David Clendon

VSM: a very silly measure

by David Clendon

Last year Heather Roy’s (formally Roger Douglas’) Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill was drawn from the members bill ballot.

The bill which was badly drafted when it entered the ballot biscuit tin emerged from select committee still in a shocking state.

Tonight it comes back to the house for committee stages and we will be fighting for a better outcome than ‘open slather’ Voluntary Student Membership.

It’s a given that the Government will continue to support this irresponsible bill, despite it being detrimental to the welfare of students and the quality of education in New Zealand.

But there are some important areas which are totally neglected by the bill.

We’ve put up two Supplementary Order Papers (SOP… they’re like the Last Minute Amendments) on the bill.

Students associations fund services that are essential to student wellbeing. Funds for running welfare, advocacy and representation services have to come from somewhere, and without universal student membership tertiary institutions will have to pick up the cost.

Our first SOP [PDF] sets out a realistic assumption that money for these services is going to have to come from somewhere and that students associations through tertiary institutions are best placed to provide them. We also realize that universities and polytech budgets are already stretched to the limit. So they need some extra money to provide these services.

If the amendment goes through it will mean that tertiary institutions are not put under any extra financial strain and that the welfare of students is upheld. A pretty good outcome if you’re going to force through a shitty amendment.

The bottom line is that academic performance should not be put at risk because of ACT’s ideological bent.

The second SOP [PDF] is to do with refunds.The original bill failed to make any provision for refunds, and left associations open to people using the services, then on the last day of trimester, withdrawing from the association and expecting a full refund.

This amendment will ensure that students will be able to withdraw and get their money back. It also ensures that the refund is proportional to the length of time a person has been a member with access to services.

It has been argued that associations need financial security through making people stick with their choice. However, one of the main problems that proponents of VSM were quick to point out was that if people opted out their fee went to a charity and not back to the person. This ensures that people will be able to opt out and associations will retain money for a proportional amount of time they were a member rather than having to refund all or none of the money.

Orientation can absorb a lot of an associations budget and although gigs and partying are part of the traditional student experience, students’ associations should be concentrating on welfare, advocacy and representation. This is about services and the welfare of students.

The way to build a smart and prosperous economy is to fund tertiary institutions so they can turn out quality degrees and to support students so that they don’t end up down and out and in (even more) debt while studying.

Grant Robertson from Labour has also done some SOPs relating to representation on Council and other matters which we will be supporting, you can see them here. The debate will be on Parliament TV which you can tune into here.

Published in Society & Culture by David Clendon on Wed, December 8th, 2010   

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