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July 25, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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PREZ COL – Jav-Mah

The Conservative Party in the United Kingdom have recently made moves to strengthen the role students’ associations play in their tertiary education system.

Here in New Zealand we are faced with the painful irony that an equivalent Government is seeking to do the complete opposite.

By continuing to support the ACT Party’s radical and unnecessary Voluntary Student Membership (VSM) Bill it seems National just doesn’t think enough. Rather than listening to 98 per cent of submissions against the Bill (including over two-thirds of the written substantive submissions) and seeking a reasonable compromise that helps to lift the achievement of associations, they seem more comfortable jeopardising credible student representation and cost-effective services provided by many students’ associations across the country.

In a paper outlining reforms to the UK’s Higher Education system, Conservative Minister for Universities David Willetts praised the contributions that students’ association make by saying:

“Students’ unions are an important part of the civil society within higher education institutions.

Effective students’ unions are prime examples of organisations run for and by their members. They can help greatly in improving dialogue and facilitating stronger partnerships between higher education institutions and their students… Students’ unions also play an important role in the pastoral care of students…These roles will become more important in the future.”

Even a Government that triples tuition fees and carries out massive public service cuts still recognises the importance of putting students at the heart of the system.

That’s because student representation supported by strong students’ associations is a critical component of university decision-making and well-resourced representatives contribute significantly to the development of policy and strategy. They also keep institutions like Victoria accountable to their most important stakeholders—you, the students. Students and institutions will both lose out under VSM.

In its current form, the ACT Party’s Bill is bad for students, bad for students’ associations, bad for tertiary institutions and bad for the broader tertiary education sector. Students’ associations are open to improving and enhancing the current law, which lets students—not politicians—choose how to organise themselves on campus.

A practical and pragmatic solution to association membership is needed to put the issue to rest once and for all—this is the third incarnation of such a Bill in a decade. We need to work together to ensure the best outcomes for students. There are fairer, more enduring alternatives to this Bill that ensures students continue to get the best possible services, representation and campus experiences possible.

National should drop its support for ACT’s destructive and unnecessary Bill. The students of today and tomorrow deserve to enjoy the benefits and services of students’ associations, just as their predecessors did.

You can find out more about valuing our voice and other issues facing our education at

demandabetterfuture.org.nz.

Have a great week.
Seamus Brady

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Comments (6)

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  1. Bill says:

    ‘Rather than listening to 98 per cent of submissions against the Bill’

    Implying those submissions actually represents 98 percent of the student body or even a popular consent.

    Cry me a river buddy. Your association’s record is abysmal and now students are going to have the option of whether they want to be your friend. Maybe if VUWSA had put more time and effort into actually being of value to a healthy majority of the student body it could thrive in a system that works on consent rather than compulsion.

  2. Your Name says:

    Instead of raging against the machine why not make your association better?

  3. BFG says:

    And where does he say he isn’t doing that? It is entirely consistent to oppose a bad law and also work towards improving the association. It seems the latter has been the focus this year.

  4. Bill says:

    Hey ‘your name’

    I admire the sentiment and yeah some kind of a ‘based on a true story’ type narrative where one person got involved and VUWSA was turned into an accountable organisation would be cool; it’d probably have a montage of the improvements with some 80s tune as background music.

    So problems with this….

    Getting towards the end of my post-grad study the amount of egotistic blustery, misrepresentation, corruption, spin and irreverence and irrelevance I’ve observed from student unions has left me extremely cynical on whether it is possible that any improvements could have come from within, as well as a certain antagonism – which I guess came through before. Is this defeatist? Probably, but I’ll confess outright that I came to university to get a degree and have some life experiences. I don’t think touting at windmills in petty student politics will help further either of those goals.

    VSM will present challenges for student associations and I do hope they rise to meet them. It’s a pity the debate became a pro/anti union, pro/anti leftist/rightist, pro/anti Act thing in some circles. For me it was just wanting the unions to focus on things that actually help a healthy majority of the student body and to tone down the fucktardery, corruption and misrepresentation.

    I guess we’ll have to see what students and the unions do with this new environment.

  5. BFG says:

    Bill – I think you are too cynical. I think you have seen important and steady improvements over the last couple of years. Including a substaintial decline in “fucktardery” and signficiant progressive improvements in transparency and engagement. You have also seen a greater focus on improving services for the majority of members.

    So no – you didn’t see the “one person comes in and fixes everything” scenario – but you saw progressive improvements and a generally positive direction.

  6. Bill says:

    ‘Bill – I think you are too cynical.’

    You could well be right there. But I’d respond that cynicism can be justified. Funny thing is that I was pretty apolitical when I arrived at uni. What an education.

    ‘I think you have seen important and steady improvements over the last couple of years… You have also seen a greater focus on improving services for the majority of members.’

    Well I don’t feel I witnessed that, but even if I take your word for it, what’s stopping a backslide? VSM can provide a safeguard the current system can’t, if any future student (I’ll be leaving soon) has to put up with the same bullshit I witnessed they will have the option I never had – They’ll be able to walk away.

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