Don’t do it, Sweden. Donâ€™t let your Government legislate for Voluntary membership of Studentsâ€™ Unions. It will be the death of them as you know it.
Conor Roberts and Joey Randall, co-presidents of the New Zealand Union of Studentsâ€™ Associations, argue against voluntary membership.
Negative effects became apparent
Most Student Unions in New Zealand remain compulsory, even though students have the choice to make them voluntary. Some Unions went voluntary but returned to compulsory when the negative effects became apparent. The VSM radicals on New Zealandâ€™s campuses promised students that a vote for voluntary membership would:
â€¢ give students more choice;
â€¢ save students money; and
â€¢ improve the responsiveness of the Studentsâ€™ Union to students.
An unmitigated failure
After almost eight years of voluntary membership, the legacy of VSM has made it hard to conclude that the experiment was simply an unmitigated failure in New Zealand.
One of key rallying cries of the VSM revolutionaries was the promise of greater â€˜choiceâ€™. Although superficially under VSM students can choose not to be members of their Union, they were never really â€˜forcedâ€™ to join in the first place. Under so-called â€œcompulsory” membership, students always had the right to conscientiously object to membership. That right has been enshrined in New Zealand law.
Students loose control over their own affairs
VSM gives students less â€˜choiceâ€™ over what they pay for. In the Student Unions that did go voluntary, many of the core functions of the Studentsâ€™ Union (e.g. representation and advocacy) have been taken over by their Institutions. Whereas under â€œcompulsory” membership, all students had the right to direct the activities of the Studentsâ€™ Union, now students are just presented with the bill for payment by the University. They havenâ€™t saved any money because in many cases the cost for providing the things that the Union provided has gone up now that the Universities are administering them. Students have lost control over their own affairs.
In any case, you have to wonder how appropriate it is for the University to offer student advocacy and representation services. Would you trust the police to investigate accusations of police brutality? The whole point of student advocacy and representation is to ensure that students have an independent voice in the running of their institution, and someone to protect their interests. What happens when the University run student representation system starts questioning the activities of the University -they will pull the plug.
Student culture harmed irrevocably
Nor has VSM brought greater â€˜responsivenessâ€™. Under VSM, the Studentsâ€™ Union is forced to spend precious time and resources on membership drives and advertising, in order to survive. Under â€œcompulsory” membership, studentsâ€™ associations can get on with their job of serving students and defending their interests. VSM also eats away at the level and quality of services offered to students. As the Vice-Chancellor of one of our Universities noted, under VSM, â€œa number of services delivered to students by the student union were abandoned as part of the attempt to reduce the subscription.” Perhaps itâ€™s not surprising that feeling toward his campus, as reported in local media, noted that Waikato University â€œlacks a bit of campus culture, possibly because itâ€™s [got] a voluntary student union.” VSM guts the life out of campus. With Student Unions no longer having enough resources to promote clubs, events and sports for example, the student experience and culture we fondly remember is harmed irrevocably.
VSM turns you into cash-cows
VSM does not give you more â€˜freedomâ€™, â€˜choiceâ€™ or â€˜responsivenessâ€™. It turns students from members of the university community into cash-cows for the University. It robs your ability to decide what services you want, and how much youâ€™ll pay for them. It leaves you without adequate defences against dodgy assessment, poor quality lecturers, and other hassles. And it kills your campus life.
co-presidents of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations.