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July 19, 2010 | by  | in News |
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Joyce gets heavy on the levies

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Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has indicated he will be taking a closer look at the compulsory non-academic levies that students are being charged by universities and polytechs.

In a speech at Victoria University last week, Joyce expressed concern that a number of institutions have made significant increases to non-academic levies, which fund services like student health and careers services.

Joyce said he has seen instances where students have been charged for things such as a “building maintenance levy”, “library services” or “compulsory charges for internet access”.

Joyce will be writing to the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors Committee to formally raise the issue and express his concerns.

“I would urge universities and ITPs to tread carefully with these compulsory add-ons—I wouldn’t want to see big increases after big increases leading people to think you are avoiding fee regulation by charging in another way,” he said.

Joyce will question whether all the things that are being charged for should be compulsory for all students or not, and whether part-time students should be treated differently to full-time students.

Universities will be asked to justify the fees they are charging students.

A number of universities, including Victoria, increased student services levies for 2010. Vic’s compulsory student services levy almost doubled from $275 in 2009 to $510 for the 2010 academic year. Canterbury University increased their levy from $80 in 2009 to $600 in 2010.

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh is confident that the university can justify the levy being charged to students.

“By paying the levy, students are able to access the wide range of services offered for a full calendar year, for free or for a heavily discounted rate,” he says.

“These services are necessary for students to be supported through their time at university. No one can predict when they may need to access services such as counselling, health, or learning and career support. To provide this support is fundamental to offering a learning and teaching environment where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”

VUWSA President Max Hardy says VUWSA “vigorously opposed” the increase to the levy.

“Students are the main funders, and the only users of the services, and they therefore have a right to a big say in the levy and how it is spent.”

He says he has been in touch with many students on the issue. “Some are supportive of the levy and some are not,” he says.

New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) Co-President David Do says universities need to be “upfront and transparent about how they spend students’ fees”.

He says the source of the levy increases is “government under-funding putting pressure on institution budgets”.

“Students are getting the raw end of the stick,” Do says.

Hardy says that Joyce has approached both NZUSA and VUWSA to begin dialogue on student services levies.

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Comments (4)

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  1. peteremcc says:

    If some students support the levy and some oppose it, then why did vuwsa oppose it?

  2. Ta-daa says:

    If the increase in the levy is to maintain the levels of services provided by the levy, and VUWSA is “vigorously opposed” to said rise, then does that mean that VUWSA is opposed to the levels of services?

  3. Max says:

    Pre-2010 student services were funded part by levies and part by the University’s core funds (course fees and the Government). VUWSA opposed the dramatic increase in the levy because it was a way to avoid the fee maxima on course fees (the change resulted in their being no significant new money for student services).

    Pre-2010 students (/VUWSA) did not have a significant say in how the levy was spent and the University did not seek significant student consultation on the setting of the levy. VUWSA has now ensured that students have the right to have their say on the levy they pay. Not all students agree, but it is better that they have some say over the levy they pay than none at all

  4. Tracy says:

    Here is a copy of an email I sent to Vic with a copy to Minister Joyce.
    ==============================================

    Dear Chancellor and staff,

    I have enrolled in one paper this year in term 2 and have just had a look at my fees to pay them. I was shocked to be charged $510 for a student levy as opposed to $100 last year when enrolling in two papers over two terms and $80 in 2008. This is over 400% more than last year for even less education at Victoria, than in the past.

    I may work but we are on a tight budget with two kids and this seems astronomical. I see the Student Assistance fee has also doubled but as this has gone from $12 to $24 it is not such a burden compared to from $100 to $510. Effectively this hike takes a month of groceries from my young family’s mouth.

    I have looked up the services covered. I have never used these and doubt I will ever use them. You state it is like an insurance policy, but I can assure you if an insurer hiked their premium by over 400%, they would have people lining up at the office of the NZ Insurance and Savings Ombudsman.

    Another point while you’re comparing it to insurance is – in insurance the risk is spread over a pool. The larger the pool, the more the risk can be spread out and the lesser a portion people will pay. You can not tell me that the cost of providing these services has risen 400% after being spread across a wider number of fee-paying students than ever this year. I’m not accounting genius, but I don’t think you need to be, to see the flaw in this explanation.

    It is ridiculous that a person who is doing one paper in one semester is charged the same as a full-time student.

    Your statement:
    “Evidence shows that some part-time students use student support services as much or more than their full-time counterparts. As all students have the same access to services and amenities, the University requires them to pay the same rate”

    This does not say that all part-time students use these services as
    much or more – just some – I would like to see that evidence that supports part-time students enrolling in one or two papers being charged the same as a full-time – at campus every day – student.

    Part-time students are more tied to the university where they live due to their commitments and really have no choice to move to another university.

    After paying taxes every year from 13 years old to my now 40 years and
    having no doubt that a part of these taxes have been going towards funding Universities, what I protest to the most is that now when I decide to do some part-time study – while still paying full-time taxes – I am charged a HUGE levy for services I do not use and do not wish to use. At least with insurance I can shop around and choose to insure or take the risk on myself!

    I draw your attention to Minister Joyce’s address to Victoria on 14 July 2010, in which he said:

    “Over the past year or two, a number of institutions have made significant increases to compulsory levies on all students. These are to cover things like student health, career services and the like – but the amounts being charged are in some cases growing dramatically.”

    “So I am going to have a close look at these charges.  I’ll be asking questions around whether all the things that are being charged should be compulsory for all students or not; whether part-timers should be treated differently to full-timers.”

    I have CC’d Minister Joyce as hopefully he is paying close attention to this issue and will be interested to hear how upset “part-timers” like me feel about these huge compulsory fee hikes.

    I would be happy to opt out of all of these services and pay a greatly reduced rate to cover any services too difficult to check eligibility such as IT services on campus. Or what about a pro-rated fee based on number of papers taken (let’s be honest campus is not that inviting, that when I’m just doing one paper I want to be on campus for any longer than for my lectures and tutorials!).

    I have paid the fees less the $510 and $12 increase in the assistance fee while I seek a response.

    ====================================
    Come on guys I appreciate financial constraints, but I aslo believe in equity and fairness for all. This smacks of avoiding fee regulation by increasing other compulsory charges.

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