Submission on the Education Amendment Bill no. 2

Posted By TEU on Apr 30, 2014 |


Submission of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa on the “Education Amendment Bill no.2”

30 April 2014

  1. Introduction

The Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa (TEU) welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Education Amendment Bill (no. 2).

The TEU is the largest union and professional association representing staff in the tertiary education sector (in universities, institutes of technology/polytechnics, wānanga, private training establishments, and REAPs).

Our submission will focus on two parts of the Bill: the changes proposed to university and wānanga councils; and the changes proposed for the New Zealand Teachers’ Council.

Changes to university and wānanga councils: Our members recognise the important role that councils play in decision-making within institutions, and the extent to which these decisions can directly affect student learning and the many responsibilities of staff (within and outside the institution).  TEU members also recognise the importance of retaining and strengthening important values that underpin the work of our universities, wānanga and institutes of technology/polytechnics, including broad-based and democratic participation in decision-making and ensuring that these public institutions reflect the needs and values of our society and communities.  Our members are concerned that the changes proposed in this Bill will have a direct and negative impact on governance and decision-making within their institutions, and will do nothing to uphold democratic participation in our public tertiary education sector.

This Bill is an opportunity to change the law to restore these values of democracy, independence and representation of local communities to institutes of technology and polytechnics which were removed in 2009, by enactment of the Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill. Therefore, along with opposing the amendments relating to university and wānanga governance, the TEU also calls for the repeal of Part 15 A and all subsequent references to it in the current Act.

The proposed new council for the teaching profession: The TEU has a significant number of members who work as teacher educators, or who are academics specialising in education research and theory.  As teaching professionals, our teacher educator members have valued the relationship to their professional body (the New Zealand Teachers’ Council), including direct representation on the council and opportunities to shape professional standards and other policy frameworks for the profession.  Over time, the council has built a framework for professional standards, achieved by engagement with the profession which as a result is widely accepted by teachers.  Our members recognise the value and importance of this relationship with the council and are therefore very concerned about the changes proposed, in particular those seeking to remove the voice of teachers from the new council and changes to registration requirements for teachers.

The TEU does not support this Bill.

  1. Changes to the roles and composition of university and wānanga councils

Lack of evidence for the changes proposed for university and wānanga governance: The TEU is concerned that the legislative changes proposed for the composition of university and wānanga councils is premised on a poorly-evidenced argument that the current representative model limits the ability of councils to respond in a timely way to changing environments, populations, and skill and knowledge requirements.  The review proposal prepared by the Ministry of Education that has informed the changes this Bill seeks to implement provided no credible evidence or argument to support this claim.  Indeed the Minister himself has acknowledged that universities perform extremely well financially.  The Ministry of Education has acknowledged this also.

Our public tertiary education institutions also continue to perform well internationally, when compared to similar jurisdictions – and all this has been achieved using a proven and successful representative model for the governance of these institutions.

The review proposal argued that changes were needed to ensure universities and wānanga were able to meet a number of identified future challenges. In fact, these challenges are not new – universities and wānanga are already well underway in terms of addressing these and a myriad of other issues that they must face in an increasingly complex society.  The review proposal provided no compelling argument that a change to the governance model for universities and wānanga would assist in meeting these challenges.  That the sponsors of this Bill have uncritically adopted the review proposals in their drafting of the Bill, despite widespread critique and opposition from the sector is baffling.

Assumption that the current model is ineffective: The review proposal also assumed that the current representative model is ineffective and negatively affects the ability of councils to fulfil their duties.  Again, no evidence to support this claim was provided and the assumption was inconsistent with the proposal’s acknowledgement that universities and wānanga are performing well.  Indeed, a number of universities have spoken publicly about the importance of their representative council membership in the success of their institutions.

The Explanatory Notes for the Bill and the changes outlined in the subsequent clauses continue to perpetuate the myth that university and wānanga councils are not currently capable of meeting a broad range of objectives, including that of ‘efficiency’. We hope that the reference to ‘efficiency’ does not imply that universities and wānanga are expected to primarily serve New Zealand and international business needs for ‘training’, without concern for cultural, creative, historical, humanitarian, social, or democratic values.

Reducing size risks limiting participation: By reducing the size of council and prescribing the skill set those councillors should have, the amended Act will by de facto make it harder for groups that are normally under-represented in governance roles to obtain a seat on councils.  For instance smaller councils are likely to result in smaller proportions of women, ethnic minorities, and people who represent views outside the mainstream.  Evidence suggests that more diverse councils make better long term decisions because they need to consider and debate each decision they make, rather than assume they have agreement.

The risk to our international reputation: The changes to university and wānanga governance proposed by the amendments in this Bill risk harming the international reputation of our public tertiary institutions.  Prestigious universities around the world operate extremely successfully with larger, diverse, representative, and respected councils – why would the New Zealand tertiary education need to adopt a different model?

The Minister for Tertiary Education also has a poor record of appointing diverse and representative people with a background in tertiary education to councils in the sector. Councils should not be top heavy with any one group of society.  Just as they should not be made up of a majority of students or staff, they also should not be comprised primarily of (white, male) accountants, lawyers and business leaders.  Part of being independent from external influences is having a governance structure that is diverse enough to create checks and balances for decision-making.  If these councils are weighted heavily towards one (elite) group in society, decisions made are likely to reflect their interests.

Potential for undue commercial influence within TEIs: Clause 176E (1) and (2) permits the exclusion of universities, wānanga and ITPs from the Local Authorities (Members’ Interests) Act 1968 (LAMA) which restricts eligibility for membership of a council, by disqualifying anyone with an interest in the institution of over $25,000.

While most of the other changes proposed in the Bill will make it harder for staff, students and community representatives to participate in governing their local university or wānanga, this change will make it easier for business leaders who have large commercial contracts with these institutions to also sit on their councils.

The Ministry of Education argues in its summary of the changes that the provisions in the LAMA are unnecessarily restrictive, and that the Education Act already contains sufficient protections: requiring that interests are to be disclosed, and council members with interests are to exclude themselves from discussions and votes on related matters.

However when this provision is considered against the Minister for Tertiary Education’s track record of appointing predominantly wealthy business leaders to councils, a perception arises that councils will be less independent and more open to commercial pressure.

The changes proposed are not supported by the sector: The consultation process undertaken by the Ministry of Education, prior to the drafting of this Bill raised widespread concern about the nature and potential impact of the proposed changes to the university and wānanga governance model.

Submitters noted: the importance of staff and student representation in ensuring decision-making was thorough and robust; the importance of council members having appropriate skills, knowledge and experience, but that this must be broadly defined to capture diverse expertise beyond financial or business management skills; smaller councils risk loss of diversity from their membership, which would impact on the quality of their decision-making; the changes proposed are a serious attack on institutional autonomy and academic freedom; the proposal lacked detail and evidence to support the proposed changes and the rationale behind them.

Following the consultation on the proposed changes, a number of academics, institutions and sector leaders have expressed their concerns about the new model. Yet despite widespread concern, the Bill was introduced with minimal changes from the original proposal, leaving the TEU and its members to wonder whether the consultation undertaken was merely to ensure that part of the process was ‘ticked off’.

  1. The principles needed to govern tertiary education institutions

Universities and wānanga are characterised as repositories of knowledge, therefore the qualities of ‘nimbleness’ and ‘efficiency’ are insufficient criteria for deciding a governance structure that is required to take a long view in terms of planning and educational decision-making. A much more appropriate criterion would ensure a structure that supports important membership qualities such as wisdom, experience and understanding of the diverse needs of our society, with a strong commitment to enduring values rather than short-term calculations.

Those working in the tertiary education sector understand that tertiary education institutions have distinctive characteristics that differentiate them from organisations in the private or commercial sector, such as the need to maintain close relationships with the communities they serve, and that corporate models of governance such as that proposed by this Bill are a poor fit with the work of these institutions. The changes to membership of councils proposed in this Bill will diminish university and wānanga connection to iwi, communities and the New Zealand public, to alumni, and to those who undertake the tasks that constitute these institutions.  Further, we are concerned that narrowing the knowledge, expertise and experiential capacities of members of university and wānanga councils will mean these institutions are less able to adapt or respond to changing demands and circumstances.  The extent to which appointments can be determined by the Minister of the day (three or four appointed by the Minister, and then further by resolution of the council) also calls into question their ability to operate autonomously from Government.

For wānanga in particular, the relationship of these institutions to iwi and hapū has been largely ignored in the drafting of the Bill. Instead we are left with token representation of Māori, an improvement on current requirements, but falling far short of genuine measures to further enhance the Tiriti partnership relationship at the level of legislation.  Such a measure would send a powerful and positive signal to institutions and to communities about the nature of genuine Tiriti partnership.

In October 2012, the TEU delivered a copy of our position paper “Independence, responsible autonomy, and public control: they keys to good governance in tertiary education” to the Minister for Tertiary Education, and other MPs. In this paper we argue that:

Ensuring strong tertiary education governance is crucial if our universities, polytechnics, wānanga and other places of education are to fulfil their roles as leaders in social, economic, human, environmental, and scientific progress.[1]

The position paper also presents a number of core principles that must underpin decisions about tertiary sector governance:

  1. Diversity is necessary for the health of the tertiary education sector, including diversity between and inside governance bodies and institutions themselves;
  2. Tertiary education institutions require autonomy from the political, social, and economic elite of the nation in order to best serve the interests of all New Zealanders;
  3. Institutional autonomy enables the academic freedom so crucial to economic, social, scientific, and human discovery;
  4. Including staff, student, and community representation in the governance bodies of the tertiary education sector will ensure educational and pedagogical decisions will be at the centre of decision-making;
  5. Good decision-making in the tertiary education sector requires sound, open, and on-going input from those who work and study in the tertiary education sector;
  6. Staff, student, and community involvement in tertiary education decision-making is necessary in order for these groups to have confidence in the decisions made.

Further we firmly believe that wherever possible, representatives to governance bodies should be elected rather than appointed, particularly in regards to staff, student and alumni positions.

We are extremely concerned to see how few of these principles, which are reflected in the current legislative requirements of the Education Act, appear in the amendments outlined in the Bill.  If change to the governance structures of universities and wānanga occur, they must be based on these principles, which would ensure open and democratic processes, and a return to public control and responsible autonomy for the institutions themselves.  ‘Corporatising’ these structures will only further remove them from the communities they are set up to serve.

In order to ensure that the governance and management of our tertiary education institutions is democratic, representative and reflects the diversity of our communities, we urge the inclusion of the following criteria into the Education Act):

  1. All tertiary education councils should be dominated by lay-persons (that is people who are not employed full-time in the tertiary institution) who bring a variety of ‘expertise’ to the decision-making table;
  2. Councils should include a mix of members drawn from local communities and iwi; and from business/industry;
  3. One third of places on tertiary education councils should be filled by staff and student representation;
  4. While input from senior management into council decisions is important, less than 10 percent of the council positions should be held by management;
  5. Where possible, positions on council should be appointed through open and democratic methods, with appointments used as a last resort to ensure a balance of skills and talents on the governing body;
  6. There should be a good practice guide for all councils in the tertiary education sector and training made available to council members to ensure they are clear about their roles and responsibilities;
  7. Section 171 of the current Education Act, which notes the importance of diversity around ethnicity, socio-economic status, and gender must be retained or strengthened;
  8. The principle of independent democratic councils with staff and student voices must apply to ITPs as well as universities and wānanga.
  1. Changes to the New Zealand Teachers’ Council

The changes this Bill proposes regarding the composition of the new Education Council and changes to requirements for the teaching profession highlight this Government’s limited understanding of the profession of teaching and its lack of respect towards teachers.  The changes promote a low-trust approach to the profession which is unwarranted, unfair, detrimental to the profession and ultimately detrimental to students.

New status as a Statutory Body:  During the review process managed by the Ministry of Education, we supported changing the status of the council to a Statutory Body.  TEU teacher education members raised the issue of the current council’s limited ability to contest Government policy such as charter schools because of legislative limitations imposed on it.  We saw a change to Statutory Body as being an effective mechanism to address this concern.  However we think this status will be completely undermined by heavy-handed government control over the council’s composition.

Limiting democratic participation:  As with the changes proposed for university and wānanga councils, we are extremely concerned that this Bill is seeking to limit the voice and democratic representation of teachers as a profession.  While the new council structure provides for a maximum of five registered teachers, the new registration framework will mean that these members will not necessarily be practising teachers.  The direct involvement of those currently working in the profession will be lost in this revised council structure, and as a practice, runs counter to other professional bodies.

The exclusion of democratic voice and participation by the profession is evidenced again by the proposal that all nine appointments to the council will be made by the Minister.  When the majority of the council’s work is funded by the profession, the exclusion of as-of-right positions for practising teachers is arrogant and high-handed.  As well, the value to the council’s decision-making processes of having representatives from the profession with current and direct experience of the classroom will be lost with these changes.  As with the governance arrangements for public tertiary education institutions, we firmly believe that wherever possible, representatives to governance bodies should be elected rather than appointed.

Undermining the professionalism of teaching:  The desire to control the teaching profession is further entrenched in clauses that seek to replace the Code of Ethics with a Code of Conduct – an unnecessarily punitive measure, which will not enhance the status of teaching as a trusted and respected profession.  The teaching profession is one that has spent years working with its council to ensure consistent frameworks for professional standards are in place.  These frameworks and standards are widely accepted by teachers.  Introducing a Code of Conduct flies in the face of this good work, and signals that teachers as a profession are not to be trusted.

Bizarrely despite rhetoric from the Minister of Education supporting raising the status of teaching as a profession, this Bill seeks to reduce the requirements for a trained and qualified profession, through changes to the provisions for ‘Limited authority to teach’ (s365).  This amendment threatens our ability as a country to maintain a trained and qualified profession, and completely undermines the Government’s purported goal of improving the quality of teaching.

The more punitive approach to the teaching profession is oddly off-set by a much freer approach to the functions of the council itself – particularly around the vital area of teacher registration.  The council is free to make decisions about registration, seemingly without reference to the profession.  Additionally, the vague purpose of the council (s377) and its long list of functions leave much scope for deviation from its core responsibilities.

  1. Conclusion

The amendments proposed in this Bill seek to reduce democracy and participation in tertiary sector governance and the teaching profession.  Maintaining a diversity of representation in the governance of the tertiary education sector and the teaching profession supports good decision-making.  The loss of these voices will affect the quality of decision-making and will undermine important connections with communities, staff, students and teachers as a profession.

Footnotes

  1. Grey, S. and the Tertiary Education Union. 2012 ‘Independence, responsible autonomy and public control: the keys to good governance in tertiary education’  http://teu.ac.nz/2012/10/independence-responsible-autonomy-and-public-control-the-keys-to-good-governance-in-tertiary-education/ 
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