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May 13, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Student Voice: Part Two

For some time Salient has been reporting the troubles that the Student Forum has been facing, as the University’s handling of student representation at Victoria has turned into a bit of a clusterfuck.

Unfortunately, for the die-hard student politics fans, or just students who like to keep informed, there is little information available to students—and participants—about how the Student Forum works. In the time since its creation (over a year and a half ago) at the end of 2011, and with over $100,000 allocated to it, the University has failed to create an adequate informational infrastructure required to inform both students and participants.

A quick search of Victoria’s website shows up with zilch. Apart from the odd University policy and statute which define the Forum as “The student representative body formally recognised by the University”, there aren’t any documents explaining anything. Don’t management understand young people?

Of all the documents Salient has been able to track down without resorting to the Official Information Act, there is a ‘Student Forum Handbook: 2013’. Not to be confused with the 2012 edition, which famously went as far as to explain how student representatives should dress. If you would like to read this, come to the Salient office for our single copy. Or you can email the paid university staff member StudentForumAdministrator@vuw.ac.nz and request a copy.

If that seems like too much effort, here’s a brief Salient version.

STUDENT BODY

Until Voluntary Student Membership (VSM), every student who enrolled at Victoria University was automatically a member of the now-114-year-old VUWSA—Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association. VUWSA was the primary representative body of students, i.e. their voice. They spoke on the behalf of students, and appointed multiple representatives to the University’s various boards and committees—as well as the VUWSA President having a seat on the University Council. VUWSA held annual elections, and had processes which students could engage with to direct policy and student money into things that enhanced their education and student experience.

University management interpreted the legislation differently to that of every other university around the country, and presented information to University Council as part of their Student Forum idea which could easily be described as outside of the scope of what was intended. It said that VUWSA could no longer “be assumed to be the primary representative body in future” as it no longer had universal membership. University management then implemented the Student Forum, giving it the powers of a primary representative body as it could appoint students to various boards and committees—including a seat on the University Council, and six seats on the Academic Board—both of which were formerly appointed by VUWSA.

CLASS REPS

Every class is meant to have one—if you don’t, it’s generally because your lecturer is naughty, or because there was not a single student in your class who would volunteer. Like in tutorials, students are generally reluctant to put themselves forward/out there for things, so it’s uncommon if more than one student puts their hand up. Should there be more than one, typically they will all say a bit about themselves, and then there will be a ‘vote’. This was a system built up over the years by VUWSA so that the views of students could easily flow into the Students’ Association. Class reps can apply to be Faculty Delegates for the following year, and from there can apply to be on the Student Forum—meaning it takes a year to get onto the Forum as a Faculty Delegate.

FACULTY DELEGATES

Class representatives can then apply to VUWSA to be a Faculty Delegate for the school that they’re studying in. They receive training from VUWSA before heading off into the world of Faculty Board meetings where they represent students, and talk about things such as changes to programmes, introduction or closing of courses, strategies about learning etc. Not exactly riveting, but hey, someone has to do it. Ngai Tauira, Post Graduate Students’ Association (PGSA) and VUW Law Students’ Society appoint Faculty Delegates to their own respective Faculties. Each Faculty has a certain number of seats on the Student Forum, depending on size. The Student Forum administrator is meant to facilitate an ‘election’ to decide who gets the seats on the Forum; however there generally isn’t much competition and many seats still remain vacant. Salient has had reports that in an attempt to make up for the lack of student interest, class representatives have been allowed onto the Forum. The reasoning behind having Faculty delegates on the Forum is that they would bring experience with them. By allowing class representatives, who could be first-year students in their first semester at Victoria, the Forum is not guaranteed the same level of expertise.

STUDENT FORUM

The actual Student Forum has 30 seats, which come from different parts of the University. The ‘representatives’ get to the forum from a number of different ways. Some elected by a lot of students, some elected by hardly any students, and some not elected by students at all. In some instances, they have even been appointed by management when not enough students have put themselves forward. The Forum only needs 20 students to have quorum, but has failed to achieve that at meetings this year.

Faculty representatives: 18 seats

They are spread across all of the University’s nine faculties, with numbers of seats according to size.

Representational groups:

Ngai Tauira – 3 seats

Māori students’ association. They delegated two of their seats to the Māori Law and Māori Commerce student groups.

Pasifika Students’ Council – 3 seats

Appointed by the PSC Executive.

International Students Council – 3 seats

Intended to be appointed by the International Students’ Council. Salient understands that the Council is not currently running, so students have been appointed by University management.

PGSA – 3

Appointed by the PGSA Executive.

VUWSA – 4 seats

VUWSA President with the remainder appointed by the VUWSA Executive. Despite having over 70 per cent of students as members, the University only gave them one extra seat than other representative groups.

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