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October 9, 2017 | by  | in Politics | [ssba]

The Party Line

ACT Party MP Heather Roy’s Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill passed its third reading in 2011, legislating that “no student or prospective student at a [tertiary] institution is required to be a member of a students’ association,” shifting the model to one in which students would “opt-in” to join their union — prior to the passing of the Bill, all students would automatically join their union, with the option to “opt-out” available if they wished. What are your thoughts on voluntary student membership (VSM) — has it improved or weakened student representation?


Young Nats — Lower North Island

In 2011, when voluntary student membership legislation was brought to the floor of Parliament, the Young Nats joined the campaign supporting it. As an organisation, we believe that the freedom to associate is yours and yours alone, and by passing the VSM legislation this just became a clearer choice on whether you would like to join your student union, or not. We are proud to stand by this principle again in 2017.

In terms of student representation, the Young Nats completely agree that a strong student voice is required on campus; however student unions should not be the only provider of this voice. For example, the independent student representatives on the University Council or Academic Council provide another aspect of representation that should not be forgotten. As such we believe student representation has not been weakened, but rather decentralised to allow for a stronger representation of the wider student body.

— Sam Stead


Greens at Vic

While Greens at Vic are absolutely in support of a universal student union membership, we believe the weakness of student representation is a problem that goes far beyond the introduction of VSM.  

VUWSA has fostered a culture that favours hollow careerist ambitions over the actual representation of student interests — look no further than the ridiculously disproportionate number of student politicians who have gone on to become Labour Party MPs. The VUWSA exec see themselves as responsible, level-headed, middle-of-the-road mediators between students and the university establishment, because playing nice with the institutions looks better on their CVs than showing actual solidarity with grassroots student activism.

It is no wonder then that in 2011 when ACT launched their attack on independent student representation, there was no meaningful student backlash. Student politicians have resigned themselves to the “non-political” work environment, working from their offices and failing to engage with students beyond their exec. When this changes, so will the student membership.

— Kayden Briskie


Vic Labour

The 2011 Act attacked the core of student representation. The automatic membership of student associations guaranteed that every student would have their rights and interests advocated for, by a professional union, unless they wished otherwise.

The 2011 change directly decreased VUWSA’s funding, from $2.25 million in 2011 to $1.25 million in 2016. The lack of funding has meant that student associations are limited in what they can deliver. Core running costs, O-Week events, club funding, and other services have been restricted, and the ability of student unions to help students when they come into tough and isolating times, which is their very purpose, is hindered.

Student unions now run as glorified service-providers that are void of any real power, as a decline in resources equates to a reduction of influence. The allure of an individual’s rights to be excluded from an association has robbed student unions of the student representation they deserve.


About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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