A radical proposal to change university and wānanga governance, introduced by Tertiary Minister Steven Joyce as “moderate”, has been rejected by students as dangerous and extreme.
The Education Amendment Bill (No.2) would reduce the size of the governing board of the institutions, called the Council, from the current twelve to twenty members to between eight and twelve. It removes all nominated stakeholder representation, apart from those appointed by the Minister himself. The Minister’s appointees which currently constitute twenty percent of the Councils will increase to at least a third, and as much as 40% of the total.
“Having such a large proportion of Ministerial appointees is dangerous to the values that underpin our institutions of higher education, such as a commitment to academic freedom and to being a critic and conscience of society. They also risk making the universities subservient to the whims of the Minister, rather than engaging in the nimble, responsive and effective performance that he claims to seek”, said Daniel Haines, President of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA).
“In addition, the Minister’s own record on appointments is shameful. Just sixteen percent of his appointments are women, although women are 60% of university students. He’s appointed just one Māori and no Pasifika. Eighty-six percent of his appointments are CEOs, company directors, accountants or commercial lawyers. He has appointed one one with a background in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (so-called “STEM”) subjects.
“The proposed Councils are extremely small by international standards. There is not a single university in the world’s top 200 that has a Council as small as eight. Most of the world’s top universities have both larger Councils than New Zealand universities (Oxford, 23, Cambridge 25, MIT, 72, Harvard, 32, Stanford, 33…) and all have guaranteed stakeholder representation.
“Well, Minister, size does matter. The current Council allows us to get the right perspectives around the table and reflect the diverse communities that are served by our institutions.
“Modern business thinking is that listening to more people is important, the global financial crisis is a very real example of what can happen when small homogenous Boards engage in group-think. Exposure to a plurality of ideas is what will make our Councils take good decisions, the Minister’s proposals will work in the opposite direction”, says Haines.