Staff Representation on University Councils
The NSW government is currently reviewing legislation to allow for the acts governing NSW universities to be altered in a number of ways. Some updating of acts appears to be relevant and sensible. However the union is totally opposed to the push being made by some Vice Chancellors notably Professor Hilmer at UNSW to dramatically decrease the representation of staff and students on university governing bodies. We have expressed our strenuous opposition to this proposal.
The following extracts from our cubmission to the minister in relation to this matter will be of interest to members:
There are a number of changes proposed that the Union fully supports:
- The provision for the removal of the Chancellor and/or Deputy Chancellor by a two-thirds majority vote of the members of the governing bodies in the interests of the university. This would assist where extraordinary circumstances such as those raised during the Inquiry apply;
- Allowing councils to deal with matters of detail that do not have broader public interest aspects to be dealt within university rules rather than by regulation;
- And allowing governing bodies, if they so choose, to remunerate some members of their governing bodies.
We are, however, extremely concerned by suggestions that the representation of staff and students at a number of major public universities should be weakened.
You will note that our submission to the inquiry commented unfavorably on some of the trends towards the uncontested influence of corporate sector values over decision making at some universities. We gave examples of where this had acted to the detriment of academic excellence and quality output at the university. In particular trends to ignore academic standards and educational and research quality at the expense of managerial and cost driven decision making has been a major concern of our members and we believe is totally against the interests of our public universities.
Furthermore, we believe that the ascendency of these interests within university governance contradicts the agenda for quality assurance in public education currently being pursued by both the federal and state Labor governments.
We have seen recent evidence of a decline in international university rankings amongst Australian universities and we believe that the cause of this can be in part traced back to decision making processes within universities that have been devoid of genuine input from staff and students. Staff and students together comprise the constituency which has first hand knowledge of academic standards, research output and student support needs within universities. As such, we feel that disempowering the voice of this constituency only furthers the trend towards a decline in quality higher education.
We see there is an urgent need in our universities in NSW to strengthen not weaken the voice of staff and students in university decision making and to restore the important role that Academic senates have played in determining the direction of universities.
We are therefore categorically opposed to the set of proposed changes to the legislation which would allow universities generally to lessen the representation of staff or students on university governing bodies, and in particular proposals that would allow the Universities of NSW and Sydney to reduce their academic staff representation from four to only one.
We are distressed to learn that while staff representatives on the UNSW council have expressed strong opposition to the weakening of their representation these views have not been conveyed by the university to the government. We do not believe that university governance is enhanced by the majority view silencing minority voices, particularly where the majority power is disproportionate to their weight in terms of ensuring quality public education where it really counts – in the lecture theatre research centre, student support, and classroom. In fact good university governance demands a respect for intellectual freedom and the ability of minority voices to be heard. We are very pleased on this note to see the Federal Labor Government commit to legislate to enshrine academic freedom within universities. This development reinforces our view that this is an opportune moment for the NSW government to reassert the importance of staff representation within the governing bodies of our public universities.
NSW Division Secretary NTEU