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May 11, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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President’s Column

This week students at Victoria have an opportunity to hear from national student leaders and discuss the future direction of the student movement.

Representatives from the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) will address VUWSA’s Student Representative Council (SRC) meeting, on the invitation of your local association and as part of a wider strategy to increase engagement of the student body nationally.

NZUSA is a federation of student associations, and is the largest student body in the country. NZUSA currently represent students at universities, colleges of education and polytechnics. NZUSA has 15 constituent associations from across New Zealand, representing about two thirds of public tertiary equivalent fulltime students (EFTS) – in sum, approximately 180 thousand students.

VUWSA and other constituent associations fund NZUSA with a portion of your VUWSA membership levy. VUWSA also fund other national student organisations such as University Sport New Zealand (USNZ) in a similar way.

NZUSA, or the New Zealand Union of Students (NZNUS) as it was known then, was founded in 1929 with Victoria, Otago, Auckland and Canterbury students’ associations as its founding members.

To begin with the organisation concerned itself with debating, sport, internal affairs, travel and foreign affairs. As the organisation grew NZUSA set up a national office in Wellington and extended its work to include other aspects of students’ lives. For instance, NZUSA played an influential role in the establishment of health care services at universities.

From the late 1960s NZUSA was active in various political struggles, both here in New Zealand and overseas. NZUSA opposed conscription by the New Zealand government to the military during the Vietnam War, was heavily involved in the anti apartheid movement, and campaigned for homosexual law reform.

Education, of course, has remained at the heart of the organisation’s work.
For much of its history NZUSA has campaigned for improved access to student bursaries, quality teaching, and for university and student support funding.
This focus changed with the 4th Labour government’s introduction of user pays education in the late 1980s and the introduction of the student loan scheme by National in 1992.

Since then much of NZUSA’s focus, particularly in the 1990s, has concentrated on campaigns and lobbying surrounding student fees, loans and allowances.

In recent years NZUSA has laid claim to various policy wins, notably student loan interest write offs enacted in 2006, and lowering the age students are means tested for student allowance entitlements according to their parent’s income (from 25 to 24 years of age), which took effect in 2008. These modest government concessions were partially the result of longstanding political work undertaken by NZUSA and its member associations.

However during the last decade, particularly under the previous Labour administration, there was reluctance by NZUSA and various student executives’ around the country to run protests and pubic awareness campaigns as NZUSA had in the past. This was particularly the case after the interest write off promised during the 2005 general election, and introduced on 1 April 2006.

Indeed, some feared students would appear greedy after getting one or two crumbs out of the previous government. NZUSA has also faced criticism for being in bed with the Labour Party – despite the fact that Labour presided over student debt ballooning from $3 billion in 1999 to $9 billion in 2008.

Relying on politicians and the parliamentary circus alone is at best very limiting, and often down right depressing and demoralising. In recent years the horizons of student leaders have lowered: once they demanded an end to student debt, many now feel they can only achieve small concessions from politicians during close election campaigns.

NZUSA’s overall role is to provide a national voice for tertiary students. It is responsible for a wide range of tasks, including the coordination of national student campaigns, undertaking research into the impact of tertiary education policy and monitoring the quality of your tertiary education by representing students on national committees. This work is important, and can help bring about positive change for students.

NZUSA exist to advocate for the common and collective concerns of students. NZUSA is directed by students, for students. As such, it is important that students provide input on the work that NZUSA is doing, in order to help rebuild the kind of student movement that you want to see.

VUWSA look forward to seeing you at the SRC and discussing how our national student body can best be effective and achieve optimum outcomes for students.

In solidarity and service,

Jasmine Freemantle

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