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Minister must preserve institutional autonomy

Minister must preserve institutional autonomy

For immediate release 21 November 2012

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce’s recent threat that he will tell the University of Auckland what they must teach is not only a direct attack on academic freedom, it indicates a willingness to ignore the law despite earlier assurances that institutions have autonomy.

While the Government does and should have a say on tertiary education, the Education Act emphasises the independence of tertiary institutions to make operational decisions on what to teach in accordance to strategic objectives, without political interference.

“If the Minister intends to carry out threats at the University of Auckland unless it teaches his preferred courses, will he then threaten other universities on the same basis?” asks EXMSS President Ralph Springett.

In a letter to Springett last year, Joyce emphasised institutional autonomy, saying “universities are autonomous institutions and can therefore make decisions about what programmes to offer, and how to offer them”. However most tertiary institutions are enrolling more students in key courses than the Government wishes to fund, and are also constrained by the priorities of the Governments Tertiary Education strategy.

“While more engineering and science graduates are needed, Auckland University currently teaches more engineering students than it is funded for, indicating government funding, not enrolment choice, is the issue”.

“Rather than trampling over institutional autonomy and academic freedom by making unlawful threats, the Minister should reconsider the priorities of the government’s tertiary education strategy which offers direction on how and where tertiary institutions should invest their resources”.

In September, Springett wrote to the Minister requesting a meeting to discuss the effectiveness and sustainability of tertiary education in a climate where an increasing number of students are being trained for the overseas job market.

“We would still like to discuss the priority settings of the Tertiary Education Strategy, so a more balanced approach to tertiary education can be developed”.

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