Student representation threatened: Union

STUDENT representatives at Monash University’s Gippsland campus are concerned their roles will be eroded under the Education Legislation Amendment (Governance) Bill 2012, introduced in Victorian parliament last month.

Monash University Gippsland Student Union president Ben Rogers said if the legislation was to come into effect, representative roles would be abolished and Monash would be able to nominate its own candidates deemed “skilled enough” for a place on the University Council Board.

“It seems unlikely a student would fit the definition of ‘skilled’ in reference to sitting on a Monash council,” Mr Rogers said.

“The fear stems from a lack of trust from previous issues where Monash has used legislative guidelines as a minimum and refused to provide anything beyond them.

“To believe that Monash will have student and staff representatives on their council is a belief without solid evidence or reasoning.”

In a staff announcement late last month, Monash University Chancellor Dr Alan Finkel AM said under the proposed arrangements, universities would have greater flexibility in the size and composition of their councils, with the only restriction being the number of government-appointed members must be the same as or more than the number of council-appointed members.

“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,” Dr Finkel said.

“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.”

Under the legislation, positions for elected staff and student representatives will be abolished from university councils and allow for appointments to be based on possession of “relevant expertise”.

State Opposition figure and Greens Education spokesperson, Sue Pennicuik, said in a statement the legislation would “silence staff and students and rob university councils of their valuable perspectives and commitment to universities as public institutions”.

The legislative changes would also apply to TAFE boards.

According to an article in The Age recently, more than 220 academics have signed an open letter protesting against this change and calling on the State Government to abandon the bill.

Higher Education Minister Peter Hall was quoted as saying the government was introducing the changes after extensive discussions with chancellors and vice-chancellors from Victoria’s universities.