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Maharey Welcomes Dialogue With Vice-Chancellors

14 December 2000 Media Statement

Associate Education (Tertiary Education) Minister Steve Maharey has welcomed indications from the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee that they intend to work constructively with Government to find ways to address their concerns with the Education Amendment Bill (No. 2) as introduced.

The Vice-Chancellors' Committee has stated the real problems of the tertiary education sector are the result of years of funding cuts under the previous government. Their misgivings with the bill, introduced this week, appear to centre on the proposed power of the Minister to replace the councils of institutions at serious financial risk with a commissioner.

"This is a relatively small change in the midst of a major programme of reform and investment in tertiary education by this Government," said Steve Maharey. "We have already made significant funding decisions that have committed $670 million over four years to tertiary education. This includes the stabilisation of tuition fees in 2001 and the removal of loan interest for full-time and other low-income students. We have raised the maximum fees payable to Council members and strengthened the appointments process to better ensure effective governance. The Tertiary Education Advisory Commission's Shape of System report will also be out in the New Year, and this in turn will lead into major discussion about the best funding mechanisms for the sector.

"I take the Vice-Chancellors' concerns seriously. I have already written to the Vice-Chancellors' Committee and suggested that they meet with my officials to work through ways to improve the legislation, while still preserving its intent, which is to ensure the financial viability of all institutions. I understand the Committee will be taking up this offer.

"However I do need to correct one misapprehension. The Bill does not impinge upon academic freedom, which is protected by Section 161 of the Education Act 1989. In the extreme event of a commissioner having to be appointed, he or she would have all the duties of the Council he or she replaced, including the duty to preserve and enhance academic freedom," Steve Maharey said.

The Minister also clarified that the forthcoming Shape of the System report from the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission would not be dealing with issues of governance.


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