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New Zealand: Governance changes will undermine role of universities

Universities New Zealand

Universities New Zealand opposes plans to change the composition of university councils which will remove the statutory protections that ensure universities have the independence and diversity to effectively represent the communities they serve.

“The changes announced by the Government last week are of great concern to the university sector. They remove the legal requirement for democratically elected students, staff and other representatives to sit on councils, undermining a model of governance that has worked well to reflect the broad range of voices universities represent,” says Universities NZ Chair Professor Roy Crawford.

Professor Crawford says that the planned changes are not based on evidence and are not consistent with international best practice.

“The reasons given for the changes are to make university councils faster moving and responsive. Our universities however are amongst the best performing and most efficient in the world.”

“The world’s leading universities have councils that are larger than company boards and are not based on a business model. This is a strength, not a weakness. They recognise that it is essential to have a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives to inform and enrich their decision making.”

Professor Crawford says that the planned changes also show a fundamental misunderstanding of the distinct role that universities play in societies.

“Universities need autonomy and academic freedom to be the critic and conscience of society which is considered vital for a strong and informed democracy. New Zealand’s universities can only perform this role if they are independent of government and vested interests.”

“Moves to increase the proportion of Ministerial appointees and the control that government has over university councils will be a backwards step for New Zealand.”

Vice-Chancellors will discuss the proposed changes further in coming weeks with their individual councils to build support for the continued representation of its stakeholders on university councils.

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