Submission on the Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill

Posted By TEU on Oct 15, 2009 |


30 September 2009

Introduction

The New Zealand Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa is the largest tertiary sector union in this country.”  Our membership currently sits at approximately 11,500 members, covering all types of TEOs in the sector.

The TEU does not support this Bill.”  Our view is that ITP governance in most instances is effective, accountable and responsive, and that where issues have arisen, current legislation has enabled the necessary interventions to occur.

We do not believe, as is stated in the explanatory notes to the Bill, that the proposed amendments retain or in some instances strengthen the representative nature of ITP councils.”  If this Bill was enacted, a key area of distinction in terms of educational delivery for ITPs – the requirement for them to be connected and accountable to their communities – will be seriously undermined.

We note that the Bill focuses on stronger financial management. ” The TEU agrees that there must be accountability by councils for the financial performance of their institutions.”  But the amendments proposed by this Bill risk financial management becoming the overriding concern of ITP councils at the expense of equally important social objectives such as equity, fairness, access to opportunity and academic quality.

Governance capability and effectiveness

Good governance

The Minister for Tertiary Education has stated that the first objective of this Bill is to introduce measures that will improve the governance capability and effectiveness of ITP councils.

The TEU acknowledges that in the past some ITP councils have met with difficulty in maintaining the financial viability of their institutions.”  The reasons for this are complex, however a fragmented approach to tertiary education provision in the past, prolonged inadequate funding of the sector and a funding model that encouraged proliferation of programmes rather than alignment to national and regional needs have all contributed.”  ITP councils largely responded to the policy directives of the day; the resultant financial crises for some institutions in our view had more to do with system failures than individual governance capability.

The introduction of the Tertiary Education Strategy by the previous government has done much to address systemic problems for the sector and has allowed councils to be more focused on what is distinctive about their institution and how best they might contribute to coordinated delivery of tertiary education.”  In fact, despite a difficult operating environment, improvements in responsiveness to changes in the ITP sector (funding, enrolments etc) and overall improvements in financial performance have been noted in recent sector reporting.[1]

We question therefore what evidence base has been used to develop this Bill?”  For instance, has an evaluation of current effectiveness of councils been carried out prior to the Bill being drafted?”  If evidence points to concerns about council capability, then surely this could be addressed by ensuring that all members undertake skills development relevant to their governance role?”  In our view the overall tenor of this Bill seems to be a retrospective response to issues that existed in the past, and that have since largely been addressed.

The Minister for Tertiary Education also states in the First Reading of the Bill that:

“Appointments to councils will be made on the basis of relevant skills and experience, especially governance experience.”  New individual duties are placed on council members that highlight the primary obligation of members to act in the interests of polytechnics as a whole.”

Certainly governance experience is a valuable addition to a council, however in our view it forms one part of a range of necessary skills and experience that a council as a whole should have.”  Equally important for example is knowledge of the region and the tertiary education sector, and the ability to represent the views of relevant stakeholder groups.

We agree that council members must work in the best interests of the ITP, however because the institution does not exist in a vacuum, members also need to reflect broader community and stakeholder concerns and aspirations, and be able to integrate these into their strategic decision-making.

Effective governance in the tertiary sector cannot be achieved with simplistic, formulaic models and compliance measures that assume a “one size fits all” methodology. As Meredith Edwards stated in her 2003 report reviewing tertiary sector governance, good governance is about strong relationships with diverse stakeholder groups and shared understanding about the goals of the organisation and how best to meet them.[2]

The TEU is concerned that the ideology that sits behind this Bill is based on an uncritical analysis of traditional private sector governance principles which also assumes such principles can be easily translated into the public sector.”  There is no evidence to support assumptions that private sector practice is better than that of the public sector. ” There is however, a plethora of examples that provide evidence to the contrary, such as the practices that led to the recent collapse of global financial markets.

 

Size of councils/stakeholder representation

ITPs are educational organisations, not corporations.”  Their distinctiveness in great part lies in the relationships they have with community, business, iwi/hapūand industry in their region, who assist the institution in ensuring it remains relevant to regional need.”  Broad representation from ITP stakeholders ensures consideration of the multiple objectives of the institution.”  Additionally the stakeholder model ensures that a range of discourses are included, creating a sense of ownership by the ITP community and providing for a better balance between financial and social objectives. ” Such a model may also improve the quality of the information available to the council (through the range of stakeholders present) and the quality of informed discussion.

In contrast a corporate-style model as proposed by the Bill risks narrowing the focus of institutional governance, as well as losing important perspectives from the institution’s stakeholders.”  Creating ‘lean, mean’ councils may satisfy certain financial imperatives, however whether these governance bodies can then deliver on the multiple goals of the organisation is questionable.

Missing also from the proposed amendment is an adequate process to ensure Māori representation on councils, specifically proposed amendment Sec. 222 AC(1)(a).”  This calls into question the ability of councils to meet their Tiriti o Waitangi partnership responsibilities and to adequately represent the aspirations of local hapūand iwi.

Māori members at the union’s recent hui-ā-motu clearly expressed their concerns about this Bill in the following recommendation:

“That hui-ā-motu unanimously oppose the “Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill” and challenge the notion that the Bill will “improve the governance capacity and effectiveness of polytechnic councils”.”  The whole purpose of ITPs is to reflect community needs and aspirations and council representation is a conduit for this to occur.”  This Bill has the potential to alienate ITPs from their communities particularly iwi, Māori, unions, staff and businesses.””  (TEU hui-ā-motu 3rd – 5th September 2009)

The ITP community also includes its staff, and the TEU is particularly concerned with the absence of staff/worker representation in the proposed council structure. ” If implemented, this would remove an important perspective from strategic decision-making, and would further alienate ITPs from those with a major interest in its success.

We also believe there should be co-ordinated employer representation on ITP councils. ” While employer and employee representatives may have different viewpoints, the presence of both of these representative positions on councils ensures in-depth consideration of issues of particular interest to staff within the institution as well as employers and workers in the region.

Cutting the size and representative nature of ITP councils so radically risks cutting ITPs off from the communities they serve.”  Because of the nature of their provision ITPs need to have a high level of engagement with their communities – this Bill will seriously restrict that ability.

Ministerial appointments

Giving a minister close to fifty percent control over appointments to a governance body for institutions that purportedly are self-regulating and autonomous organisations is far removed from National Party policy that states “We favour a high-trust funding environment, with tertiary education institutions that work to clear, simple rules with minimal but effective oversight from government.” This amendment, along with a proposal giving the minister the ability to indefinitely re-appoint ministerial representatives, indicates a desire for a very high level of ministerial control in the ITP sector.”  Such a move in our view contradicts stated National Party policy, interferes with ITP autonomy to an unprecedented degree and raises issues of credibility and independence for councils.

Collaborative governance arrangements

The Minister for Tertiary Education stated in the First Reading of the Bill that:

“…the Bill provides for collaborative governance arrangements such as enabling individuals to sit on more than one polytechnic council and allowing two or more councils to combine.”  These arrangements are intended to assist with the recruitment of suitable candidates for council membership, especially in rural areas.”  They also create a more flexible legal framework that councils can take advantage of when looking to develop innovative responses to governance issues as they arise in future.”

The TEU has frequently submitted on the need for greater collaboration in the provision of tertiary education across the sector.”  However these proposed governance arrangements raise a number of concerns for us.” Our primary concern is that this could allow larger ITPs to subsume the interests of a smaller ITP, with the risk of losing local contributions to strategic planning and development.” The proposal could also create a disconnect at the local level for ITPs with their communities and other stakeholders, and may impact on their ability to remain up-to-date regarding local development needs.

Secondly, allowing individuals to sit on more than one ITP council, especially when this is considered in light of proposed reductions in the size of councils and higher levels of ministerial appointments, could lead to sector governance being captured by a small but potentially very powerful group.

The proposal to combine academic boards has some practical merit however we believe that the logistical challenges of doing so would in most instances render it impractical.”  Most ITPs are some distance from each other and many already find setting meeting dates for local attendees to be challenging.”  Trying to do this between two institutions would only complicate matters further.

Academic freedom

With such a high level of ministerial intervention into council appointments being proposed by the amendments, the TEU also has concerns about undermining of individual rights of academic freedom.”  ITPs, like universities, are academic institutions and have a significant social role to act as critic and conscience.”  The type of changes proposed in the Bill leave the TEU with serious concerns about the potential for political interference in academic life.”  If enacted, we believe that the governance arrangements will risk contravening the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)” [3] as well as our own legislation guaranteeing academic freedom.[4]

Intervention framework

The changes proposed to the current interventions framework means that institutes of technology and polytechnics will be treated differently from universities, potentially having a much stronger reporting line directly to government.”  Again this calls into question any notion of institutional autonomy.”  Further, current legislation provides a framework for intervention that has been able to address issues that have arisen (usually financial viability problems).”  The TEU therefore sees no need or purpose in the amendments proposed.

Conclusion

The TEU is not clear what the imperative is for this Bill.”  Evidence shows that the ITP part of the sector has made continuous improvements to educational delivery and financial stability in an often challenging environment, in line with the direction of the Tertiary Education Strategy.”  Rather than responding to a particular problem, we believe that the proposals in the Bill will be seen as reflecting a particular ideological stance and may undermine public confidence in the ITP sector.

The explanatory notes to the Bill state that the ITP sector “…faces particular educational and financial challenges, which are likely to be exacerbated by an increasingly constrained funding environment.” The challenges the ITP sector and indeed other parts of the sector face are significant and long-term funding cuts.”  Placing ITP councils effectively under ministerial control and limiting their ability to engage with and represent stakeholders will not address this fundamental problem.

Appearance before the Select Committee

 

The TEU would like to appear before the Select Committee.

[1] Ministry of Education “Profiles and Trends 2007” chapter 14 “The performance of public tertiary education institutions”

[2] Edwards, M.”  2003. “Review of New Zealand Tertiary Institution Governance” Ministry of Education, Wellington, May 2003.

[3] www.un.org/ga Article 15.3. “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity.”

[4] Specifically Sec. 161(2)(a) of the Education Act

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