26 Mar 2015

Plea for elected university council places

5:49 am on 26 March 2015

University students and staff are fighting a rear-guard action to retain elected places on university councils.

Lincoln University

So far only Lincoln (pictured) and Canterbury universities have outlined proposals for their new-look councils. Photo: Wiki Commons

A law change this year took away their statutory right to council seats, leaving it up to universities to decide if they should be there at all.

Now staff and student groups are trying to convince universities to not only include them at the table, but allow them to elect their own representatives.

So far, only Lincoln and Canterbury universities have outlined proposals for their new-look councils, which can have no more than 12 members.

Canterbury has suggested electing two staff and one student member, but Lincoln has proposed electing only the student representative, with council members selecting one or possibly two members from the staff.

Lincoln's chancellor, Tom Lambie, said appointing rather than electing people would allow the council to ensure it had all the skills it needed.

"We could look for expressions of interest, look at the skills mix that we had on council, look at the skills mix that we could be looking for to fill from the people that put their names forward. The council then could make a choice."

But Tertiary Education Union president Sandra Grey said appointing people would result in councils being dominated by the four members appointed by the Tertiary Education Minister.

"If the minister appoints his appointees and they appoint the staff and students, you're not going to get courageous speech from the staff and students," she said.

"It is important we have faith in those people, that we have faith that they can stand up and speak their mind in the council meetings."

Sandra Grey fears the remaining six universities will adopt a similar model to Lincoln.

President of the Union of Students Associations, Rory McCourt said university councils made decisions that were too important to be left to appointed members.

"Do you want the vice-chancellor or the ministerial appointees to go and choose who represents the staff voice or the student voice, and put a toady on who agrees with them? Or do you want people who are genuinely independent, representative and willing to challenge those who are in power and authority."

Universities are expected to decide on their new councils by the middle of the year.

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