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March 3, 2014 | by  | in Opinion |
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Daniel Haines, NZUSA President

Students are a powerful force in New Zealand. As students, we are change-makers. We push intellectual barriers, question tradition and challenge the status quo – such is the staple of a healthy university culture.

Students over the generations have put in place the infrastructure to support this culture. Your students’ association, VUWSA, has a proud 115-year history. VUWSA is also a member of the national students’ organisation – the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA), which was founded in 1929. The idea of doing things together and being able to speak with one student voice where we agree is one way that both VUWSA and NZUSA work tirelessly for you.

The hot money is on a General Election being held in September of this year. Colmar Brunton’s latest survey shows that concern about education is currently the most important election issue. This is a fantastic combination that allows for the promotion and implementation of pro-student policy. Students are never more powerful than during an election year: our collective civil activities could make or unmake governments, and as political parties will be desperate to win the ‘student vote’, good policies will be developed as a consequence.

Some similar good policies NZUSA has won for students: universal student allowances at the level of the unemployment benefit (1988), Community Service Cards for students (1992), a freeze on tuition fees (2000), fee maxima (2003), interest-free student loans (2005), rejection of applications to raise fees by twice the permitted level (2005, 2011, 2012), restrictions on increases of compulsory student services fees (2010), and Labour/Greens committing to a university student allowance (2011).

Students also have a proud history of looking beyond our own interests and acting as New Zealand’s social conscience. We were at the forefront of anti-nuclear activities, Homosexual Law Reform and the anti–Vietnam War teach-ins and street marches. The nation was divided in 1981, but we can be proud of the ‘Stop the Tour Action Committee’ which led and organised numerous demonstrations against apartheid. Thousands of Victoria students protested the privatisation of education in the 1990s, circling Parliament, and dozens even were prepared to get arrested for the cause.

When students think back on their time at university, what they tend to remember are the things that they did outside of their studies. They will be the co-curricular activities that they participated in and the people they met. The clubs, the friends, the leadership roles, the community activity. As students, we are often lucky not to have dependents, mortgages and full-time jobs. This affords us the freedom to participate in things many people are too time-deprived to undertake. | 021 567 696

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