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Unitec undecided on multimillion dollar claim

14 July 2005

Unitec undecided on multimillion dollar claim

Unitec New Zealand has yet to decide whether to seek damages from the Government after winning its High Court case in its battle for university status.

Unitec had calculated earlier this year that unlawful actions by Government had cost the institution at least $3.5 million.

“We did not want to sue the Government, and only did so as a last resort,” said Unitec CEO Dr John Webster. “Our Council is due to meet in August, so they have not yet given serious thought to whether we should proceed to seek appropriate damages.”

“However, now the Court has found that the Government acted unlawfully, and breached the Bill of Rights, we certainly have a right to be properly and fairly assessed for university status – and for us, that is the key issue.

“The legislative changes made in 2003 to block our application are not relevant, as the Court has ruled that we should have been assessed five years ago.

“This is good news for us, and we must now be assessed on our merits, and against criteria that have not changed since the last assessment, that of AIT.”

Dr Webster said a comparison of the two applications showed that Unitec was well ahead of where AIT had been when it was assessed for university status in 1998. In critical areas such as the range and scale of postgraduate programmes and the number of refereed research outputs, Unitec’s score was more than double AIT’s.

“AIT went on to develop into a very successful university, and our capacity to be a successful university must clearly be at least as good, if not better. Based on these figures, any fair assessment must conclude that Unitec should be granted university status.”

Dr Webster said a fair assessment was all Unitec had ever wanted, and that Unitec had been led by the former Associate Minister of Education to believe that was what they would get. He said the figures spoke for themselves and there had been no changes made to either the statutory characteristics of a university or the guidelines since AIT’s assessment.

“Our application shows 50% of our students at degree level, whereas AIT had only 44.8%. We show 272 equivalent full-time students (EFTS) at postgraduate level, whereas AIT had only 98 EFTS. We show a much higher proportion of staff members with postgraduate qualifications than AIT, and more than three times as many refereed research outputs – in fact we are well ahead in all areas.

“The Government has tried for five years to prescribe what kind of tertiary institution West Auckland should have. Although Waitakere City is bigger than Wellington, it still has no universities – while Wellington has two. Yet the Government has not allowed Waitakere to have what the Waitakere City Council and the people of Waitakere have emphatically said they want - a university of technology.

“We hope that, now the air has been cleared by the High Court decision, the Government will finally acknowledge that Unitec has become a highly effective university of technology – that is, a university with an embedded polytechnic – and allow us to get on with our core business of delivering education where it is most needed.”


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