VSM: a very silly measure

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.

18 Comments Posted

  1. David – if voluntary membership is so unmanageable and destructive, can you explain how the Green Party survives with its system of voluntary membership?

    (Handy hint – your answer should begin: “Student unions are different because…”)

  2. By some coincidence the arguments Liberty Scott uses against compulsory (financial) association as if this was a breach of freedom of association (it’s not the same thing) are also used by those who oppose taxation to finance public services. Funny that.

  3. Just because us libertarians don’t post on a thread on a Green Party wesite doesn’t mean we don’t care. But just to keep you happy, I’ve now gone and posted there.

  4. @Libertyscott 10:57 PM

    Hey, without wanting to take this thread off topic, where the hell are you libertarians on the Defend Wikileaks thread?

    I would have thought you would be there in your hoards to defend freedom of information.

    But seems not.

    Are you self-identified libertarians really just running interference for the authoritarian arseholes who are attempting to keep the workings of governments behind closed doors?

  5. The ends justify the means don’t they David?

    I tried to opt out under conscientious objection and it was rejected because I am an atheist, and philosophical beliefs that don’t involve believing in spirits were not seen as sufficient grounds for conscientious objection. I appealed and it was rejected. So that is absolutely worthless, although had I had the money a judicial review would have been worthwhile.

    This argument is a lost cause for the compulsion touters. You and all those on the left who rightfully campaign on human rights suddenly get all muddled and confused when it is about being forced to join organisations you yourselves think are just brilliant.

    It’s so simple – YOU think Student Associations do a great job, provide “essential” services and represent students. So YOU think students should be forced to join and pay for all that.

    If students don’t think the same as you then your approach is to effectively say “you don’t understand what is good for you, you must be forced to join and pay, I know better than you”.

    It’s the height of arrogance, and can be used to justify any form of force against the fundamental right of freedom of association.

    The arguments for compulsory student union membership were used in the past for trade union membership, can be used for any trade association memberships, can be used for residents’ association membership or indeed mandatory membership of registered political parties (after all, think how much good it would do if everyone was forced to participate in political parties (cough)).

    If someone despises a student association, believes it does nothing for them and believes it represents the opposite view of what they belief then you haven’t any right at all to say “tough, pay up the money or you don’t get to study”.

  6. Basically this is about destroying representation of the collective – it’s part of libertarian thought – which explains the ideological conformity of the upward thumbs turn up.

    The issue is about promoting freedom from the collective to young people leaving the oversight of parental authority, so they adopt an ideological position anti “left wing” collectivism and thus mere subjects of free market capitalism and associated self-interest “individualism”.

    It’s about crushing solidarity and egalitarianism out of the young person, so they are dehumanised into worker drones of international corporate parasites.

  7. Please do list all these things that are non-exclusive David.

    Usually compulsory members resort to talking about Radio and Magazines (which are already non-exclusive and available to people outside the university – and should make a profit anyway).

    Alternatively they talk about student representation and lobbying of government. Problem is, I don’t agree with the students’ associations positions – so how would that be freeriding?

    Finally, no, you can’t opt-out and you can’t get your money back. Stop spinning and lying.

  8. Was I allowed to opt out on grounds of conscientious objection 10 years ago? I never saw that option — I’d bet an awful lot of people would have opted out if they’d known about it.

  9. One question I look forward to posing at the next reading of this sorry bill is about the free rider / freeloader problem. I’m sure a lot of students will continue to see value in union membership, and will stump up with the fee and enjoy all the services and benefits.

    Unfortunately there will also be those who quickly realise that a lot of student services provided by the unions are ‘non-exclusive’, that is, they are available for everyone whether or not they have paid for them.

    This will vary from place to place, but could include subsidised services like entertainment, cafes and transport that are available to all students, and also the benefits that flow from union representations to institution councils, local and central government and other agencies.

    I don’t see a lot of fairness in that. BTW, people do realise I suppose that within the existing legislation there is provision for individual students to opt out of student union membership on grounds of financial hardship or concientious objection, so what is really at stake here? An ideological solution in search of a problem?

  10. The problem with student union funding (compulsory or otherwise) is lack of transparency and accountability.

    At least one uni is working to improve these matters.

  11. I endorse all the comments above. Student associations, as run, are often used to consolidate the power bases of those elected, and to waste money on the personal hobbies of student union officials. But student associations, run properly, with sufficient checks and balances, can provide a useful service to all students, so I also support what David is saying.

    As an example, the student cafeteria at the institute I work at is a commercial organisation by the catering chain Eurest, overpriced, selling unhealthy food and exploiting its monopoly position (the nearest shops are 30 minutes walk away). Students are constantly complaining about it, yet there has been no change. The institution I work at does not have a student association, and the institution runs student services, including the cafeteria. When I was running my campaign for the cafeteria to stop selling factory farmed products, I did some research on the way other cafeterias are run, and I liked the model used at Auckland University. The main cafeteria there is run by a trust, partly owned by AUSA, with a mandate to serve the students, not to maximise profit. AUSA also rent out their premises to competing private companies, who can provide more choice. There is a far greater variety of cheap, and healthy food provided by the AUSA-run cafe and the other outlets at Auckland University.

    Student associations therefore have their place, and I would like to see a similar student or student/staff run cafe at my institution. Perhaps amendments restricting the purpose of students associations to looking after its students, could be one solution. There are precedents in the Local Government Act, which describes the similar functions of Territorial and Local Authorities.

  12. Heres a quote from Steven Joyce’s wikipedia page that provides a good example of the social mobility aspect of student unions:

    “While at university he worked as a presenter and programme director on student radio.[6] After leaving university Joyce and a group of friends (including radio presenter Jeremy Corbett) started their own radio station, Energy FM, in New Plymouth.[5][6] With business partners, he built up RadioWorks over the next seventeen years, both organically and by acquisition, to a network of 22 radio stations and 650 staff.”

    Add Ian Lees Galloway and thats two MP’s from one student association

  13. In truth I have never known any “student association” to be very useful, fair or adequate in terms of representing the kids. The problem has to do as much with the fact of their being kids as anything else.


    So I tend not to be too hard on the associations, I don’t demand that they govern better than the government of the country itself manages, even though they often exceed that admittedly low standard.


    …and my recollection of my own days at University is that I paid the Student Union dues and they didn’t steal anything to speak of… though there was some waste involved in some of the entertainments obtained.

    Someone is taking this a lot too seriously… or complaining because there is a perception that the Uni is a hotbed of liberalism. It is not (at least from this vantage) changed since my school days.


  14. MikeM,

    I see what you’re saying. But, perhaps the quality (or lack thereof) of student association leadership is partly a reflection on students as a whole?

    It seems to me that in the last twenty or so years there has been a change in what being a student means. Now it’s not uncommon for students to stay living at home with Mum and Dad, only go to lectures, and be very focused on the piece of paper they want to get at the end in order to minimise the amount of time (and money) spent studying. Now there is nothing wrong with this, indeed qualities such as working hard are admirable, and it is quite understandable that studying subjects that maximise the cost/benefit ratio is sensible given how the costs of studying are high. But being so focused comes at an expense, such as not being interested in student politics. Consequently, its not surprising that one can get somewhat dubious leadership of student associations when most students are too busy on their studies to care. Indeed, are students becoming a little bit boring … ?

    ps. I would have loved to see someone try and burn a sandwich … how on earth do you do that … douse it in petrol?

  15. So David are you saying that you want all farmers to join Federated Farmers. YOu are assuming that all students are improvished peasants that are totally reliant on welfare which is supplied by caring student associations that accurately represent their interests. It may come as a shock to you but not all students support North Korea and other far left organisations like the student associations do. The turn out in elections are pathetic. Are you saying its a goood thing that student associations offer rewards for the arreast of American leaders like the Auckland student association, led by Labour figure David Do did. I know the Green Party may have an irrational hatred of the United States but the vast majority of students think such think are sad wastes of student money and no way represent their interests.

    If student associations were so fantastic and relevant then students will rush to join. The vast majority of students dont go to orientation event. If there is a captive market, then a promoter will want to go and make money from it, why should all students subsidise social events for a small minority. It may be disappointing for the Greens who wish to regulate everything, but students should be free to decide whether they belong to an organisation or not. This is not Cuba, people should be free to make their decisions. And if it was so bad, then the students would be protesting in the streets or have I missed those mass protests?

  16. Hypothetically, what would be the better alternatives to VSM? I can see some of the benefits that compulsory membership provides, but the whole structure seems like a bad implementation of a potentially good idea.

    As a student at Vic Uni I remember being quite appalled at how VUWSA was run, certainly the political side of it. I don’t know how much money was thrown into gratuitous over-production of Salient just so people could pick it up before a lecture, read one article and throw it away before grabbing another copy later. The elections always had ridiculously low turn-outs to vote for typically immature wannabe politicians, and yet the exec was constantly jumping up and down screaming that they represented all students on every issue when a protest was involved. Or at least that’s how it seemed. We had an exec member living in the flat above us once, who blocked the only 60 step exit with a dismantled piano for 4 weeks (when she couldn’t get it down the steps she started trying to pull it apart, then just left it there as a major hazard). Then she set a sandwich on fire in the middle of overgrown scrub outside our front door as some kind of cleansing ritual from her ex-boyfriend. Please correct me if I’m wrong as I honestly wasn’t paying much attention, but I believe Nick Kelly (who now heads the union for Wellington bus drivers) once received less votes than a pot plant before he usurped the position.

    People who might have been good representatives didn’t want to get involved because of all the political crap that went on around it, and for everyone else it was easiest to just ignore the whole thing, pay the compulsory fee, and get on with their studies.

    I think such an association can be beneficial for students, but after it’s fallen into disarray, I don’t know what’s there to motivate the exec to be responsible to the students as opposed to the exec members’ fanciful imaginations.

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