Unis need to fix sex assault, foreign student issues: Report
Kangaroo courts presiding over sexual assault cases at universities will be axed while tertiary finances will be overseen by the NSW Auditor General under a new plan to fix the state's struggling university sector.
A NSW Legislative Education Committee report released on Friday also proposed legislating free speech protections and suggested universities become less dependent on international students.
Committee Chair Mark Latham said while the state's universities were federally funded there were laws NSW Parliament could pass to force them to meet community expectations.
"NSW universities must respect the presumption of innocence and not create their own 'Kangaroo Court' and tribunal processes that circumvent the rules and standards of natural justice established at law by the NSW Parliament," the report noted.
University students accused of sexual harassment on campus can face extrajudicial proceedings where a panel comprised of staff and students decide if they are guilty and choose punishments including suspension and expulsion.
At the University of Technology, the student rule book states: "A University Student Conduct Committee is not bound by the rules of evidence and may inform itself on any matter it thinks fit consistent with (procedural fairness)."
Today's report however found those matters were best dealt with by the courts.
"The Committee considers it is critically important for universities to uphold Australia's democratic values and follow the processes of the NSW criminal justice system," it said.
It also recommended legislating the right to free speech in NSW legislation by creating statutes to protect it.
Mr Latham said: "In evidence, some inquiry participants spoke of the infringement of freedom of speech on campuses and the use by universities of internal disciplinary systems to make determinations on alleged criminal behaviours."
Legislating free speech at universities into law has the support of University of NSW Conservative Club president Sam Jacobs, who said across the state university chiefs turned a blind eye to the aggression and harassment of conservative voices on campus. "An accurate way to describe how universities operate is that you have organised left wing radicals and they engage in targeted harassment and violate the rights of conservative students and universities fail to punish (students)," he said.
"There is an obvious and apparent decision to unfairly apply their charter of student conduct and our goal is to pressure the universities to apply it equally so all students can be afforded protections under the charter."
The report, which will be presented to the government today, also recommended that the auditor general play a bigger role in overseeing campus finances in a bid to make them less dependent on international student fees.
The report said at the University of Sydney and UNSW, Chinese student income accounted for nearly 30 per cent of their overall revenue.
"Naive reliance on Chinese student income and the goodwill of the current Chinese regime are not likely to end well. Financial diversification and risk management have become imperative for the sound finances and sustainability of our universities," it said.
Originally published as Unis need to fix sex assault, foreign student issues: report