What exactly is the Minister of Tertiary Education trying to fix by radically changing the councils that govern our tertiary education system? In 2009 the National-led government ripped out staff, student, and community representatives from polytechnic councils and replaced them with four ministerial appointments (who appoint the remaining four additional board members). Now Steven Joyce is setting his sights on university councils. Why?
Is it to make university councils leaner and more efficient?
Joyce should take a quick look at what has happened under the new polytechnic council structure before he makes moves on university councils. The size of the polytechnic councils might have dropped but the costs of running them have not.
At Wintec for instance fourteen people sat on Wintec’s council before the reforms and collected $93,000 in council fees. Since the reforms eight councillors, appointed by either the Minister of Tertiary Education or the council itself, have had pay rises of between 17 and 131 percent, and collected just under $109,000,despite being half the size and less representative of their local community. At Unitec the 15 councillors in 2009 received a total of $99,000 (an average of $6,600 each). The eight councillors in 2010, who were appointed by either the minister or the council itself, received $116,000 (an average of $14,500 each). And NorthTec’s 2010 annual report shows that it spent over $500,000 more on consultants and legal fees than it did in 2009 – up 195 percent from $286,000 to $844,000. Meanwhile the 2010 Whitireia annual report shows an increase in consultants and legal fees of $52,000, up 18 percent on 2009.
So if saving taxpayer dollars is not behind the changes in tertiary education governance, does Minister Joyce see a way of improving decision making for our universities, their staff, students, and the communities they serve?
On this matter he might want to look to the world’s leading universities such as Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge. The governance structures of world-class universities include staff representation, and in many cases student and community voices as well. Inclusion of professionals and grass-roots representatives is good practice because the ‘business of education’ requires not only ministerially-appointed financial and management experts, it requires experts in education to ensure the goals and strategies of the university meet teaching and learning needs.
Perhaps Mr Joyce feels an approach to education governance which values the voice of educational professionals and the communities is outdated (having worked for universities for hundreds of years), so he has turned to the cutting edge in the business world to model his approach to good governance, leadership, and management?
The financial collapse of 2008 quite rightly had the public doubting the way boards governed the world’s major corporations, and led to demands for greater transparency and oversight to meet the expectations of shareholders. Why? Not because this approach to good governance meant a better return to shareholders but because it meant something much greater:
Our examination suggests that almost universally, [transparency and oversight] matter a great deal in terms of corporate confidence, integrity, and the ability to manage risk and make sound decision – all of which are vital in the bigger picture to the health of global markets, our own nation’s economy, and to the companies themselves (Deborah Scally, 2011, Boardmember.com).
Another demand internationally has been the push to ensure “diversity in the boardroom” because that leads to better decision-making. Look at what the New Zealand Institute of Directors said when seeking to get a student to join the board of Upstart, a business incubator based in Dunedin:
“The IoD backs the drive towards greater diversity in the boardroom – whether it is of gender, ethnicity, age or background” says Stuart McLauchlan, chair of the Otago Southland branch of the IoD. ” In this case it not only makes business sense to hear the student viewpoint in board discussions, but finding and developing emerging talent represents an investment in the future”
It seems that the proposal to make university council’s smaller, ministerially-appointed boards cuts across all we know about good governance.
For the tertiary education sector best-practice models based on knowledge from world-leading universities and Fortune 500 companies would dictate that council members should come from a diverse range of backgrounds (including staff and student representation) and hold a diverse range of skills. Added to this it is clear that best-practice means the councils will be chosen and will operate in an open and transparent manner. Mr Joyce is proposing exactly the opposite for our currently well-run universities.
Dr Sandra Grey
TEU’s national president