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Fears cuts could ruin universities’ reputations

University of Auckland

University of Auckland

By Laura Macdonald

Universities have united to condemn the Government’s proposal to cut the number of seats on university councils.

The changes are part of the Education Amendment Bill, introduced in February, but students say the changes could push them out of decision-making.

About 180,000 students fill the halls of New Zealand’s eight universities, alongside 20,000 full-time staff.

“Students have the largest investment, the largest stake in what happens with their tertiary institution, so having their voice at the table at the governance level is absolutely critical,” says Daniel Haines, president of the NZ Union of Students’ Associations.

University councils currently have between 12 and 20 members. Four of those are appointed by the Government. The other seats are held by university leaders and staff and student members.

The Government’s changes would cut council sizes to between eight and 12 members. The four ministerial appointments would remain, but staff and students would no longer have a statutory right to a seat.

“If you want to make good decisions as a governance body, you need to have the person in the room who’s most affected by those decisions,” says Mr Haines.

Minister for Tertiary Education Steven Joyce wants the councils to be more nimble and efficient.

“We think that this governance change will actually improve the ability of our universities to respond strategically to all the challenges they face in the years ahead.”

The president of the Auckland District Law Society made a submission to the education and science committee. Brian Keene is concerned the changes could affect the international reputations of our universities.

“There’s a risk that the standards will drop – educational standards – and therefore our ratings will drop.”

He says the increased ratio of members appointed by the minister could “water down” the voices of staff and students.

“Once anybody is appointed to the council – no matter who they are, whether it’s the minister’s appointment or somebody else’s – once they’re there, their job is to represent the council and the university, not the minister.”

The education and science committee will wrap up its hearings on the bill this week. Mr Joyce says the submissions could result in changes before the bill goes to the house. (3 News)

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