Smaller boards generally better

03/10/2013

Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce has released the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy.

It aims to improve the way tertiary education supports achievement, industry, innovation, and economic growth.

. . . The draft strategy contains six strategic priorities: delivering skills for industry; 
getting at-risk young people into a career; boosting achievement of Māori and Pasifika; improving adult literacy and numeracy; growing international linkages; and strengthening research-based institutions.

“Tertiary education is a passport to success. Developing strong links with employers will help ensure students have the skills they need to succeed. This in turn will increase employment, boost incomes and help grow the New Zealand economy,” Mr Joyce says.

“We are seeing increased competition from around the world both for skilled graduates and leading academics, in particular from developing nations. For New Zealand to remain internationally competitive, our tertiary institutions need to ensure their relevance in the modern workplace, expand their research links and connections with industry, attract more international students, and invest more in disciplines where they have a competitive advantage.”

More people are attending tertiary institutions and gaining qualifications which is good.

But not all those qualifications make it any easier for graduates to get jobs and employers often find a mismatch between qualifications and what businesses need.

Education has a wider role than providing meal-tickets for graduates but many students seek qualifications as a means to getting a job and in the hope it will help theme earn more. They, and potential employers, are not well served

The Minister also announced plans to reduce the size of university and  wananga councils:

“New Zealand universities would benefit from smaller, more flexible councils which support them to perform at a high level and to be nimbler, more adaptable, and better organised than big overseas universities. . .

The proposed changes would:

  • Decrease the size of university and wānanga councils from 12 to 20 members to eight to 12 members.
  • Make council membership requirements more flexible by removing specific representative requirements.
  • Require the Minister and councils to appoint members with governance capability.
  • Clarify the duties and accountabilities of individual council members.

There would be no change to the settings for the appointment of council chairpersons and deputy chairpersons, which are currently made by councils themselves. University and Wananga Councils would also be free to retain representative positions for different stakeholder groups if they wished. . .

Staff and students oppose this plan.

Mr Joyce says the councils need to be smaller so they can make decisions faster.

He says the institutions themselves should decide if students and staff should be represented.

However, student leaders say that is not good enough. They say their place at the table, and that of staff, should be guaranteed.

Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association president Rory McCourt says the Government is showing it does not value students.

The Tertiary Education Union says the proposal treats universities and wananga as if they are businesses, and their wider role in society will be lost if councils are cut back.

However, Canterbury University is already seeking a smaller council, saying it wants to improve its decision-making by going from 20 members to 12, including staff and student representatives.

The plan doesn’t prevent staff and student representation on councils, it just makes it optional.

I am amazed that councils have been operating with 20 members.

A governing body that big would be cumbersome and expensive to run.

Eight to 12 members would still allow wide representation and a range of views and experience, including staff and students if the council deemed that beneficial.

In my experience smaller boards are generally better ones enabling more input from all members which promotes better discussion and better decisions.


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