Students and staff have lost their right to a voice on the councils of their own institutions following the passage of the Education Amendment Bill through Parliament yesterday.
The Bill imposes dangerous and unwanted reforms on universities and wānanga by reducing the size of councils and removing the right of students, staff and other stakeholders to have a say in their own institution at the highest level. Instead, the new legislation inflates the direct influence that the Minister can exert by increasing the proportion of Ministerial appointees on University councils.
“It is extremely disappointing to see the government push the Bill through despite its enormous unpopularity,” says Auckland University Students’ Association President Paul Smith. Of the 1,568 submissions on the Bill at Select Committee stage, only one submitter was in favour of the proposed changes.
“This is yet another cut to the rights of students and the autonomy of universities,” says Education Vice President Jessica Storey. “The change is out of line with other top universities around the world, yet it has been pushed through with little justification.”
Students are concerned with the potential for the voices of those who matter to be drowned out by ministerial appointees. The new legislation mandates that one third of council members will be appointed by the Minister. “Universities are not businesses but communities of learning, so the members of that community should have a say. The changes mean students and staff, who know their institution best, will no longer be a priority,” says Storey.
Students and staff now have to wait on their individual councils to see if they will be deemed worthy of a seat at the table. “We have confidence that the University of Auckland council will ensure seats are given to independent student and staff representatives,” says Storey. “We can only hope that other councils around the country will also do their best to uphold the diverse and autonomous councils that the Government is trying to take away.”