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February 21, 2011 | by  | in News |
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Ready or Not, Here Comes VSM

No Transitional Period for Students’ Associations

Students’ associations across New Zealand look set to be left in the lurch, after an amendment to ease the introduction of voluntary student membership (VSM) was defeated in Parliament.

The ACT Party’s Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill, which will see voluntary membership imposed on all students’ associations on 1 January 2012, was debated in Parliament again last Wednesday.

The introduction of VSM is predicted to reduce the membership of student associations and result in the reduction of essential services.

The main topic of debate was an amendment–Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) 203– introduced by the Green Party’s David Clendon. If passed, this amendment would have smoothed the transition to VSM by channelling extra funding to student organisations for the next two years.

The amendment was defeated, meaning that when the bill is passed, student associations will have no extra time to adjust to working in a VSM environment.

Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association president Seamus Brady is concerned that this will place unreasonable pressure on students’ associations.

“If [ACT MP] Heather Roy and the Government weren’t committed to destroying students’ associations and students’ ability to have a meaningful voice, they would support sensible amendments like this.

“It is unreasonable to expect institutions and students’ associations to negotiate funding arrangements and to carry out massive organisational change in such a short period,” he says.

“The select committee recognised this in 2010 and pushed the commencement date out to 1 January 2012—they knew that any transition as a result of such reckless and irresponsible legislation would take longer than allowed at the time.”

ACT on Campus president Peter McCaffrey notes that Clendon’s amendment was based on the Australian government’s introduction of VSM, despite the legislation for the two being different.

VSM was introduced in Australia in mid-2006 but, by 2010, legislation had changed to allow universities to charge up to $250 in compulsory fees to pay for services such as sporting facilities, childcare and counselling.

“Under the Australian bill, membership was made voluntary, but universities were also banned from collecting any fees that weren’t directly related to education, such as for clubs, the gym, welfare or health,” McCaffrey points out.

“The New Zealand bill makes membership to students’ associations voluntary, but still allow universities to collect fees for these essential services. Moreover, at most NZ universities, most of the things listed in the Greens’ SOP are already funded by the university, rather than the students’ association.

“For example, Victoria University—not VUWSA—funds Student Health, Student Learning Support, Financial Support, the Creche, Disability Support, Counselling, Career Development, Accommodation Service and the Recreation Centre—meaning all these things will be completely unaffected by the VSM bill.”

Brady believes that VSM will have a negative impact on the university experience in New Zealand.

“It is unfortunate that such a tiny group of supporters, and a party that is languishing at 1% in the polls, is committed to wrecking the voice, experience, and quality of education of thousands of students at Victoria and around the country currently enjoy. This Bill remains a ideological solution looking for a problem that simply doesn’t exist”.

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About the Author ()

Elle started out at Salient reviewing music. In 2010, she wrote features and Animal of The Week, which an informal poll revealed to be 40% of Victoria students' favourite part of the magazine. Alongside Uther Dean, she was co-editor for 2011. In 2012, she is chief features writer.

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