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June 6, 2017 | by  | in VUWSA |
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I was warned against mentioning the 2011 collapse of students’ associations in Aotearoa when I entered student politics. In this post-voluntary student membership environment, romanticising about the independence, autonomy, and mandate that students’ associations once had, has been unhelpful to the development and growth of our associations.

On return from a recent trip to Canada for a Students as Partners conference, where I was fortunate enough to spend time with the students’ associations at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto, I have realised the importance of breaking this silence.

The students’ association at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has a CA$25 million annual budget, employs over 100 staff (many are students), and operates multiple bars, cafés, and restaurants, as well as student services ranging from sexual violence prevention and support, student advocacy, sustainability innovation, to student health and dental clinics. Their Student Union Building contains free facilities for their 400 clubs. It even has a climbing wall for the adventure club.

Most important is the fact that this association has compulsory membership. Unless students decide to “opt-out,” all students are automatically a member of the association. This means that they are given a mandate by all students to run large scale events and campaigns.

With VUWSA’s small budget, we have been able to achieve a lot. The Fairer Fares campaign shows how we have been able to mobilise thousands of supporters, gain national media attention, and bring an issue into the Council’s agenda. This is not about the money, it’s about the mandate.

Compulsory membership is not about reinforcing a political ideology. It is about ensuring that students have a collective voice within our community, backed by resources and a robust mandate to operate.

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