joe McCrory’s education would certainly suffer if we all stopped travelling so more students could come to university.

0 Responses to “Students unhappy over university travel bill”

  • totally agree, Siouxsie. A very shallow and ill-considered piece of journalism.

  • Agreed. When I heard this story I was pretty annoyed – not at the university travel expenses – but at the Students Association. And the media.

    First of all, for such a large University, the bill doesn’t even seem that high in relation to the overall expenses.

    Second, how does the Student Association expect researchers to stay current if they can’t attend conferences? Do they not want a world-class education? Perhaps they’d rather just learn from textbooks. It’s a duty and a part of professional ethics and development to attend conferences to exhange ideas, and travel is a big part of academic research for many – I struggle to see how archaeologists studying Rapa Nui or biologists studying animal migration in the Pacific can do so without travel.

    I’m a student at Auckland, and I don’t think it’s unfair. I want good lecturers, not whingy student reps. They would serve us better by continuing to fight for the employment rights of academics, not undermining them. And that’s the strange thing: the students association (with Joe McCrory himself) stood next to the academic staff for the protest late last semester against the cutting of current employment terms. Now it looks as though they’ve backstabbed them?

    The real contemptable ones here though are the media. Just another in a long line of ‘look who’s stealing YOUR tax money’. Emotive in the extreme, and lacking any rational discourse.

  • What exactly is all the fuss about. These trips are always undertaken for the betterment of the students. Dont you just love the media.