Student representatives may be barred from making decisions about the direction of the University, as there is no longer a legal obligations for students to be on University Council.
Parliament passed the Education Amendment Bill (No 2) on 11 February. The bill removes the legal obligation for universities to appoint students and staff members to their councils.
The Council is the executive body in charge of the University and oversees the University’s business plan, budget and the overall management of its policies. VUW currently has two student representatives and four staff representatives on its 18-member Council.
University Council sizes will shrink from between 12 and 20 members to between eight and 12. Despite the reduction in overall council size, the number of Ministerial appointees will remain at four. The changes will be put in place from 2016 onwards.
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Universities will now choose whether to include student and staff representatives on the Council. Former Chancellor Ian McKinnon indicated in 2014 that he was in favour of retaining one student representative. There are currently two student representatives on Council—the VUWSA President and one elected representative. The University referred all questions to the new chancellor, Sir Neville Jordan, who is currently overseas and was unavailable for comment.
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said the changes would “modernise governance arrangements for universities” by reducing council size, increasing flexibility, and ensuring members have relevant knowledge, skills or experience.
VUWSA has criticised the changes throughout the passage of the Bill. VUWSA President Rick Zwaan said student and staff representation was “vital to ensuring that [universities] are accountable to the people that fund them—students and taxpayers”.
VUWSA is pushing for Victoria to retain the student and staff seats in the future Council structure, and Zwaan is hopeful that his organisation will be involved in a “comprehensive and thorough consultation” with those reviewing the changes later this year. Despite this, VUWSA remains “pleased that the Vice Chancellors from universities around New Zealand are supportive of retaining student representation”.
Quality Public Education Coalition spokesman Dr David Cooke claims there are more than just student representation issues that result from the recently passed Education Amendment Bill. According to Cooke, “councils [will] lose essential input and scrutiny from the staff, who carry out the basic work of the university” and the move shows that “this Government is threatening the autonomy and academic freedom in the university.”
The Tertiary Education Union will also embark on a nationwide campaign that urges universities and wananga to set aside “one-third of council seats for democratically elected staff and student representatives”, according to TEU National President Sandra Grey.
New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) President Rory McCourt remains vocal in defending the place of student representation on the council. McCourt says NZUSA will “be working with partners to show university councils the value of having student and staff involved in strategic decision-making.”
The current University Council at Vic
At present, Victoria’s University Council is made up of the Vice-Chancellor, four ministerial appointees, and members elected by academic staff, by general staff and by students. The body also contains members elected by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Business NZ and alumni, and members appointed by the Council itself.