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March 12, 2012 | by  | in News |
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Eye on Exec

The State of Play

28 September 2011 saw ACT MP Heather Roy’s highly controversial Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill (commonly known as VSM) pass through Parliament, with support of the National and United Future.

The legislation made membership of students’ associations voluntary, meaning no longer students were forced to be a member when enrolling at University. Nor were they forced to pay the membership levy associated with membership, usually around $150.

Following the passing, VUWSA was forced to make big decisions about how to operate in the new voluntary environment which came into effect on 1 Jan 2012. Without universal membership, it could no longer claim the right to speak on behalf of all students. And without the guaranteed revenue stream of compulsory membership levies, it would no longer receive over $2.2 million in revenue annually.

A decision was made, like the majority of students’ associations around the country, to remove any membership fee in an attempt to gather the biggest student support-base possible.

The prioritisation of a representational mandate put VUWSA in a financially uncertain position. With a limited number of assets, it was not going to be able to fund operations itself. By choosing not to charge for any of the services it provides, it had to look elsewhere for income.

Help was not too far away, with the VUWSA Trust, managed by ex-VUWSA Executive members, promising to provide about $250,000 annually. However, with a typical operating budget of $2.2 million, it would hardly suffice.

It was decided that VUWSA’s contributions to the VUWSA Trust and a fund for future building projects would be cut, leaving them with about $1.6 million required to operate at current service levels. This saw VUWSA turn to friend and often foe – Victoria University.

History sees VUWSA’s relationship with Victoria as one of ups and downs. Given VUWSA’s role in advocating for students, and protecting them from the University’s commercial interests, they haven’t always seen eye to eye.

History also paints VUWSA as having its own moments of pride and regret— from establishing a class representative system that grew to be the most successful of its kind nationally, to blowing $22,000 ‘pimpin’ van. In recent times, the introduction of an association manager has seen VUWSA transform into a more professional organisation— much to the detriment of exciting Salient news pages.

This history is important to mention, as it highlights the implications in VUWSA’s decision to generate revenue through a partnership. With both VUWSA and the University having a number of common interests, including providing an ‘outstanding student experience’, it did not seem at all likely that VUWSA’s services would cease to exist.

In 2012, VUWSA will be contracted by the University to provide a number of services. The money of which comes from the Student Services Levy, a compulsory fee paid by all students to the University.

Following the introduction of VSM, Tertiary Education Minister and notorious babe Steven Joyce changed the regulations surrounding what the Levy could be spent on. Though it included many of the services VUWSA provides, it did not account for all. This essentially prevented the University from directly funding VUWSA through the Levy.

In becoming a contracted service provider, VUWSA has potentially lost almost all financial independence from the University. An awkward position to be in when their role quite often sees them speaking out against the University. Though there are new representational structures and mumbles of a Memorandum of Understanding, only time will tell whether VUWSA will be able to stand as strong as it has in the face of an ever changing University. Salient has all the time in the world, assuming the University decides to continue funding us, to keep a watchful eye as details of said contracts begin to unfold. Some details of which, will be in the next issue of Salient.

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