Business conflicts of interest allowed on councils

Posted By TEU on Feb 27, 2014 | 2 comments

Tertiary Update Vol 17 No 3

University and wānanga communities are busy debating the minister’s proposal to remove staff, student and community voices from their councils. However, one aspect of his proposed changes has passed largely unnoticed. That change is a proposal by the minister to exclude universities and polytechnics 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 the minister proposes will make it harder for staff, students and community representatives to have a say in governing their local university or wānanga, this change will make it easier for business leaders who have large commercial contracts with universities and polytechnics to sit on 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 TEU national president Lesley Francey does not believe the Education Act restrictions alone are sufficient.

“What is the minister’s motive for making it harder for ordinary local people to be on councils but easier for business leaders with large commercial interests in polytechnics and universities? Even if the minister, who has a record of appointing predominantly wealthy business leaders to councils, does not misuse this loophole it still creates a perception that councils are less independent and more  open to commercial pressure.”

“Those business leaders will still need to stand down from discussion about specific issues to do with their business, but their presence in the room next door might make it harder for their fellow councillors to oppose proposals that are not in the best interest of academic freedom, independent research or quality education.”

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. University rankings slide keeps pace with rising class sizes
  2. Hoping bargaining will avert UCOL strike
  3. Workplace bullying hurting thousands
  4. Human Rights Commision mulls ageism allegation on student allowances

Other news

Director of Aoraki Polytechnic is confident it can hit this year’s target rate for students enrolled to study at its Oamaru campus, as it aims to bounce back from a $2 million loss last year – Otago Daily Times

From the second semester Unitec will offer scholarships to two transgender students per year. Student Support Alison Dow says the school decided to create the scholarships because it recognises there are still significant barriers to success for transgender people – Stuff

“The increase of the minimum wage to $14.25 is unfair given several years of stagnating wages, an economy that is starting to grow, and widespread concerns about how that growth will be shared”- CTU Economist Bill Rosenberg

Activists at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Brandeis University in the USA have asked presidents (vice-chancellors) to tie their wages to staff salaries, including cooks and janitors – Inside Higher Ed

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