Opinion: Don't mess with university councils, urges ADLSI

by NZ Lawyer19 May 2014
Auckland District Law Society Inc. has actively raised concerns about government proposals to change both the numbers on, and mode of appointment of, members of university councils throughout New Zealand.  Its concerns arise because of the potential of these changes to affect the quality and international standing of New Zealand’s university law schools.  At the moment these punch well above their weight in international ratings and that is something to be applauded and encouraged.

The intention is to reduce council numbers but increase the ratio of council membership appointed by ministerial appointments.   That means a possible watering down of the voice of university law school staff and alumni.  That will create a distance between those providing the educational services and those appointed by the ministry.  It may well have unintended consequences.  

In the current global world, law schools universities are there not just to deal with the education not just in a local context.  Overseas students come to our universities law schools in the expectation of getting internationally recognised law degrees.  The international standing of our universities law schools means that our law graduates will be recognised as highly educated in the fields of their endeavour.

If that reputation is diminished our university system will be the poorer.  International students will consider better opportunities in other universities law schools around the world.  Our law graduates will find overseas opportunities less open to them than at present.

ADLSI’s membership consists mostly of lawyers whose degrees have been accepted as qualifying them to work in overseas jurisdictions.  It includes students presently studying law who look to receive similarly prestigious degrees.  Because of that they are highly valued overseas.  The need for this factor to be closely considered before there is a sea change in the appointment process on university councils is obvious.

ADLSI believes that the process of consultation with the universities has not been sufficiently extensive to tease out these points.  This has been noted by Auckland University itself in its submissions to the Select Committee which is conducting hearings this week.  The internationally rated universities’ standard is for greater numbers to be on councils.  By this means, the top universities increase prestige through autonomy and diversity.  That is what the present Education Act adopts as its gold standard as an objective.  It should not be lightly watered down.

ADLSI’s full submission is available at http://www.adls.org.nz/for-the-profession/adlsis-submission-on-university-council-changes/

*Brian Keene QC, is the president of the Auckland District Law Society Inc., which represents some 2,700 members nation-wide.