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September 12, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Youth Law – Tertiary Education

YouthLaw is a free national legal service for under 25s. Contact us for free on 0800 UTHLAW (884 529) or info@youthlaw.co.nz for help with almost any legal problem. Each issue we answer your questions on a particular area of law. This issue: Tertiary Education.

What does a student union at
university do?

A union is a student association which will generally advocate for common goals of the student population. Unions also aim to raise awareness about problems affecting their members. For example, a student union may organise submissions to Parliament when a relevant law is about to be passed, and hold public events/protests. Issues currently include rising student debt in New Zealand, equal access to tertiary education, and the quality of teaching in our universities.

Who represents students at Victoria University?

The union at Victoria is called VUWSA (Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association), which was established in 1899. When you enrolled at Victoria, you will have automatically become a member of the union.
The association’s core service is to ensure that students are receiving the best standard of education possible, and further to give tertiary students a voice throughout the university. Some of their support services include a food bank, access to Student Job Search, some inter-campus bus services, and other types of assistance for students in need.
See vuwsa.org.nz for more information.

What is this new law about student unions?

Currently, student union membership is compulsory when you enrol at a university in New Zealand. The University of Auckland is the only exception, as since 1999 membership has been voluntary. At other universities, if students did not wish to belong to the union, they would need to hold a referendum to vote for change.
If the Education (Freedom of Association) Bill becomes law, it will be a student’s choice as to whether they want to join the union when they enrol in university. If the Bill is passed, it will also be illegal to put undue pressure on someone enrolling in a university to join a students’ association.

Why is the government attempting to change the law?

There is currently much debate surrounding this Bill. Some believe that students must have (a) the right to choose whether to belong to a union and (b) greater transparency of compulsory fees—i.e. you should know exactly what you’re paying for. Others believe that if union membership is not compulsory, that this will result in a decrease in membership and hence mean that unions cannot.

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