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Universities Refute Accountability Assertion

2 December 2004

Universities Refute Accountability Assertion

Universities have rejected an assertion by State Services Minister Trevor Mallard that controversial legislation is about ensuring proper spending of taxpayer funds rather than an example of creeping state control of universities and other tertiary education institutions.

The universities’ representative body – the NZ Vice-Chancellors’ Committee – has criticised the Public Finance (State Sector Management) Bill currently before Parliament as being yet another example of Government’s desire to control aspects of university affairs.

Mr Mallard has said in response that the Government had no intention of impinging on academic freedom and that most taxpayers would want spending of their money to be transparent through appropriate accountability mechanisms.

NZVCC chair Professor Stuart McCutcheon refutes that construction of what the Bill seeks to address as far as universities are concerned.

“Universities should indeed be fully accountable for their use of public money – but we already are, through a long list of reporting mechanisms. These include our annual profile (an agreement with Government), audited annual reports, the single data return to reconcile tuition funding, quarterly reports to the Government’s Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit and an annual review by the same body, instructions issued by the Office of the Auditor-General to university auditors, reports on individual grants, reviews by the Education and Science Select Committee, reports to research funding agencies and the new Performance Based Research Fund.

“The NZVCC has repeatedly invited Government ministers and officials to explain how these accountability mechanisms are deficient, but they have declined to do so.”

Professor McCutcheon says that during the term of this Government there have been consistent attempts to erode the autonomy of universities, currently safeguarded by the Education Act. The latest example is the Public Finance (State Sector Management) Bill which redefines Crown Entities, including universities, as “organisations in which the Government has a controlling interest”.

The NZVCC has regularly been told in its dealings with Government and officials in recent years that the Crown has an “ownership interest” in universities. Professor McCutcheon says such claims are especially galling when Government funding only amounts to around 40 per cent of university incomes.

ENDS

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