MPs told to increase student and staff seats on councils

Posted By TEU on Jun 22, 2018 |

Earlier this week the Tertiary Education Union told MPs on the Education and Workforce Select Committee that restoring student and staff voice to tertiary education institution councils was a welcome step forward, but more needs to be done.

Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, was speaking to MPs as part of their deliberations into a proposed law change that would see students and staff returned to councils by right.

The Education Amendment Bill will require all universities, polytechnics and wānanga to have staff and student representatives as full members of their councils. The changes are the result of years of campaigning by TEU members for staff to a have a greater say in the strategic direction of their institutions.

The Bill, once passed into law, will primarily affect polytechnic councils, many of which removed staff and student seats when the previous National-led Government scrapped the representation requirement.

Grey began the TEU’s submission to MPs by thanking the Government for showing that it understood the importance of ensuring staff expertise is considered as part of the strategic decision-making at every institution.

However, she said that whilst the legislation was a good first step, more needed to be done.

Grey called on MPs to amend the legislation so students and staff are given a minimum of two seats on every council. The reason, she said, is because staff bring two types of expertise to decision-making – professional and experiential expertise.

To emphasise the importance of staff’s professional expertise, Grey asked MPs to imagine running hospitals without nurses and doctors providing professional input into the decisions taken.

They bring a crucial expertise to decision making in the health sector.

By the same token, Grey said, MPs must acknowledge that tertiary institutions cannot decide on teaching programmes, core research goals, or whether to invest in a new computer suite or more tutors, without input from academic staff with professional teaching and research expertise.

Grey went on to tell MPs that Steven Joyce’s decision to remove staff from tertiary education institution councils led to a massive decline in the input staff could make to decision-making at their place of work.

TEU research published last year showed that in the tertiary sector decisions are often made with little recognition of the core role of staff. One of the most recent examples of the impact this has had is the decline of six of New Zealand’s eight universities in world rankings.

Part of the reason for the decline, Grey said, is the reduction in university’s focus on core business – teaching and learning – as well as a lack of expertise in council’s around what good teaching looks like.

Turning to the experiential expertise staff bring, Grey adapted her previous example and asked MPs to imagine District Health Boards without community and patient input.

She said if MPs agreed this was important, then they must also acknowledge that students and front-line staff have critical knowledge that must be considered as part of the strategic planning of our institutions.

Turing to the international evidence that supports staff having a greater say, Grey pointed out that corporate boards internationally are increasingly including staff. Research from corporate directors and chief executives in Sweden shows there is a critical two-way connection that comes from employees sitting on their boards.

Grey concluded by calling on MPs to include a requirement in the legislation that tertiary education institution councils increase in size to 12 to 18 seats. She said that more also needed to be done ensure Māori take their rightful place in decision-making.

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