The Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) and the University of Otago hosted the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) Conference in the last week of the semester break.
Delegates from around the country descended on Otago to discuss issues pertinent to their mandate and listen to a number of speakers, including Tertiary Education Union secretary Sharn Riggs and Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce.
The most dramatic moment of the conference was a bizarre outburst from Otago Polytechnic Students’ Association (OPSA) President Meegan Cloughley, who appeared to pull the association out of NZUSA, believing they did not care about the issues she has raised. There were no tears, but her voice was wobbly.
Despite this, NZUSA Co-President David Do said the conference had some very clear goals, and was happy with the way the conference went.
“Our conferences aim to help reps understand current issues in the tertiary education sector, provide information and training to help reps do the best job they can as a student representative, and give reps the skills to take on the current challenges affecting their students.”
2010 has been a particularly tough year for NZUSA, with the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill hanging over the heads of the association and its members.
“We are midway through what has already been a challenging year for the student movement.”
Despite the difficult times, Do remains resolute.
“National student representation has had a long proud history of over 80 years, and we are committed to keep working hard for students into the future,” Do says.
“NZUSA and student associations have worked hard since the end of January conference, with fantastic success of the Save Our Services campaign in getting over 4500 submissions against the VSM bill, being a strong voice for students in government policy and in the public arena, and continuing to do what local associations do best—supporting and advocating for students at a local campus level.”
Highlights of the conference included a speech from Tertiary Education Union secretary Sharn Riggs, who outlined the importance of staff and national representation in the tertiary sector.
Tertiary Minister Steven Joyce lost his NZUSA conference virginity addressing the members and fronting up to some challenging questions about the direction the National Government is taking in tertiary education.
NZUSA lobbies the government on behalf of students’ associations. Recently OUSA has been vocal about its displeasure with the services NZUSA has been providing, and has been calling for a restructuring.
“If the organisation was receptive to change and responding to current demands it would be a lot better,” OUSA President Harriet Geoghegan says.
“If it wasn’t for VSM the decision would be a lot easier.”