CAPA is aware, as all Victorian student representatives no doubt are by now, of the proposed Legislative changes to go before the Victorian parliament ending the requirement for student and staff representation on bodies such as University Council. Under the new legislation, Council representatives would be appointed on “merit” as opposed to being elected democratically on the basis of their representation of key university stakeholders – such as students.
This evening, I received an email from University which makes fairly clear their support for this terrible proposed legislation. Initially I assumed it was an email to me as a student, which I criticised for the fact that it had come at night in the middle of the examination period. However, I then realised that I had actually received the email at my staff account – it was not sent to students. Not only do Monash appear to agree with taking away the requirement for student representation on University bodies – they don’t seem to want students to know about it.
So I present the email here in full for the reference of my fellow students and student representatives. You might like to drop Dr Finkel an email telling him what you think of his decision to exclude students from the information process at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know if you’ve received anything similar from your university.
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The Victorian Government has recently introduced a Bill into Parliament proposing changes to the membership rules for university councils and TAFE boards.
Monash University Council will meet next week to consider its response to these proposed changes, but in the light of the recent media and other coverage I am writing to you to outline some key aspects of the legislation.
Amongst other things, the Bill provides that members of university councils will be selected based on their skills rather than who they represent. This means that representative roles will no longer exist. However, although staff and students would no longer automatically be elected members of Council, they can still be appointed if they have the appropriate skills.
Additionally, under the proposed arrangements, universities will have greater flexibility in the size and composition of their councils with the only restriction being that the number of government–appointed members must be the same as or more than the number of council-appointed members. Historically, the government has always taken into account the skills requirements of the university council in making its appointments, to ensure that the educational, employment and community needs of Victoria will benefit from the best possible governance. Thus, these proposed changes allow for a healthy mix of skills, whether the appointments are from government or by council invitation, and the likely numerical balance between government and council appointments will be appropriate to a public institution.
The Bill will be considered by both houses of Parliament in the coming weeks. If the Bill is passed, the changes will come into effect from 1 January 2013.
The proposed changes are a response to the fact that Australian universities are large, complex organisations that provide valuable services to their students, staff and communities. They operate in a rapidly changing environment, and must cope with external factors such as a flatlining income, competition from Asian, American and UK universities, and rapidly evolving technology.
In this context, Monash University and other universities need to operate under governance arrangements appropriate to their activities. Good governance requires that the Council be small enough for effective strategic discussions to take place, but large enough to have a wide range of contributions from voices of experience. Every university needs to analyse its own needs and appoint its council members so that it achieves the necessary skills mix.
Students and staff members already make an important contribution to university governance via a range of University forums and processes where their knowledge and experience is applied. Given the changes foreshadowed in the new legislation, it is likely that Council will take a fresh look at its processes to make sure that student, academic and staff issues continue to be brought to its attention. As always, Council is committed to maximising the best interests of all stakeholders, including students, teaching, professional and research staff, and our communities. Over the coming months, our Council will consider how best to implement the legislative changes if passed by parliament – so that Council can continue to support Monash students, educators and researchers to ensure that the University grows to become one of the world’s very top research and teaching institutions.
I will keep you informed of major developments in this matter. If you have any queries, please email them to email@example.com.
Dr Alan Finkel AM
Chancellor, Monash University