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.