Submissions on the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill closed earlier today. This is the full text of my submission and why I do not support the introduction of Voluntary Students’ Association Membership.
To the Education and Science Committee
This submission is from Bradford Heap. I am a PhD student at the School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. From 2005 – 2007 and 2009 I was a student at Massey University’s Albany Campus. During 2006 – 2008 I was on the Executive Committee of the Albany Students’ Association Inc. In 2008 I served as the President of the Association and as the internal students’ association representative on Massey University’s Council.
I do not wish to appear before the committee to speak to my submission.
I can be contacted at:
I oppose the intent of this bill because:
- Freedom of Association is already secured through section 229A clause 5 – 7 of the current Education Act 1989. There is no need to remove compulsory automatic membership of students’ associations when there is already a working and effective mechanism for students to object to membership.
- This bill will result in the loss of student representation on both a local and national level. Currently at a local level many students’ associations organise and run independent student representation through such mechanisms as class/paper representatives, college boards, university committees and ultimately the Council. On a national level students’ associations work together through the likes of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations Inc., University Sport New Zealand Inc. and Student Job Search Inc. to provide representation and lobbying for students in a unified manner.
If compulsory membership of students’ associations is removed this unified and centralised organisation of representation will be lost. At this point there is no guarantee that the university will have an independent body of students to consult with. In lieu of this there are two outcomes:
1) Universities will no longer consult students. The outcomes of this would be very bad for good decision making, or
2) Universities will consult focus groups of students. However, there is no guarantee that these students will not be handpicked by the university to represent the views that the university wants to hear.
Most importantly there will be a loss of an independent student voice. If tertiary institutions have to start directly funding student representation groups there will be a perception of collusion over the outcomes of that representation and engagement that is not currently present.
- There will be a loss of advocacy. Not all problems faced by students are representative of all students or need to be dealt with at a university committee level. Many issues faced by students are at relatively small scale and can be resolved through speaking to a particular lecturer or head of department. Unfortunately most students do not know the correct means for raising an issue, or if any issue is raised and there is not a satisfactory response how to take the issue to a higher level. Independent advocacy services provided by students’ associations help to deal with these issues and ensure that issues are resolved as quickly and effectively as possible, student advocates both employed and volunteers are trained in problem resolution and know the processes of the university and who to deal with to resolve problems. If Voluntary Student Membership is introduced the loss of funding from a decrease in student levy income will put these vital services under threat.
- The most important service that students’ associations provide is clubs. Student Clubs are the lifeblood of student life and culture in New Zealand. There are many established clubs within universities that have stretched back many decades. However, these clubs are under threat with the introduction of Voluntary Student Membership. The primary source of funding for the continued running of these clubs is through the allocation of club grants provided by the students’ associations. Without funding many of these clubs would become the realm of the rich who can afford high membership and equipment fees while ordinary students will be locked out of the true university experience.
- Most importantly I oppose this bill because of the direct effects it will have on all students as already seen through the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism in Australia. It is this last point that I would like to address in detail.
The Current Australian Situation
In 2010 I have begun my PhD and have been studying on the University of New South Wales Kensington Campus in Sydney for the previous two months. During this time I have become a member of the students’ union, a number of clubs, and been elected a postgraduate student representative for Computer Science and Engineering.
I should state clearly that the sky has not fallen in through the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism in Australia. However, it is clear that there has been a dramatic loss of representation, advocacy, and services provided by the student union.
The only representation provided by the student union is through the Student Representative Council, effectively the same as the Executive Committee at most New Zealand students’ associations. This committee is democratically elected each year and each member of the committee has a portfolio role – e.g. women’s rights, environmental issues, etc. This committee liaises with the University over issues, but there is no legal or guaranteed framework for any representation or dialog.
Furthermore any representation at a college/faculty level is not organised by the students’ union. Within the School of Computer Science and Engineering, where I am studying, there is a committee of student representatives, this committee while voted for by students, is organised by the university, and operates on an ad hoc basis advocating for students by bringing issues to the attention of the school but there is no framework in place for how issues are dealt with.
On the student services side of the union there are not many services that are provided free to students. The big events held like bands, dance parties, and other student night type stuff are all user pays and run on a competitive basis against other local venues. But more importantly it is the student clubs that have suffered. All clubs charge a membership fee and in the past where a lot of funding has come from students’ associations, instead there are heavy membership fees upfront and additional funding is provided to some clubs by university faculties. Again the biggest problem with university funding of student bodies is that they are at the whim of the university for continuation of this funding from year to year and for the most part there is little in the way of set policy or openness surrounding the allocation of these funds.
At the end of the day the issue of voluntary verses compulsory membership of students’ associations comes down to two components, money and ideology. One ideology says that students’ associations should be entirely voluntary and user pays, the other is those who see the benefits of a compulsory system where the collective greater good is advanced. The largest problem with a user pays argument in students’ associations is what about those who get up against the wall with their finances at university and are not able to pay the bills and face the prospect of being forced out of university or their accommodation, when they go to their students’ association for financial or food help; is it expected that they be asked to pay for that help up front when they can’t afford to pay anything more?