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Vital voices missing in proposed governance changes

The government announced plans to drastically reduce the size of university and wānanga councils to reflect a corporate governance model. This has drawn criticism from various sectors of the community who are concerned with the uncalled-for and needless changes.

“As the academic year begins, students will once again be fighting for their right to be heard following the announcement yesterday by Tertiary Minister Steven Joyce to implement a number of reforms to university and wānanga councils,” says Ivy Harper, Tumuaki of Te Mana Ākonga, the National Māori Students’ Association.

“Te Mana Ākonga is pleased that Māori are included in the proposed governance structure, but is extremely disappointed the Minister has decided to implement many other reforms that will have democratically elected students, staff and other representatives missing from the decision-making table. Additionally, the Minister will reserve the power to appoint a high number of Council members who will dominate Council proceedings,” says Harper.

“It is concerning that one wānanga has already announced they will be ‘unlikely to keep council places’ for staff and student positions because they would like its council members to reflect its founding iwi and other iwi. The real losers from the proposed policy changes are students and staff.”

“The proposal changes the council composition from a representative model to one that is smaller and skills-based although that is not to say the current representative model is not skills-based. This change will remove student voices from councils and silence those who are critical of cuts to tertiary education.

“Education is a public good and as the main stakeholders, students, who pay high course fees for their education, should have the right to comment, critique and decide what that education provision should look like at their institutions, staff should be able to critique their institution without fear that their jobs are at risk, and the community needs to be there to ensure public tertiary education institutions continue to contribute to democratic debates.

“The irony is that such changes are proposed despite the government acknowledging that universities are working well,” says Harper.


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