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September 21, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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President’s column

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This Monday the University Council will meet to determine next year’s domestic fees, as recommended by the Council’s Finance Committee last week. Domestic fees for all Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) courses, along with those for New Zealand School of Music (NZSM) students will be set. The Council will also consider what Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh has described as a likely “substantial” increase to the Student Services Levy.

VUWSA and the University recently hosted a Student Fees Forum, in order to communicate to students the issues considered by Council when setting student fees. The presentation given by the Vice-Chancellor emphasised the University’s objective of ensuring quality degrees for students, against a backdrop of the Government’s 2009 Budget and the University’s financial situation.

The Vice-Chancellor drew attention to the impact of the Government’s Budget on the tertiary sector, highlighting that the University will continue to lose revenue over the next three years, and that the Government has made no commitment to continue annual inflation adjustments beyond 2010.

The Vice-Chancellor alluded that areas the University wants to increase investment in – excellence in learning and teaching, student services and facilities, research, and the recruitment, retention and development of high quality staff – would be increasingly difficult under the current financial climate and revenue systems.

The University receives about one third of its revenue from student fees. The Fee Maxima Policy prohibits Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs) from raising fees by over five per cent without exemption from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). The TEC claims the “purpose [of the policy] is to promote affordability of study for learners and a level of certainty about the fees payable throughout the course of study for a qualification, while allowing TEOs some flexibility in fee-setting.”

The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) agrees that the current policy provides certainty for students (and institutions), in that it affords some predictability about the costs involved in study. However, the NZUSA and the VUWSA also emphasise that the current system does little to maintain affordable tertiary education, considering that the policy has resulted in continuous fee increases year after year.

While the VUWSA is concerned at the prospect of yet another round of fee increases for students, we are particularly alarmed at the forecast increase to the Student Services Levy.

At present, the Levy ensures students have access to the following services:

  • Accommodation Service
  • Career Development and Employment
  • Counselling Service
  • Financial Support and Advice
  • Student Health Service
  • Student Learning Support
  • Te Putahi Atawhai (Manaaki Pihipihinga mentoring programme, Kaiwawao Maori, Maori and Pacific Support Coordinators)
  • New Student Orientation and transition programmes

The University is reviewing the current Student Services funding model. The Vice-Chancellor has stressed the importance of ensuring that these services are preserved and that there are no barriers to access (such as user pays). In order to ensure the maintenance (and potential growth) of these services, the University have indicated that a substantial increase in the Levy is on the cards. It is VUWSA’s position that services funded by the Levy should be maintained to at least the current level, and ideally enhanced and extended.

The University have proposed that a governance board be established in order to ensure students have input into decisions about how the Levy will be spent, should Council approve a restructure and increase of the Levy. While the Association supports in principle the establishment of such a partnership with the University, we also maintain that the University should make a meaningful contribution to the provision of Student Services. The University of Canterbury—who recently increased their Levy from $60 to $600—has committed to making a twenty five per cent contribution towards service provision.

The Association urge Council members to think seriously about the role of the University in ensuring the continuation of services that improve student retention, completion, and success. The provision of Student Services has positive results for the University, and those positive results should be recognised by way of funding.

In solidarity and service,
pressig
president@vuwsa.org.nz

Students interested in showing their opposition to likely increases in student fees and the Student Services Levy are invited to meet in the Quad on Monday 21 September at 3.30pm. Contact VUWSA Campaigns Officer Sam Oldham at sam.oldham@vuwsa.org.nz for further information.

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