The Government's decision to shrink university councils
and get rid of mandatory staff, student and union membership
has been slammed as a ''power grab'' and ''an attack on
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce announced this week
the Government was proceeding with plans to reform university
and wananga governance councils ''to create smaller,
skills-based councils that can respond more quickly and
strategically to the challenges of modern-day tertiary
The changes, which would form part of a Bill to be introduced
to Parliament soon, included decreasing the size of councils
from 12 to 20 members to eight to 12 members; removing
mandatory staff, student and union membership of councils;
and having ''governance capability'' as a membership
The minister would still appoint four members to councils
with 10 to 12 members, resulting in a greater proportion of
Government appointees than before.
Otago University Students' Association president Ruby
Sycamore-Smith said the association believed the minister had
got it ''wrong'' and student membership on councils should be
''a right, not a privilege''.
Students were those most affected by university decisions, so
should have a mandatory place on their governing councils.
''It is a cop-out to say that a university may choose to
include student representation,'' she said. Tertiary
Education Union president Lesley Francey this week slammed
the changes as an ''attack on democracy and on academic
''[Mr Joyce] is wresting control of universities and wananga
into the hands of his own ministerial appointees and of
''As the minister notes himself, New Zealand's universities
and wananga are already financially stable and perform well
internationally,'' she said.
Labour's tertiary education spokesman, Grant Robertson, said
the changes were a cynical move from the Government to
silence its critics.
''They are simply about silencing the voice of students and
staff, who have been vocal critics of National's cuts to
tertiary education,'' he said.
Mr Joyce stressed the reforms would not compromise
institutional autonomy or academic freedom.
''Through these reforms, universities and wananga will have
more freedom to determine the make-up of their councils than
under the previous highly prescriptive model.''
''They can, for example, choose to retain student and staff
representation, and I expect many, if not most, will.''
The changes would also require all councils to have at least
one Maori member ''to assist the goal of boosting the
achievement of Maori'', he said.
No-one at the University of Otago was available for comment.