University joins fight over reform of councils

The University of Otago is part of a sector-wide fight calling on the Government to back off proposed changes to the way universities are run.

The university has joined hundreds of other individuals and institutions who have made submissions against proposed changes included in the Education Amendment Bill, which is before Parliament.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce this year announced plans to reform university councils ''to create smaller, skills-based councils that can respond more quickly and strategically to the challenges of modern-day tertiary education''.

The changes included decreasing the size of councils from 12 to 20 members to eight to 12 members and removing mandatory staff, student and union membership of councils.

The minister would still appoint four members to councils with 10 to 12 members, resulting in a greater proportion of Government appointees than before.

Mr Joyce yesterday stood by the changes, saying they were needed in an increasingly competitive international environment.

''Smaller, more agile university councils will help New Zealand universities meet strategic challenges like adapting more quickly to the needs of a rapidly changing employment market, adapting to new challenges from changing technology in teaching and learning, and strengthening their international linkages much more quickly and effectively.

''New Zealand universities have been doing reasonably well for the last few years on the back of significant funding increases despite tight fiscal conditions, but they are operating in an increasingly competitive and challenging international environment,'' he said.

The university's written submission to the education and science select committee on the Bill, obtained by the Otago Daily Times yesterday, calls on the Government to scale back the changes, arguing the current model was working well.

''Even in recent tight financial times, [New Zealand universities] have continued to lead the way ... while remaining financially sound, and flexible in their ability to respond to Government demands.''

''The membership of the council reflects the cross-section of interests which has enabled a very effective approach to developing a strategic direction and policies in order to meet its goals.''

The university was also against a change requiring individual members of the council to have a statutory duty to the Minister, saying in order to ensure autonomy and academic freedom, members should instead have a duty to the university.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz