Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce's threat that he can step in to decide how many students Auckland University should enrol in each department is a direct assault on academic freedom and the independence of Universities, the Green Party said today.
"Universities have a very clear understanding of what the country's economic and social needs are, and work hard to develop a balanced and strategic approach to filling these needs. They don't need to be the victims of ministerial interference," Green Party tertiary education spokesperson David Clendon said.
"Universities must remain independent of political interference if they are to fulfil their role as critic and conscience of society.
"I'm doubtful that the Minister can legally do what he is threatening.
"Both the Education Act and the Auckland University charter emphasise the independence of the university to make academic, operational and management decisions.
"By making direct demands to Auckland University over the number of engineering students they must enrol, Joyce's comments fly in the face of this.
"While we do need to encourage more engineering and science graduates, Joyce is suggesting a singular approach rather than looking at the wider problem, brought about because of decades of short sighted, cost-driven decisions.
"The National Government's hollowing out of the public service has diminished the supply of skills that traditionally flowed into the private sector from areas such as the defence forces and railways.
"To encourage more people into engineering and science we need to start with better resourcing and support for primary and secondary schools. Students and their parents need to see a long-term sustainable career path.
"Perhaps Minister Joyce should reflect on the reasons that he did not pursue a career in science when he graduated and consider whether similar disincentives still exist.
"The Government should also be developing decent mechanisms for supporting private investment in Research and Development, rather than the current voucher system, to encourage and enable more private companies to invest in on the job training of people with the right aptitude and attitude."