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Bill puts West Auckland university at risk

Bill puts West Auckland university at risk

West Auckland should have its own university, but may be forced to wait for years unless the community takes action, according to Unitec CEO Dr John Webster.

Although the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has at last begun to assess the application by Unitec for university status, draft legislation before the Education and Science Select Committee would change the application process.

With less than two weeks left for the public to have their say on the legislation – the Education (Establishment of Universities) Amendment Bill – Dr Webster said that aspirations of having a university in Waitakere City were being placed at risk, for no good reason.

“Waitakere is the fifth largest city in New Zealand, with a bigger population than Wellington, Hamilton or Dunedin, yet the city has no university.

“With the development of our Waitakere campus and public library in partnership with the Waitakere City Council, and our purchase of the existing Civic Centre on Waipareira Avenue, Unitec has already made a substantial commitment to the city.

“Our university of technology profile is perfectly suited to the unique needs of the city, and it would be a severe blow to Unitec, and to the whole region, if our university application was effectively blocked by this proposed legislation.”

Unitec first applied for university status in 1996 and renewed its application in 1999. The NZQA has only now started processing the application. The formal assessment will take place in late February, with final advice as to whether Unitec has the characteristics of a university due to be given to the Minister in May or June 2005.

However, the new legislation would apply retrospectively and give the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary), Steve Maharey, power to veto the Unitec application, without taking into account the advice from NZQA.

Even if university status was granted, it would cease to have effect as soon as the Bill became law, which Dr Webster said could create a situation in which West Auckland had a university for a day before the goal posts changed again.

The Education and Science Select Committee is accepting public submissions on the Bill until 19 November, before sitting in Auckland a week later to hear oral submissions. Dr Webster said that the response, not only from Unitec students and staff, but also from a wide range of stakeholders from the local community supporting the Unitec position was heartening.

“The Minister seemed to be under the impression that no-one would oppose this poorly thought out legislation and it would be easy to rush through Parliament – his words were that he expected only three submissions on the Bill. But the support we are receiving, particularly in West Auckland, has been overwhelming. I expect the Select Committee to be kept very busy considering submissions opposing the Bill, and pointing out the special role that a university of technology can play in both regional and national development.”

Dr Webster said that university status would enable Unitec to continue to meet the needs of Waitakere City, as well as the industries and professions it served.

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