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Legislation aimed at blocking Unitec

Legislation aimed at blocking Unitec

For the third time in four years the Government has drafted legislation designed to block Unitec from being assessed by the NZQA for university status.

“We have always claimed to be unique,” said CEO Dr John Webster, after hearing of the move, “but how many tertiary institutions, here or anywhere else, have been targeted by three separate pieces of retrospective legislation in an effort to prevent them from being assessed against international standards?”

“If it weren’t such a waste of public funds, and so patently unjust, the way the Government has acted would be humorous,” he said. “You would have thought that the Minister would be delighted to have an international panel confirm that one of the best tertiary institutions in his portfolio had matured into a world-class university of technology.”

“However, even if the Minister is so reluctant to celebrate our achievement, why not let the assessment run its course, then use the discretion he already has to knock us back? Why does he need further costly legislation just to protect him from having to make that decision?”

Unitec originally applied for redesignation in 1996 and renewed that application in 1999, but processing of the application has never been completed.

“We even got to the stage in May 2000 when an NZQA-appointed international assessment panel had been set up and was ready to visit Unitec. But, two weeks out from that visit, the Government introduced the Education (Limiting the Number of Universities) Bill – we fondly call it the Unitec Bill – and bullied NZQA into postponing the assessment.”

Though the Unitec Bill never made it into law, Unitec is still waiting to be assessed. However, the Government did pass legislation in 2002 providing that, as well as an institution having to demonstrate that it meets the criteria for university status, the Minister must be satisfied that its redesignation would be “in the national interest”.

On Friday, the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education), Steve Maharey, tabled legislation designed to move the goalposts yet again, by giving the Minister power to decide in advance whether or not an assessment can take place.

Dr Webster said the Minister had obviously decided that Unitec met the criteria for university status so comfortably that, following an assessment, it would be difficult for him to turn down the application, “hence the introduction of the Unitec Bill Mark II”.

“The process adopted by the Government has been unfair and, we have been advised, unlawful,” Dr Webster said. “We do not want to take the Minister to court, and we had hoped that wiser counsel would prevail. However, our Council has a statutory obligation to act in the best interests of our students, and we will have to consider all our options.”

Unitec is one of New Zealand’s largest tertiary institutions, with approximately 5,800 EFTS (equivalent full-time students) in its higher education divisions – much larger than Lincoln University – and 4,500 in its sub-degree division.

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