Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Students face lockout as uni sets fees

Ban a reaction to protests last year in which security guards were badly injured.

The same increase last year triggered protests, and the University of Auckland has braced itself for more trouble when its council meets in October. Photo / Richard Robinson
The same increase last year triggered protests, and the University of Auckland has braced itself for more trouble when its council meets in October. Photo / Richard Robinson

Students are to be locked out of a meeting to set new university fees after protests badly injured two security guards, one of whom needed surgery.

The injuries, which occurred during protests at last year's meeting to discuss fees, have already cost Auckland University $17,000 and the bill is estimated to top $30,000.

Staff are now so worried about a repeat of the incident - details of which have not previously been made public - that they are taking preventive measures.

How much more the country's 152,000 university students will pay next year will be decided in the coming months.

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and Massey University have already settled on a 4 per cent rise for domestic students in 2014 - the maximum allowed by the Government.

The same increase last year triggered protests, and the University of Auckland has braced itself for more trouble when its council meets in October.

The meeting will be held in a venue "that can be adequately locked down right from the start and does not require us to relocate council members and staff following a breach of security", an internal memorandum signed by vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon and chancellor Ian Parton reveals.

An obligation for the meeting to be public will be met by a live video stream being broadcast to another location.

However, that reasoning has been dismissed by the Tertiary Education Union, which says student debt is of growing concern. "If they are prepared to increase the fees to a level where they can anticipate student dissatisfaction, then they should be man enough to front up to the decision," said national president Lesley Francey.

Fee increases and growing international student numbers were being used by universities to plug a gap in government funding, Ms Francey said.

The University of Auckland document outlines the chaos that unfolded during last year's fee-setting meeting, when 25 students were permitted to attend and a video stream was set up for others.

Protesters activated a fire alarm at the rear of the clock tower to disable door locks and about 15 pushed past security and shoved and verbally abused some council members.

The university said two UniSafe security officers injured in the protests were subsequently off work for 50 and 90 days each, with one undergoing surgery.

Their treatment for wrist and knee injuries and compensation had cost the university $17,000, with ongoing costs estimated at more than $30,000.

Yesterday, a university spokeswoman said no charges were laid in relation to the assaults as the offenders could not be identified.

It was too early to say what fee changes would be proposed for 2014.

Studying towards a bachelor of commerce degree at the university costs $5576 a year in fees.

Those behind last year's protest could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce said that, despite tough economic times, Government funding of universities had grown 16 per cent since 2008.

Fee revolt

* Most universities to decide next year's fees in coming months.

* Last year, New Zealand's eight universities put up domestic fees by 4 per cent - the maximum increase allowed by the Government.

* Massey and AUT have already decided on a 4 per cent hike for 2014.

* University of Auckland to lock down fee-setting meeting in face of chaos at last year's deliberations.

- NZ Herald

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