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March 11, 2013 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Eye on Exec

Hello and welcome back to Eye on Exec; a column that has frequented the Salient pages for many years, with reporters covering Executive meetings as the magazine seeks to fulfill one of student media’s reasons for existence: Accountability.

Previously, Salient could follow the lines of accountability that had been drawn from years of trial and error of our students’ association, whether it be by attending meetings such as these, or the ability to access any of the Association’s key documents.

The reasons for doing so were clear; VUWSA was the voice of students at victoria as its representational body, albeit unearned due to compulsory universal membership, but it had strength as the collective voice of students and was recognised by the University accordingly. It also held strength in its contribution to the student community, spending those previously compulsory student membership dollars on services that theoretically improved the time that students had at victoria. Of course, in the past there have been instances of VUWSA wasting money. But like most organisations (theoretically)—if the perpetrators are held accountable, they adapt and improve processes.With the disincentive of a compulsory stream of revenue, it took time. But VUWSA’s processes now make them a lot easier to hold accountable than many years ago.
This is no longer the case for student representation and student money. Following the University’s ‘interpretation’ of the voluntary
Student Membership (VSM) legislation and attempt to adapt to the ‘new environment’, the lines of accountability have become incredibly blurred.


As the representational body of students, VUWSA was independent from the University, and student representation autonomous by nature. In 2011, University management got the ball rolling—somewhat involving VUWSA— that would attempt to establish a new body to act as a ‘collective voice’ of students. It must be noted that not a single other tertiary institution took this approach following VSM. Why? Because the legislation did not call for it, and in victoria’s case, nor did any students. There was no consultation, no press
release, no communication with students on the establishment of the Student Forum. Such lack of information was evident in the mindsets of those—who University management mostly appointed—on the Forum once it began, with meeting after meeting discussing why they were part of a body whose reason for existence was unclear. What was known was that the Forum lacked accountability, democracy, and even a purpose—with University management confusing ‘representation’ with ‘consultation’. These were among many harsh criticisms student leaders would say privately, but never publicly for fear of compromising their ‘partnership’ with the University and its bureaucrats.



VUWSA is now contracted to provide much of the services it once ran with student money, as the Student Services Levy was raised to cover the cost of said services. This means decisions on how student money is spent is no longer public to students. Previously, Executive meetings would be where these discussions would take place. But now, as a result of the contracting with the University, Executives repeatedly move into committee, citing ‘commercial sensitivity’. The sensitive nature of course, is that in the eyes of some areas of University management VUWSA should be competing, and VUWSA is scared of saying anything that would jeopardise any future contracting or the sacred ‘partnership’.

Is a relationship based on fear sustainable? VUWSA has been contemplating for some time whether to withdraw from the Student Forum, citing issues which will be elaborated on next week. Whether they do or not will depend on what has a higher cost; their ‘relationship’ with the University, or the principles of independent student representation that have remained VUWSA’s core purpose for 114 years.


Stella Blake-Kelly


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