Qld government approves student and staff cuts to university management

October 13, 2017
NTEU branch president Jonathan Strauss.

The Queensland parliament has given its stamp of approval to another corporatisation measure for universities on October 10. A new law reduces staff and student representation on university councils or senates and changes other parts of the seven universities’ power structures in favour of management.

University managements, headed by their vice-chancellors, have been pushing for years for their governing bodies to have less staff and student representation. These are the elected members of the councils.

At James Cook University (JCU) there are five staff and three students (36%) among its 22 council members. The new council need only have a minimum of 25% staff and students in a council of 11–21 members, the difference to be made up by appointments made by the council itself. Council membership is expected to be in the lower half of the range, with elected representation no more than four in total.

The law envisages similar changes at the other universities in the future.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) argued against the bill. In a submission to the parliamentary committee on the bill, the union said: “Elected staff representatives are those best placed to challenge ... senior management and hold their decisions to scrutiny. Someone who is appointed by the vice-chancellor is unlikely to question the vice-chancellor. There is no need for the changes proposed to the size and composition of governing bodies and our members oppose those changes.”

The NTEU also criticised the new law because it opens the way for university councils to hand over to the vice-chancellors more or even all of their powers about who can make decisions within each university.

The state Labor government proposed the law. Its parliamentary speeches acknowledged the NTEU criticism. For union members from Townsville, where the main JCU campus is, this was a step up from the silence of Craig Crawford, whose Barron River seat surrounds the campus in Cairns. But they all voted in favour regardless. One Liberal National Party MP even voiced similar criticisms to the NTEU, since it is fairly obvious that more management power over council appointment is unlikely to lead towards more council members who will question management, but gave “bipartisan” support anyway.

There was just one non-hypocrite left in the chamber: the independent member for Cairns Rob Pyne, who had been consulting with the NTEU through the various stages of the discussion, voted against.

JCU NTEU branch president Jonathan Strauss told Green Left Weekly: “The JCU management has been at the forefront of this attempt to wipe out the idea of self-government by university communities. We appreciate that Rob Pyne asked workers’ representatives for the other side of the story.”

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