You can’t fix what is not broken – no need to change university councils

Written By: - Date published: 2:45 pm, May 8th, 2012 - 21 comments
Categories: Steven Joyce, tertiary education, uncategorized - Tags: ,

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,

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

21 comments on “You can’t fix what is not broken – no need to change university councils”

  1. Kotahi Tane Huna 1

    Dr. Grey, you really need to get your head out of the sand. Steven Joyce wants to give jobs to his mates because that’s what he’s been paid to do. There is no rationale behind this: it is simply corruption at work.

    There is no rational argument that will sway him: you will need a New Zealand owned government for that.

    • bbfloyd 1.1

      It should also be recognizable that we are seeing yet another example of what has become an old game for the asset strippers…. Make public bodies, and institutions management unworkable so that the case for the full privatisation of any potentially profit making operations can be made with a background of dissatisfaction, and frustration with the performance of said bodies….. ACC is an excellent example of this method…

      This wouldn’t work, of course, if people were informed properly, and repeatedly, regarding the reasons behind the malfunctioning management…..But that isn’t what our fourth column is paid to do…and we seem to have become “comfortable” with the easy answers….

      I fail to understand why the debates are still focusing on anecdote, rather than the underlying agenda behind these seemingly “irrational” moves….We can argue the details forever, and while we are, the asset strippers are operating with impunity….Cut em off at the pass i say…. let’s have a long, loud debate as to why these things are being done…… let the shills bleat…. their opinions are worthless…..the more that “informed” commentators highlight the real issues, the better informed the “unwashed masses” are, the less likely snake oil salesmen like johhny “sparkles” will get away with fronting for the predators……

      • Puddleglum 1.1.1

        It could be argued that a similar process happened with the Christchurch City Council. The number of councillors were radically reduced, although the overall pay to councillors stayed the same.

        In effect, it is a strategy for reducing democratic representation and, correspondingly, making it easier for a small group of people to determine how an organisation operates. In other words, it’s a process of introducing a more authoritarian governance approach. Pretty much an introduction of the very form of governance that Geoffrey Palmer criticised in ‘Unbridled Power’.

        The Christchurch City Council, of course, also became very unpopular for its lack of transparency over decision making (Ellerslie Flower Show purchase, Dave Henderson bailout, etc. EDIT: all prior to the earthquakes).

        So it fits the pattern. 

        • Armchair Critic

          PG, do you know whether the Ellerslie Flower Show and Dave Henderson bailout were during Tony Marriott’s tenure, or beforehand?

        • bbfloyd

          Well spotted puddlegum…. It seems that if one looks hard enough, there are myriad examples of the incremental removal of the foundations of democracy…..

          the process seems to follow the same pattern regardless of what type of function is being undermined… as long as it is publicly funded, and staffed by representative boards, then it has become a target for the asset strippers….

          what i would like to ask those that are supposed to be good at finding, and exposing what has become a cancer on our society, is.. what is it going to take for them to actually do the job taxpayers spent large amounts of money training them to do…. or is replacing the whole fourth column the only realistic solution now?

    • Sadly, assuming the worst, even when it is accurate, is not a good way to convince National supporters this policy is wrong.

      • bbfloyd 1.2.1

        Quite right… which doesn’t say much for those people….. but those aren’t the ones that count… there are vastly greater numbers of people who, through either ignorance, or apathy, are allowing this behavior to go unchecked….. a properly informed, mobilised population would far outweigh, in numbers the hard core of nationals support…

        i wouldn’t be using the term “assuming” regarding this issue…. the historical records documenting the methods used previously would take “assumption” out of the picture to a large extent….

        might even be worth starting up a new blog site to correlate information on this method of asset stripping…. i can imagine it would get interesting once a recogniseable framework began to emerge….

        • Kotahi Tane Huna


        • I agree with you, even your criticism of my framing this as “just” an assumption, (when it is in fact an extrapolation from previous behaviour through a communitarian, grass roots democratic lense) but if our goal is to grow opposition to bad policy, then that’s not helped by requiring a framework of criticism that relies exclusively on analysis that only convinces people broadly on the ‘left’ of the political spectrum. If we can find a way to point out what’s going on using more universally acknowledged assumptions, then we can convince people who still support this failed government about how terrible it really is. 🙂

          • bbfloyd

            Quite right again mathew… i wouldn’t be espousing a broadly “left” or “right” approach, as i believe that those labels aren’t helpful….. It has been my experience that, when people are left to think things through for themselves, the term left, or right become meaningless…
            The only people i have come across as fitting into one category, or another are the narrow bigots who inhabit the fringes at either end of the spectrum….

            The people i allude to are the vast majority who’s politics are generally a mix of both left and right tenets…… They vote national, or labour, or whoever else depending on a range of factors at the time…

            Of course, how individuals respond/react to having accurate, properly timelined information is an utter lottery…. but i can predict that the processes going on now under the cover of “economic rationalisation”, if known, and understood, would be severely curtailed, or stopped altogether…

            it may be worth mentioning that i have known many old time tories who understood, and accepted that good governance in a democratic, egalitarian country requires adequate, competent representation free from political interference…. those are the “soft” national voters of today….fewer in number today admittedly, but they are still there…..

            i like the interpretation of “assumption” too…. i wish i had thought of that explanation…

  2. captain hook 2

    the last time the national government messed up the universities, was in the 90’s when winz was sending imbeciles to enrol and the members of the brt were on the council cherry picking out the businesses that could be hived off and sold to themselves.
    do we want the same thing to happen again?
    has joyce got some more maTES THAT NEED TO BE PAID OFF?

  3. Georgy 3

    This govt is HUGELY into fixing things that are not broken – they are going to fix and fix and fix the education system until our international ratings are down to those of countries whose politicians embrace corporate educational systems.

  4. Well Labour already broke the universities by introducing fees and cutting funding. Its been downhill since then. I can remember the massive student protests around 1989.
    The fix is that the corporates must pay for education since its a state subsidy to the cost of preparing a productive skilled workforce able to produce more surplus for the bosses profits.
    But they won’t so looks like we will have to socialise it and put it to good use in developing critical thinkers and skills for use in production for social need.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 4.1

      National introduced the fees system we have now and the student loan scheme that goes with it.
      And it was 1992 not 89
      Have you got Key/Banks memory loss ?

      • Malcolm 4.1.1

        Sorry, ghostwhowalksnz, but you have no idea what you are talking about.

        Labour introduced fees for tertiary education. Labour brought in fees of $1250 in 1990. They also deregulated the tertiary education sector and allowed universities to charge overseas students full fees of up to $24,000 a year. If it wasn’t for the massive student protests in 1989 they would have brought in the student loans scheme. In July 1989 more than 20,000 students took to the streets, the biggest student demonstrations ever seen in New Zealand, to protest Labour’s plans. 5000 in Dunedin occupied the Exchange and 7000 in Christchurch brought the centre city to a standstill.

        Since then Labour have consistently failed to support free education for all.

        • Malcolm

          I suggest taking a trip to your local library and reading the newspapers at that time.

          • ghostwhowalksnz

            So Im correct the fees of $3k + plus student loans was bought in by National.

            What has overseas students got to do with it ?

            • Malcolm

              Your comment was directed at Dave who you accused of having Key/Banks memory loss. Labour introduced fees and fully intended to introduce loans but backed down in the face of the massive student protests of …. 1989! So you were … wrong! Suck it up!

  5. muzza 5

    The key point that people appear to be missing is that if you “fix” the education system you are controlling the minds of the future even more than the education systems currently churn out non thinking fodder for the hamster wheels, now maquerading as the “developed” worlds slave work force.

    The “fixing” of the various levels of education is an attack on the minds, and taking control of the information flows, as well as research (tertiary)…There is nothing out of place here, it is simply the continuation of the theiving of the mental capacity for people to challenge the system in future!

  6. Mouse 6

    Abuse of power is the immediate thought that comes to mind…

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