Thursday, March 13, 2014

Open letter to Hekia Parata (copied to Steven Joyce)

Dear Ms Parata,

I was an elected member of the University of Canterbury's Council for 3.5 years.  During that time my contribution to the governance of our university could not have been made by outsiders.  Others on the Council, all well-meaning, intelligent people, contributed hugely from their experience.  However, they lacked experience in doing research and teaching in a university, and were sometimes motivated to propose or support actions that would have undermined research and teaching.  It is essential that Council governance includes contributions from staff.

There appears to be a movement in some quarters to treat universities as if they were merely companies.  Universities are communities of scholars, and traditionally democratic ones.  This traditional model has produced the world's finest universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge.  It is remarkable that New Zealand, with only 4.5 million people, has four universities ranked by QS as among the top 300 in the world. Several critical factors have brought this about, and foremost among them has been a determination to build them as democratic communities of scholars.  Your bill threatens to reduce them from top-ranked universities to third rate companies, and will certainly reduce their reputations and rankings.  This is terrible for not only today's students, but all those who have received degrees from New Zealand's universities and who will see their degrees devalued by your bill.

I believe in democratic, independent tertiary education councils that represent local people and local communities. Your Education Amendment Bill takes away those community voices and so I ask you to withdraw it.

Yours sincerely,
Euan Mason