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Melbourne University speaks up for student and staff voice

Melbourne University’s chancellor has spoken out publicly in opposition to the state government’s legislative plan to strip staff and student seats from university councils.

Now Victorian students and staff want other universities to follow Melbourne’s lead and condemn the proposed laws.

Melbourne University chancellor Elizabeth Alexander told the state government removing these representative roles was likely to disrupt the relationship of council to the university as a whole and may cause resentment at both staff and student levels.

“We value the perspective these members bring to the debate in council and the dedication they show to their responsibilities. Their presence is a practical application of council’s commitment to consultation and transparency,” she said.

Ms Alexander said Melbourne’s council “strongly believed that the governance of universities was concerned with more than business and financial outcomes.”

“It is also about ensuring the delivering of high quality educational and social outcomes, which include broad social inclusion and equity that should extend to the membership of the Council,” Elizabeth Alexander said.

No New Zealand university chancellor has spoken out so strongly in support of staff and student representation on their councils despite facing similar changes from New Zealand’s minister for tertiary education, Steven Joyce.

The Age reports that Australian staff and students now fear that other Victorian universities, including Monash, will support the state government’s new legislation and deny students a council seat. Students and the National Tertiary Education Union have promised to fight the changes. They will lobby universities to guarantee them council representation if the legislation is passed.

Monash chancellor Alan Finkel told staff in an email that the changes would give universities greater flexibility in the size and composition of their councils. The changes would “allow for a healthy mix of skills”, he wrote.

National Tertiary Education Union national president Jeannie Rea urged Victoria’s universities to join Melbourne in opposing the legislation.

She said the union would campaign strongly for each university to give staff a seat on its council. The rules would not lead to better governance, Ms Rea said.

“There’s no problem to fix here,” she said. “I fail to see why the universities are not standing up like the University of Melbourne chancellor has.”

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