A group representing University of Otago and other New Zealand universities has come out strongly against changes to university councils.
This comes after Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce announced last week the Government was proceeding with 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''.
Universities New Zealand chairman Prof Roy Crawford said yesterday the changes were of ''great concern'' to the university sector.
''They remove the legal requirement for democratically elected students, staff and other representatives to sit on councils, undermining a model of governance that has worked well to reflect the broad range of voices universities represent,'' Prof Crawford said.
The planned changes were not based on evidence and were inconsistent with international best practice, he said.
''The reasons given for the changes are to make university councils faster-moving and responsive. Our universities, however, are amongst the best-performing and most efficient in the world.''
Universities needed autonomy and academic freedom to be the critic and conscience of society, he said.
''New Zealand's universities can only perform this role if they are independent of government and vested interests.
''Moves to increase the proportion of ministerial appointees and the control that government has over university councils will be a backwards step for New Zealand.''
Universities New Zealand comprises the vice-chancellors of New Zealand's eight universities.