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VSM, Student Services and fees hikes, oh my. - Tactical Ninja

Jan. 5th, 2012

10:49 am - VSM, Student Services and fees hikes, oh my.

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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.

Comments:

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From:phaetonschariot
Date:January 4th, 2012 10:40 pm (UTC)
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One thing I lovelovelove about extramural is that I don't have to pay that much money. Because that would clear out half my course related costs for the year, and I need those so I can fly up for mandatory contact courses. And of course, I only get course related costs at all because of limited full time thanks to recent Budget changes. I literally could not afford to study part time if it weren't for that, student loan or not.
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From:tatjna
Date:January 4th, 2012 10:46 pm (UTC)
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It seems this government also has it in for part time students. I remember reading this last year about the Tertiary Education Strategy and its focus on time-based completion rates with funding at stake for those who took on too many part time students. It's biased, of course, but to my view it's also pretty accurate.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:January 4th, 2012 11:31 pm (UTC)
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Even though part time results in lower student loan debts because they can support themselves to some extent instead of living off of "living costs" that have to be paid back. And since they're usually already in the job market they have a big head start on higher pay rates.

For that matter, are the living costs still only up to $150/wk? That would barely pay rent. How the hell do under 25 full time students eat?
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From:tatjna
Date:January 4th, 2012 11:36 pm (UTC)
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OK, I used the calculator on the Studylink website. I made myself 19, living away from home with no support from parents, no partner, no dependents and no other income, and it gave me $167.83.

I get the impression that is the most you can get, and it's abated from there depending on how much you or your parents earn.

So yeah, it's a bullshit amount.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:January 5th, 2012 12:17 am (UTC)
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Yeah that'll cover rent in a flat with other people and maybe power and phone, depending on the time of year. You might even be able to get net access. But you'll be eating ramen noodles and rice, you won't be able to afford a car, and if any emergencies come up you're fucked. If you wanted to live alone you'd cover rent for a slum but you'd have no utilities and have to convert to breatharianism.
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From:tatjna
Date:January 5th, 2012 12:58 am (UTC)
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Being on the other end of that, I'm wondering how things'll pan out if my offspring decides to go to uni. For Child Support purposes he's an adult at 18, but if he decides to study, suddenly he's a child and I'm expected to support him (including living at home) until he's 25.

The way things are now, I don't think his father and I between us earn enough to affect him, but that's only because his father apparently has no income right now. The second he gets a job, I become obligated for the YoT's support - and I doubt that I'd actually get any help with that from the one who made it that way, you know?

The whole setup stinks - especially since it was created by people who all got their education fully subsidised.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:January 5th, 2012 02:37 am (UTC)
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Yeah it really galls me that they're expecting parents to support their kids for an extra seven years. I'm the fourth of five. There is no way my parents would be merrily paying for everything for us until we're all 25. We're lucky that they can afford to charge us board that's below market rent, because that's the only way I can afford the cost of living. Literally. I don't have the option of moving out.
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From:pythia
Date:January 5th, 2012 01:55 am (UTC)
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Most of my significant student loan debt was racked up through living costs. I wasn't eligable for student allowance, because my parents earned too much - but still nowhere near enough to support me while I was living away from home. They helped out where they could - the'd do a big grocery shop for me every few months, when they could, but that was about it. I stayed home for my first year of uni, but I lived nearly an hour's drive away from campus so it was costing me shitloads in petrol as well.

The flat that I lived in for most of my uni years had rent of $90 - just rent, nothing else. With power, phone, internet etc on top, it was about an extra $20-$30 a week. The most you could get from living costs then was $150. Which left me with $30-$40 to live off each week, and everyting including in food, petrol, clothes etc had to come out of that. It was definitely tight. And since then, I'm pretty sure rent's gone up.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:January 5th, 2012 02:46 am (UTC)
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Yes that was several years ago wasn't it? The absolute cheapest I found when I was looking at places in Palmerston North was one two bedroom place for $165. And that's Palmerston North. In Christchurch the only thing under $100 for a one bedroom is this - you get a two bedroom in Wainoni for $180 and then a couple more once you get up to about $200, but they're in incredibly inconvenient suburbs for students, most of them I'm familiar with the area through work so they're probably quite earthquake affected. The absolute cheapest in Riccarton is two bedrooms for $255. In comparison I paid $80 at Arthur St - it was $240 for a three bedroom house on a decent sized property in Upper Riccarton which would now cost anywhere from $315 to $530.
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From:tatjna
Date:January 5th, 2012 02:54 am (UTC)
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Rents for student flats in Wellington are ~$150 up, all inclusive. Which, given the student allowance amounts, assumes that you'll either work in the oh-so-plentiful jobs available to students *cough* or you'll live on noodles.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:January 5th, 2012 03:49 am (UTC)
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I fought with WINZ for five weeks to get the supplement at one point, while not being able to afford groceries. When I finally got it, it was just under $20, which I spent entirely on food, and they wanted me to bring my pay check in every week before they'd give me each installment. I didn't even get my pay check every week...
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From:bekitty
Date:January 5th, 2012 05:46 am (UTC)
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That might be true for the accommodation allowance (which is the student version of the accommodation supplement) but it's not true for the accomodation supplement. If you're not receiving a student allowance, you're eligible for the accommodation supplement for non-beneficiaries. The Work & Income staffer should have known that.
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From:pythia
Date:January 5th, 2012 10:58 am (UTC)
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Don't forget that if you're working and getting a student allowance you can only earn up to $180 before tax. If you're getting living costs on your loan, you can earn as much as you like...but you obviously have to balance that with your study. And no, working fulltime and studying fulltime is NOT as easy as most people seem to think...
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From:tatjna
Date:January 5th, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
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Working full time and studying part time is hard enough. I could not cope with more than one course per trimester. Of course this puts me in the group that is 'inefficient' about getting educated, that the Not Honourable Mr Joyce wants to turf out of the system.
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From:pythia
Date:January 5th, 2012 10:55 am (UTC)
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Yep, from 2004-2007. It was a 4 bedroom place for $360 - larger palces tend to actually be cheaper when split between everyone, but it requires, well, living with people.
Lee and I are lucky that we managed to find a place in Edgeware for $265 (2 bedrooms, not a unit). Compared to the other palces we looked at, it's REALLY CHEAP.
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From:thesecondcircle
Date:January 4th, 2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
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What do you pay for tuition?
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From:tatjna
Date:January 4th, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
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It varies, but on average about $700 per course. This is heavily subsidised. I tried to look up what the full course cost is (paid by international students) but hey hey, the Vic website seems to be incapacitated right now.

I'm believe that compared with the cost in the US this is quite low.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:January 4th, 2012 11:33 pm (UTC)
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My high school was one that got a sudden influx of foreign students in sixth form and as I understand it was one quarter then - they'd come for form six and seven, then first year of uni, then they were eligible to apply for citizenship and get the cheaper fees.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:January 4th, 2012 11:33 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I remember seeing international students having to pay 20-25k for full-time postgraduate courses. Unless you're fortunate enough to come from a country with a reciprocal fees arrangement.
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From:thesecondcircle
Date:January 5th, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
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Well, it's been a while since I was a student, so I did some poking around and it really depends on the college or university you're talking about. Private universities can be upwards of $50,000 a year for a full course-load (that's two semesters of 12 credits each, classes are typically 3 or 4 credits, so that's 3-4 classes each semester). Some public universities (state colleges and the like) are equally expensive.

On the other hand, the University of Oregon (one of two large state schools here) charges $2400 for in-state, resident tuition for 12 credits (including tuition AND campus fees, not books or class-specific expenses like lab fees). So that's $600 - $800 a class including the student fees. My alma mater, New Mexico State University, is $2900-ish for a full time semester (fees inclusive), from 12 - 18 hours, which is almost three times the amount it was when I graduated in 1996. NOTE, this is undergraduate tuition, graduate school can be more.

Of course, the question you have to ask is whether a degree from a high-end private school is better than the degree from a state school (in terms of getting a better job in trade for all that extra money, not in terms of a quality education -- my discussion here is entirely financial). From what I've been reading, unless you are a) at a top tier school (MIT, Stanford, etc.) or b) in a certain subset of career fields where it really matters (academia, pre-med, etc.) the degree from an expensive school won't get you a higher paying job than two years at Po-dunk Community College followed by two years at Mediocre State University. In fact, in this economy, you may not get a job at all.

When I got my undergrad degree, full time tuition was $1050 a semester. In addition, the overall cost of living was also much lower, so it was feasible to rent a crappy apartment with a roommate or three, buy a crappy student car for a couple of hundred dollars, eat a lot of ramen, and pay your own way through school by working and maybe getting your parents to put you on their car insurance. I'm not sure this is feasible because the cost of living (rent, gas, food) is so much higher and the wages available to an un-degreed student are about the same.
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From:tatjna
Date:January 5th, 2012 06:03 pm (UTC)
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The article linked by Happy above about the current value of degrees is quite interesting in light of this.
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From:downwardlashes
Date:January 5th, 2012 04:39 am (UTC)
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One semester something like that happened to Plato - he had already paid (using his finanial aid package) and then got a message saying they raised a fee and everyone had to pay more, now just days before classes start. We were flat broke and had used his whole financial aid package already, so it was pretty stressful. Then, about two years later, he got a letter saying that it had been declared illegal to do that in a lawsuit, so they were giving money back to all the people who had had to pay. I don't think we've seen any money from that though. :/
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From:tatjna
Date:January 5th, 2012 06:01 pm (UTC)
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I was wondering how legal it was to raise fees after invoicing someone. However, I hadn't actually paid it and the invoice is hosted online at their server so apart from the email telling me what my fees would be and the next one upping them, I've no evidence.
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From:wildilocks
Date:January 6th, 2012 09:40 am (UTC)
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I remember when Voluntary Student Association Membership came in in Western Australia - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntary_student_unionism for info on all this in the antipodes. It was shit. It took all the funding away from the dozens of student organisations, I was the editor of our student housing annual mag and on the committee for the housing student rep group - and there was money for an annual barbeque and to put out the magazine one year - and the next year, there wasn't. basically a large part of the funds from the compulsory association fees were split evenly depending on how many members student groups had (after a bsic admin fee for some basic student services) and these were all *VOLUNTARY* student groups for various interests & purposes such as the housing group but also, sci-fi fans, gay & lesbian, different faculty groups, so there was a big crosssection between different areas, some based on broader interests, some more department-based.

True, most of the funds did go on beer & sausages, but it was a good social thing that got destroyed, and I thought it was a shame.
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