Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick has sought to put student voices back on university and polytechnic councils, by adding a change to the government’s Education Amendment Bill. Currently, there is no requirement for any student or staff representation, and when students and staff are elected by their colleagues, they must meet certain requirements as judged by the council.
At Victoria, student-elected candidates must have “high-level public sector policy development experience” and a “commercial acumen and achievement,” to name a few.
If passed, Swarbrick’s amendment would require two student representatives on every council, and for student and staff members elected to the council “to be treated as automatically meeting the statutory knowledge, skill, and experience requirements”.
There were 451 submissions to the Education and Workforce select committee supporting guaranteed places for elected staff and students, with 421 of those submissions commenting that university councils should have more than one student or staff representative.
“That is exactly what the Greens are standing for tonight as well as in support of this bill, and we commend this bill to the House,” said Swarbrick in Parliament.
Victoria’s university council has had two student members since January 2016. A new member is elected by students and then appointed by council members in staggered two year terms.
Alexandria Mark, a student rep since October 2016, is in favour of Swarbrick’s amendment.
“My understanding is that in last year’s council election the turnout was higher than the VUWSA elections. I believe that a democratic process for selected staff and student members of council is preferable to a process of appointment,” said Mark.
Swarbrick said that “two council members means that the student reps can share and discuss confidential information to come to robust conclusions, and support each other in putting forward that perspective”.
Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, student rep since October 2017, said that it took a while for her to find her feet, “because the high level of discussion, and the breadth of knowledge and experience that some of the other councillors bring, can be overwhelming”.
“Having two students has had real benefits — we can check in with each other and support each other, and the staggered term makes it a lot easier when first starting… it’s a huge learning curve, and a relatively intimidating setting, so it was nice to not have the pressure of being the only student voice added on top of that,” said Mark.
NZUSA President Jonathan Gee backs the proposal, saying that the move would “send a signal to tertiary institutions that community wisdom is just as important as corporate expertise when making decisions for a publicly-funded institution which should exist for the benefit all New Zealanders”.
“Universities wouldn’t exist without students, so their voices should be central to decision making,” said Swarbrick.