The Tertiary Education Commission has recently released a report designed to “guide the future direction and development of the country’s tertiary education sector,” which also outlines the Commission’s expectations of the role that stakeholders should play in universities.
The Tertiary Education Commission identifies students as key stakeholders of tertiary education organisations. Understanding and addressing the needs and priorities of students should therefore be a key part of universities’ investment plans, the Commission says.
To implement these guidelines, the Commission has established the role of Stakeholder Engagement Managers, who are responsible for ensuring that the concerns and ideas of stakeholders – who in addition to students also include industry leaders, iwi and Maori leaders and Pacific communities – are incorporated into universities’ investment plans, upon which government funding is based.
Victoria University’s investment plan is currently still a draft document, subject to further discussion with the Commission, according to Communications Manager Madeleine Setchell.
“Students are recognised as one of the University’s most important stakeholders,” says Pro Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh, revealing his mastery of the understatement. He did not elaborate on which University stakeholders he considered more important than students. He added that student engagement occurred at various levels on many issues.
“At a governance level, there are students on the University Council and its Committees and on the Academic Board, Faculty Boards and the University Research Committee,” Walsh says. “I also meet regularly with the VUWSA President, Geoff Hayward. Many other committees … also include student representation.”
“In 2006 the Chancellor and I held a forum to discuss the issue of fees with students. This was a constructive dialogue and we will hold another forum this year.”
Last year’s forum did not prevent a 5 per cent fee increase – the highest possible under government policy – despite two opposing votes from student representatives on the University Council.
Concern has been expressed among students that the University’s engagement with its key stakeholders has been insufficient.
VUWSA President Geoff Hayward says the University is deceiving the TEC over the level of engagement with stakeholders.
“Currently, the approach at VUW has been to deceive the TEC that VUW and students are already well engaged. In fact the cooperation between VUW and VUWSA in improving stakeholder engagement has been repeatedly misrepresented by VUW in the investment process, to the extent that everything we have been suggesting is already happening,” says Hayward.
“We want increased stakeholder engagement, and we want the TEC to know what needs to be done to achieve this.”
According to NZUSA Co-President Josh Clark, there is a “justified feeling” that while institutions are aware of issues that concern students, little is done to address them. “[Universities] already engage with students [but] a lot of it is just ticking boxes.”
Clark further criticised the amount of student representation on Victoria University’s Council.
“One student [present] around the Council table isn’t enough.”