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New tertiary category would solve Unitec issue

New tertiary category would solve Unitec issue

A new category of tertiary institution in New Zealand - a university of technology - may be the way to resolve the long-running battle of Auckland tertiary Unitec to gain university status.

Unitec is filing papers in the High Court today in a $3.5 million action against the Minister of Education and NZQA over a five-year delay in determining its application for university status and illegally suspending that application.

But Unitec CEO Dr John Webster said the institution supported the Education and Science Select Committee Chair Brian Donnelly's suggestion today that New Zealand needed a new category of tertiary institution. He said Unitec would not continue to push for university status if the new category were formed.

"Unitec has always signalled that it is a new kind of university, quite unlike New Zealand's traditional research-led universities.

"Back in 2001 when the then Tertiary Education Advisory Commission was reviewing the sector, it was suggested that a new category be formed. However, TEAC recommended no changes to the criteria that define a university and rejected the university of technology idea.

"Although it is clear that Unitec meets the current requirements under the Education Act for university status, we would seek to be designated as a university of technology - not a university - if the new category were formed."

Dr Webster said it was important for taxpayers to understand that Government funding to Unitec would not change whatever the institution was called.

"We are funded per student, per programme - and would receive no change in that funding if we were to be called a university of technology. And our research activity is funded through the PBRF, so that would not change either.

"It is ironic that the Government says it is trying to streamline the university application process so that resources are not wasted. Yet millions of dollars have been wasted because the Government has not followed the law in assessing our application.

"The Government has drafted three separate pieces of legislation to try to block our assessment, yet assessing us is a relatively straightforward process."

Unitec is seeking Bill of Rights compensation to the tune of more than $3.5 million for losses incurred as a direct result of multiple breaches by the Government of its constitutional rights.

Proceedings will be filed in the High Court in Wellington at 2.30pm this afternoon. The papers include an affidavit in support of the application by Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey, who said that, "I am appalled at the way in which Unitec's application has been treated by the Government. I have been involved in local government for a number of years and have extensive experience of the way in which local and central government operate and I think that the way that the Government has treated Unitec's application is entirely unreasonable. I cannot understand why the Government has refused to consider Unitec's application in a fair and timely manner."

Dr Webster said Unitec's case relied upon fundamental constitutional principles. "Essentially, the Government has not complied with the law. It has breached article 1 of the Bill of Rights 1688 by purporting to suspend the operation of the Education Act without the consent of Parliament. It has breached chapter 29 of the Magna Carta 1297, which says that justice delayed is justice denied. It has breached the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and ignored the administrative law rules of natural justice.

"We will be asking the Court to put our case on a fast track and to give us an urgent hearing. We are seeking declarations to acknowledge officially that what happened to Unitec should not have happened and should not continue to happen.

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