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March 12, 2012 | by  | in News |
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University to Replace VUWSA

Student Forum to Speak For ‘Em

The University is establishing a new primary representational body, and giving it the mandate to be the voice of students—even though students haven’t authorised them to do so.

The establishment of the Student Forum has the support of the University and VUWSA, but neither have engaged in active consultation with students, raising concerns, as students haven’t mandated the forum to speak on behalf of them.

The University is the only institution in New Zealand to have responded to the implementation of Voluntary Student Membership in this way, with others recognising students’ associations as the representational bodies on campuses.

Discussions between the University and VUWSA, about how both parties would like student representation to look in a voluntary environment, saw the University present a model of the a Student Forum in principle.

The Forum would be a universal representative body of around 30 people, elected by class representatives and faculty delegates. Sitting alongside them would be several members from VUWSA as well as representative groups such as Ngai Tauira.

According to the original document, which saw the establishment of the Student Forum passed in principle at a meeting of the University Council in October 2011, “it would act as a consultation group on university issues and would also engage with the wider student body, ensuring that representatives were well-informed and reflected a range of student views.”

Since the passing of the Student Forum in principle, VUWSA and the University have been engaged in discussion as to the specifics of how it would function in practice. However, such discussion has not involved any input from students.

VUWSA’s decision to support the establishment of a new representational body has been called into question, as there is little evidence of discussion amongst 2011 or 2012 executive members. Salient could not find any record of official motions of support passed in minutes of general executive meetings, nor record of discussion specifically related to the Forum’s establishment.

When pressed on this, 2012 VUWSA President Bridie Hood provided no evidence to the contrary. She acknowledged that it hadn’t gone out to wider student consultation.

However, Hood noted that there will be a chance for student feedback once the Forum is up-and-running, as its structure and effectiveness would be reviewed in due course.

The Student Forum is yet to be enforced, as VUWSA and the University have compiled a document on its practice that must be discussed at Academic Board before progressing to the University Council for final approval.

Salient’s request for a copy was declined, as it wasn’t to be made public until after the magazine went to print.

2012 University Council Representative and 2010 VUWSA President Max Hardy had also not seen the document so couldn’t comment on it specifically, but did express concern.

“I have serious reservations about the concept and practical reality of the Student Forum,” he told Salient.

“I would say that the international evidence is that independent and accountable students’ associations are the most robust and effective models for ensuring students are well-represented.”

Hardy further suggested, “the University would be better off supporting the current model towards success than trying other methods which have failed elsewhere.”

Hood expressed similar sentiments, outlining her intentions

“When it comes up at Academic Board I will be ensuring that the members of the board know that this is not a necessary step,” Hood said.

“The reason the University has mandated [the Student Forum’s] introduction is that they feel with the introduction of [Voluntary Student Membership] they can no longer recognise VUWSA as the official student representative body of students, because it’s no longer compulsory [where] all students are a member.”

“We disagree with that view. If you look around the country you will see that no other institutions have created a Student Forum or new Students Council. But they are still working with students’ associations on campus as the representative body,” Hood added.

Salient will have further detail on the Student Forum and its implementation in a coming issue.

The Academic Board meeting will take place on Thursday 15 March at 9am in the Hunter Council Chamber, and is open to members of the p ublic. Salient will be live-tweeting all the action @salientmagazine. 

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  1. Max Hardy says:

    That headline is just ridiculous.

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