State Government halves undergraduate representation on University Council

Words by Tom Haskell and Jenny Nguyen

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The University of Adelaide — Mitchell Building. source: National Trust of South Australia

On Tuesday, the State Government passed a series of amendments to the University of Adelaide Act 1971 which will see undergraduate representation on University Council reduced from two students to one.

Academic staff and general staff of the university will also have their representation cut from two positions respectively to just one each. The biggest reduction in representation will be for university graduates who, having held three positions in the past, will be reduced to just one position. There were no changes to postgraduate representation, however, who will still remain with the one member on Council.

This reduction will see student, staff, and graduate representation cut from 10 to 5 on the University of Adelaide Council — an organisation which oversees, among other things, the management of the University and the approval of large commercial projects.

Speaking to On Dit, SRC President Mark Pace expressed his profound disappointment towards the changes.

“South Australian and Federal Labor both have policy platforms which support the principles that students and staff should be involved at the heart of university decision-making processes.

“The decision to reduce the number of elected staff and students on University Council is extremely disappointing to the university community, and a betrayal of core Labor values.”

The decision followed a series of discussions and consultation with students, staff and stakeholder groups. There was public outcry over the controversial proposal and the University Council’s processes when the university convened its annual meeting in April.

As first reported in On Dit 85.2: Chancellor of a Lifetime, the members of the National Tertiary Education Union cited the reduction in elected representatives amongst its primary concerns and criticised the university for its lack of consultation. Additionally, Associate Adjunct Professor Dr John Keeler pointed out that the Council currently operates in “a way that cannot be regarded as transparent” and questioned whether the council can operate with the confidence of staff and students to whom it ultimately represents.

Earlier this year, On Dit reached out to the Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Susan Close, asking about the government’s consultation processes for the proposed changes. The Minister’s Office replied:

The Government has developed the Bill in close consultation with Flinders University and the University of Adelaide.

I am advised that the University of Adelaide has provided formal advice of the proposed amendments to the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and that staff have had access to minutes of Council discussions on the issue. In addition, Minster Close has met with staff and student representatives from both universities to discuss the proposed amendments

The Minister’s office reiterated that thorough consultations with groups occurred, which appears to be contrary to what the University had presented.

Other changes to the Act include having the university present the Education Minister a report on the operation of the University during the calendar year, a report which was previously submitted to the Governor.

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