Corporate fat cats take up one in four board places at Australian public universities

A union has called out a “troubling” lack of transparency plaguing Australia’s higher education sector after revealing more than one in four positions on university boards are filled with representatives from the corporate mining and finance industries.

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) research has revealed that of the 545 council positions at universities in Australia, only 137 are appointed by students and staff.

Of the 366 positions that are elected, 143 are filled with corporate executives from the consultancy, mining, and finance industries.

Major corporations being represented across public university campuses include JP Morgan, Macquarie Bank, Foxtel, Nine, Woodside Petroleum and Rio Tinto.

NTEU president Alison Barnes said a staggering rise in corporate influence on university boards had coincided with a massive influx in wage theft and record levels of insecure employment.

“Vice-chancellors raking in more than $1m each year are getting away with turning cherished institutions into corporate husks because there’s so little accountability,” Dr Barnes said.

“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.”

About 50 per cent of board appointees at the University of New England and the University of Wollongong are corporate executives, data shows, followed by Macquarie University (46 per cent), the University of Melbourne (42 per cent) and La Trobe (40 per cent.)

Perth’s Curtin University has three board appointees from the mining industry, including the managing director of the Kerry Stokes-backed oil and gas producer Beach Energy and the former boss of WA nickel miner Mincor.

The University of Wollongong’s governing council has three consultants on its board from PwC and KPMG.

Ahead of a meeting with federal and state education ministers on Friday, Dr Barnes urged leaders to prioritise a “deeply troubling” lack of transparency around how universities are governed and highlighted an excessive hiring of corporate consultants.

She suggested the government consider mandating a minimum number of elected representatives on councils after it pledged to overhaul university governance last year following the release of a landmark report.

“It’s incumbent on education ministers to step up and fix the broken governance model,” Dr Barnes said.

“Enough is enough.”

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