Report reveals unelected corporate stacking of university boards

Board stacking at Australian universities sees corporate-heavy governance, says the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).
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Australian universities’ governing bodies have become stacked with unelected big business appointees, a new report has revealed.

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) research, released on Friday, shows university councils and senates are increasingly filled with people from the corporate world.

More than one in four positions (27 per cent) on university governing bodies are corporate executives or consultants.

Union says university governance system is broken

The NTEU said the Australian universities’ broken governance system was a top agenda item when federal and state education ministers met on Friday.

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The University of New England (50 per cent), University of Wollongong (50 per cent), Macquarie University (46 per cent), University of Melbourne (42 per cent) and La Trobe University (40 per cent) have the highest number of corporate board appointees. 

WA’s Curtin University has three appointees from the mining industry and two from financial services, far outstripping the two current staff members on its council.

Consultants and corporate executives fill boards

In April 2024, of 545 positions on university governing bodies 366 were appointed, and of these 143 were corporate executives or consultants from for-profit organisations. 

Just 137 were elected from the staff, students and graduates of the institutions they serve.

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“It’s little surprise the rise of big business appointees on university boards has coincided with an explosion in insecure work, wage theft and poor governance,” says NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes

“We’re seeing the very worst traits of big business infecting our public universities. Vice-chancellors raking in more than $1 million each year are getting away with turning cherished institutions into corporate husks because there’s so little accountability.

Dr Barnes says “no one is more committed to sustainable universities that deliver for Australian society than staff and students”. 

“Yet we’re now in a shocking situation where they are outnumbered by big business appointees with little to no experience in higher education. There must be a minimum number of elected staff and student positions on each university governing body.”

She says the union is “urging federal and state governments to make governance reforms a top priority at today’s meeting”. 

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“Under the broken governance model, there has been $170 million in wage theft from staff and two-thirds of the higher education workforce is employed insecurely,” Dr Barnes says.

“Governments must respond to the Universities Accord with major changes to governance or Australia’s future is at risk.”

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