Voluntary student membership was primarily about freedom of association.
A bonus should have been that it would force student unions to become more efficient and responsive to their members.
It wasn’t supposed to mean business as usual with universities charging students more which they then pass on to the unions:
The Southern Region Young Nationals today expressed disappointment with the student services agreement reached between the University of Otago and the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) which has led to a substantial increase in fees students pay for the provision of non-academic services.
The agreement comes after OUSA responded to voluntary student membership legislation by recommending students set their membership levy at $0, leaving them reliant on the University’s compulsory student services fees to fund their operations.
The University Council voted to increase student services fees by 16%, from $580 to $672. This included a 12% increase from $190 to $213 per student in fees charged for OUSA services, despite the fact that the services remain unchanged in 2012.
Southern Region Chair, Callum Fredric, believes that the agreement will negatively impact Otago students.
“Students are now being charged significantly more in 2012 for what is essentially the same thing that they were being charged for in 2011”, Fredric stated. “There appears to be no reasonable justification for such a large increase in student fees, which only adds to the growing mountain of student debt without providing any tangible increase in services.”
Recently the Minister for Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce, released a Ministerial Direction on Compulsory Student Service Fees which aimed to ensure accountability in the use of compulsory fees for student services. Fredric says that the Minister should be taking a close look at the reasons for such a fee increase at Otago.
“I think that whenever there is a substantial increase in fees that appears to be unaccounted for, there is cause for the Government to ask questions about whether this is an appropriate use of students’, and ultimately, taxpayers’money.”
Fredric rejects the assertion that this increase is due to the abolition of compulsory student unionism. He says that as the service provider, OUSA ultimately sets the minimum level at which they charge students to provide their services.
“At the end of the day OUSA has the ability to charge as little as they wish to provide these services to students. In doing the complete opposite and actually increasing the amount students pay to OUSA by over 10%, they have shown that their previous commitments to a more fiscally responsible and sustainable organisation were nothing more than empty rhetoric. Sadly it is the students who will pay for OUSA’s decision to continue their history of levy and spend.”
The union should have used the abolition of compulsory membership to examine what it did, how it did it, how much support it had from students to do it and how much they were willing to pay for it.
Instead it will be able to carry on as usual and students will have no more control over the costs than they did when membership was compulsory.