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March 14, 2011 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]


This month, the Government is set to legislate to irrevocably damage the ability for students to have a legitimate and meaningful voice on campus. You should care about that because, ultimately, it will affect the decisions that get made that affect you.

It means a significant power shift from students—those who have your interests as the first priority—to institutions—those with other priorities.
It means that you will have no say in what services should be provided and how much you should be paying for them. That surely has no basis in principle.
Despite overwhelming opposition from students and submitters, National is supporting a Bill from the ACT Party that will forever undermine the ability of your students’ association to advocate on behalf of students. It’s a fringe ideology based law that will achieve nothing for students—instead it will deliver higher fees, worse services, services that students don’t even want and eliminate proper student oversight of important decisions.

The current legislation allows students to hold a referendum on campus to decide whether they want a universal students’ association or not. When one was held at Victoria—86 per cent of students said yes to having a credible independent voice on campus. The Government and ACT now want to legislate away that choice.

Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA) provides an independent voice for students not controlled by the Government or the University. VUWSA belongs to the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) that has been a voice for many years in fighting for a fairer education system, reducing student debt, increasing access to allowances, and improving the quality of your education. We now have interest-free student loans thanks to the pressure from students’ associations.

Students voted for a universal association at Victoria because independent student oversight means decisions which are better for students—financially and academically. The principle: students are paying for this University, so they should have a say in how it is run and operated.

Internationally, it is shown that strong student representation improves student success; leads to better decisions for students; improves the quality of day-to-day teaching services; and leads to more responsive and appropriate student services, which are delivered more cost-effectively. It makes sense because those are the things that students care about.
What’s more—it is likely you will end up paying more in the long-term. Why? Because it is students that care most about how much they pay. It is only student representatives that can provide the student perspective—they are the ones that care most about the value for money students are receiving.

In a VSM environment, regardless of how many students join, students’ associations may very well see themselves beholden to institutions or unable to fund their activities—completely unable to provide a credible independent voice. That may not happen straight away, but over time your voice will be diminished. We have seen that everywhere VSM has been adopted. Institutions take control and the association loses its independence.
So, you end up paying more for something you have no say in. Yay.

David Do and Max Hardy are the co-presidents of the national students association, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations(NZUSA). NZUSA works closely with VUWSA to ensure that your issues and concerns are heard at a national level.


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Comments (5)

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  1. Pauly says:

    After reading this I am left with only one question; how do you explain the Auckland University Student’s Association (AUSA) situation? After becoming voluntary there was a greater level of transparency throughout the organisation, a full colour glossy student publication, more services, more advocacy staff and a cheaper membership fee.

    I do not understand what is so scary about making membership voluntary. Surely if VUWSA is providing much needed services to all students there will be no drop in membership.

  2. Max says:

    Pauly – I do not think you characterisation of AUSA is right at all. AUSA recieves a significant amount of its funding from Auckland University. So, all students pay compulsurily for AUSA anyway, but have no say in how much they pay and for what services. AUSA also benefits from substaintial assests built up during its time as a universal association where it was the largest association in the country – which is not the case for other associations.

    Despite all this – AUSA does not have a greater level of transparency than other associations. It is also at the mercy of the institution, making it extremely difficult for the association to hold the institution to account at all. It is nowhere near as effective at getting a good deal for students as it was when it was universal.

    AUSA is a very good example about how VSM doesn’t work. Students pay anyway, and get less of avoice. The concept of a students’ association, as part of the fabric of the University is completely undermined.

  3. Logic says:

    “In a VSM environment, regardless of how many students join, students’ associations may very well see themselves beholden to institutions or unable to fund their activities—completely unable to provide a credible independent voice.”

    Yea – only if they make themselves reliant on the institutions’ compulsory fees.

    Why can’t you fund an association in a voluntary environment through membership fees?

  4. Your name says:

    Come on Max – assuming you are Max Hardy, NZUSA co-president. Explain the scaremongering.

  5. Max says:

    “Logic” minsuderstands my point. It is not just funding that SAs may be reliant on institutions for – that would be acceptable in my view. Rather, it will be up to the institution largely to decide whether they want a recognised students’ association on their campus at all. So in some cases the level of membership will mean very little, as their will be no “students’ association” on campus. Thankfully, this is not the case at VUW.

    There are a number of reasons why membership fees are not suitable or sustainable in the new environment.

    First, the lion-share of a students’ associations budget goes towards “public goods”. These are services which are non-exludable and non-rivavlrous. We all benefit from them regardless of whether we pay. There are also services, which are perhaps not pure public goods but the University or the ITP want them to be available on a universal basis and it is therefore not acceptable for them to be funded non-universally.

    Student advocacy and representation (the largest share of the budget of a SA) are the best examples of this. A University/ITP should have informed student representation or advocacy as part of its decision-making processes. We all benefit and it is not acceptable that anyone should be able to freeload.

    Second, a more practical point. Students will no longer be able to pay with the compulsury fees component of their student loan, requiring them to front up with cash that they don’t have at the beggining of the year. This coupled with the fact that new students will have very little idea about their needs in the academic year makes this unworkable.

    The international and national evidence backs that up.

    Third, a students’ association (or similar) is part of the concept of a modern university. There should not be financial barriers to taking part in the democratic representation of students.

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