Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Voluntary Student Membership and freedom of association

As the Government is not going into urgency today, it is members day, and the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill to allow for voluntary membership of student unions will have its first reading. I am in two minds about the bill. I see merits in both arguments.

Many have argued that people should not be compelled to belong to any union. In fact no-one is compelled to belong to a student union. Those who don't want to belong to a student union don't have to study. Those who must study don't have to take part in the services provided by student unions if they are opposed, in principle to membership. I don't see any reason why students can't pay the fee and campaign to opt out of membership.Opting in means having a choice to pay a fee for membership in most cases, opting out means having a choice whether to be a member, thus exercising freedom of association.

But despite the bill's title, VSM proponents -many of who are not students - are not focused on freedom of association nor are they opposed to student union membership per se. It's the fact that students must pay a membership fee that they are opposed to, and it is this that the bill would remove, by amending Section 229 of the Education Act.
6. New section 229 substituted
Section 229 is repealed and the following section substituted:Section 229 is repealed and the following section substituted:
229 Voluntary membership of students’ associations
1) No person, including any tertiary institution or any association of students, may require any student or exert undue influence on any student—

(a) to become or not become a member of any association of students; or

(b) to pay any money to any association of students, or to any other person in lieu of such fees.
So this debate is not about membership, it is not about provision of services, it is about being forced to pay money for the membership that provides those services, and the bill frames this in the context of student union membership, not its financial component.

If section 6 (1)b of the bill was deleted, it would not restrict freedom of association - but the same freedom would not apply to payment of student union fees. So this freedom of association argument is a bit of a red herring when the real issue is the freedom to pay a student union fee. The bill also conflates ACT's concern with freedom of association with student service provision and membership of the university community.

What I find ironic in this debate is the very people who support VSM, predominately students, will read the fully funded student media -Salient, Critic etc, utilise Student Job Search, which is fully funded co-funded by the student union fee with the balance being paid by the Government - or go on Debating Society trips which are funded with a contribution from a membership fee they don't want to pay. They even support compulsory unionism of a kind.

Before you pro VSM debaters get a little horrified, I'll declare that I have bit of time for the Victoria University Debating Society - I took part in a recent debate it organised. So I'm most pleased to advise that their next public debate is going to be on this very issue of VSM on Monday 6.30pm, Lecture Theatre 1, Old Government Buildings in Pipitea Campus.Entry is free - and you can choose whether you want to be there or not.Political party representatives will be Peter McCaffrey (affirmative - supports VSM) and Max Hardy (negative). Student debaters are Stephen Whittington (affirmative)and Seb Templeton (negative). MPs are David Garrett and one other to be confirmed.

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Blogger Just my opinion said...

I believe anybody in Wellington or wherever can enjoy the benefits of free Salient (etc) or their local student radio station. How lovely that in order to get a degree you must fund this.

This debate is entirely about membership. It's discrimination to say that you can't get a degree unless you join the union.

VUWSA are probably the worst/best example of how it can all go so wrong. The Workers Party have alienated students so much that they will be to blame if VUWSA collapses.

I am looking forward to reading your pro VSM article :)

September 23, 2009 at 1:08 AM  
Blogger peteremcc said...

As has already been pointed out, Student mags are already available to everyone, not just students.

However, in addition, there's no reason they need subsidising. Craccum makes money for AUSA, instead of being subsidised - and it's full colour and glossy.

The vast majority of SJS funding comes directly from government, not form student associations, and to be honest, it sucks. Trade Me or Seek is much better and easier to use.

As for Debsoc. At Vic at least, most of Debsoc's funding comes from the Vice Chancellor not VUWSA - we find him to be much more generous - and reliable. Debsoc also charges a membership fee, that people seem perfectly willing to voluntarily pay.

Did i miss anything?

September 23, 2009 at 1:27 AM  
Blogger Graeme Edgeler said...

You don't have to become a student is a really bad argument against VSM.

You don't have to drive on the road, but if all drivers were forced to be members of the AA (with its pro-highways views) there would be a problem.

September 23, 2009 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger Swimming said...

But if you become a real estate agent after finishing a salesperson's course, you are automatically members of the Real Estate Institute. Students are not alone in being required to join an association and pay fees to do so. You don't have to become a real estate agent if you dont want to join the association.

As for AA, its a little different - you can opt into be a member even if you don't drive. As far as I am aware you cant be a member of a students association if you don't enrol in a course of study. Not exactly freedom of choice :-0

September 23, 2009 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger peteremcc said...

No offence, but wrong again...

Here's Clayton Cosgrove speaking on the importance of Freedom of Association back in 2007 when Labour reformed the REI to make it voluntary:

Oh, and yes you can be a member of a students association without being a student - you just pay the fee.

September 23, 2009 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger Swimming said...

Labour didnt reform the REI to make it voluntary. If you want to be a licenced real estate agent you have to be a member.

September 23, 2009 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger peteremcc said...

Ah, I may be mixing REI up with the Law Society, that they definitely did make voluntary.

Either way, just because two organisations are compulsory when they shouldn't be, isn't an argument against making one of them voluntary - it's an argument for making both of them voluntary.

September 23, 2009 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger Swimming said...

I thought membership of the Law society had always been voluntary.

September 23, 2009 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger peteremcc said...

Hit the compare link below, takes you to the old text:

September 23, 2009 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger peteremcc said...

See Farrar covering the announcement here too:

September 23, 2009 at 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of your analogies are a bit off, particularly the REI. That's more like learning to drive in that anyone who is learning to drive doesn't have to belong to a learner drivers union, but on successful passing of their testing they become members of a group known as licensed drivers (note that they chose voluntarily to join this group).
Similarly students are not all necessarily interested in being members of the student union, a few of them actually are seeking to become members of a group we could loosely label 'degree holders'. The student part of it is just the means to get there.

September 24, 2009 at 1:34 PM  
Blogger cbmilne33 said...

I do think that part of the problem may be due to the fact that student politics is divided between the academic and student union paths.I do think that all course representatives to Debartmental/Subject Committees should be ex-officio on the Student Union Student Representative Councils.Likewise all student represntatives on the Academic Boards that come from all the Faculties/Schools of Studies should be ex-officio members of the Student Union Executive.Further just as we have Head Boys and Girls at Secondary Schools we should have Male and Female Co-Presidents who should have been student reps on those Academic Boards and they should be on University/Polytechnic councils.Another problem with legitimacy of student politicians is that when they leave Campus into the outside world we never hear from them and their issues in the Alumni Associations and Courts of Convocations that represent the graduates etc of said institutions.I do know that as a member of the University of Waikato Alumni Association.

September 28, 2009 at 1:55 AM  
Blogger Just my opinion said...

You do know my compulsory bloggers union is a piss take on the CSM issue. :)

October 5, 2009 at 11:56 AM  

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