VSM, Student Services and fees hikes, oh my. - Tactical Ninja
Jan. 5th, 2012
10:49 am - VSM, Student Services and fees hikes, oh my.
This year I will be paying $650 in Student Services Levy. This is up from $522 last year, an increase of $128. I'm a part time student and have no idea what the charge is for full time students. As an adult student who is a NZ citizen with a reasonable amount of support and a good brain, I don't use the student services very much at all - in fact I think I've used Student Health a grand total of four times during my study and nothing else.
Suffice to say I am probably subsidising other people's use of the services, and I don't really mind doing this.
What I do mind is the way this fee increase was slid in after I had enrolled for this year and after the Voluntary Student Membership Bill had passed. What the Bill (now an Act) did was exactly what it says on the box - it made membership of Student Associations voluntary where it had previously been compulsory. It was touted by those supporting it as a way of reducing costs to students, who could now choose not to pay the fee.
My Student Association membership last year was $94.90. The increase in Student Services Levy is $128. So it seems I'm down $33.10 anyway. Cheers, guys - thanks for that cost-saving!
Now, I haven't availed myself of the advantages of Student Association membership in my time studying either - at least not directly. But once again, I have not minded supporting the Student Association. In fact, given a choice of donating my money to Student Associations or directly to Student Services, I would choose the Student Association. Why?
Because it's the existence of Student Associations that makes it possible to fight the battles needed to maintain Student Services at a reasonable cost to students. In New Zealand, Universities have not been immune to the neoliberal "We'll increase your choices by cutting your funding" rhetoric, and they are expected to make money, or at least to continually reduce the amount the government spends on them. Course fees go up, services get reduced, user-pays replaces things that were available for free, and the students are the ones on the receiving end of this, paying more for less service.
The Student Associations are the entities that work on behalf of the students to limit this as much as possible, and the VSM has effectively reduced membership of student unions. Many of the people currently studying probably don't remember when voluntary unionism was introduced in New Zealand in the 1980s, but I do - it was a big deal at the time and looking back over those years now, it was the first nail in the coffin of collective bargaining in this country, that culminated in the Employment Contracts Act of 1991, which was disastrous for workers and only debatably beneficial to employers. Essentially, voluntary unionism disempowered the ability of employees to bargain to improve their conditions by reducing their membership and thus power and isolating individuals in unsupported bargaining positions.
Now, the government has done this to Student Associations. In my opinion this paves the way for the state to continue to put the funding screws into Universities, causing more fee hikes and reductions in services, which will now go more-or-less unopposed due to the disempowerment of the only bodies that would fight back. Students, you're on your own.
So when the introduction of the Voluntary Student Membership Act was followed up at my university by another hike in Student Services Levy (there had been a huge one - $373.03 - the previous year), it pissed me off. It's exactly as I predicted, and sometimes it's not nice to be right.
I mentioned this on Twitter and some guy smugly informed me that since the Levy hike was smaller this year, the VSM had obviously drastically arrested the increase. Yet, the increase only came after the VSM was passed. You tell me whether the increase would have happened regardless, whether it would have been bigger or smaller.
All I know is that the government said it would save me money and surprise surprise, I'm actually paying more. Weasel words, they are a thing.