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They Just Want Your Money (and your Voice)

February 27th, 2009 by Madeleine

My post about student association membership reminded me that just yesterday I stumbled accross this article that I wrote for Critic’s diatribe column when we were at Otago.

Despite the fact that OUSA membership has probably increased since we were there, that NZUSA’s annual budget is now almost certainly much more than the figure I quoted below and these days the student associations tend to promote Green party policy more than the Alliance’s it is still very applicable so I have reproduced my article here.

They Just Want Your Money

Free education will never exist.

Even if the government funded 100% of tertiary study costs, students would still have to pay to get an education – even if it were a fact that ‘government money’ grew on trees.

Why? Because student association membership fees are compulsory.

Want a tertiary education? Then you have to join the student association. No choice, no argument; if you want to get your grades then cough up the best part of $100 to OUSA.

Apart from being a violation of the Bill of Rights – s17: “everyone has the right to freedom of association” – it smacks of hypocrisy.

The loudest campaigners for free education, the advocates for hard-up students, are funding their campaigns, national and international flights, their catered conferences, the very handcuffs they chain themselves to government architecture with, with a total budget estimated to be around $18 million annually.

This income is sourced entirely from the pockets of the very people they claim should not have to pay a single cent to get an education.

So long as student association membership remains compulsory, free education can never exist.

Effectively, NZUSA’s $400,000 annual budget – also taken entirely from students – is a total waste of money. And for what? To tell us to vote Alliance. Who? Over 90% of us did not vote for free education last election, demonstrating most of us think we should pay something substantial towards our education.

OUSA use our money and voice for things political, controversial, environmental and occasionally student related. Maybe I would mind compulsion less if they steered clear of the political, did not comment on controversial topics, that those they allegedly represent have a diversity of views on, and provided good services. However, even if they did all this, their compulsory subscription would still be immoral.

It’s that pesky Bill of Rights again. OUSA could be the most wonderful, student advocate and service provider in the country but they would still have no right to hold my grades to ransom unless I forked out and joined them. No more right to do so than any workers’ union has a right to garnish pay-packets, a church to forcibly extract an offering, the Salvation Army to make a benefit deduction.

Student associations are kidding themselves if they think they are any better than any of these organisations – which, incidentally, all manage to stay afloat, be effective at what they do and who they serve by being voluntary. The only type of association that has anything to fear by giving its members a choice to join is one that knows it’s so irrelevant, unaccountable, ineffective and useless that no-one will choose to join it unless they are made to. Which begs the question; why should they be able to force you to prop it up if it is so useless? You’d join if it were good.

Voluntary membership fosters accountability, relevance and effectiveness, because if a union is not these things it will go under. Having cash flow contingent on performance is incentive, having thousands of cash cows you can simply burden further if you blow the budget on, say, ummm, a book store, gives you no incentive to perform relevantly at all. It leaves members totally reliant on the ethics of the student politicians (did I just use ethics and politicians in the same sentence?).

But, we’re told, students can conscientiously object (CO) so it’s not really compulsory, it’s not really a violation of your right to freedom of association. Really? Putting aside the fact that you have to first join or risk late fees and grades being withheld before you can even think about CO-ing, you have to apply to the student union for permission to be exempt from membership. If your evidence is not compelling, they don’t have to grant you a CO. Even if successful, they get to choose which charity to donate your $100 to; you don’t get it back.

I see. I don’t have to associate with anyone as long as I first associate with the student union so I can disassociate with them, assuming they let me, and then make a donation to an ‘appropriate’ charity of their choosing?

It’d make a good Tui billboard: “Student unions don’t violate civil rights. Yeah, right.”

They want you to believe a lie that voluntary membership is some kind of right wing conspiracy, championed by white middle class male members of ACT, when in fact outside of tertiary institutions it’s normal.

Student politicians want your money, they want to illegitimately use your voice to push their personal agendas – the ones they think you should hold. They want you to shut up, roll over and take it. The question is, will you?

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2 responses so far ↓

  • Then they tell you that you have “freedom of association” because you don’t have to hang out wit them.

    Then you point out…

    Article 20.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
    * (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

    …and they launch into the same old story about how they do such wonderful things for everyone.

    Which of course ignores the point of the UDOHR. Very few people who remove rights from others do so from purely evil intent, at least initially.

  • I’m very sympathetic to your concerns about freedom of association, and I’m grossly disappointed in the way some student associations handle conscientious objectioners. Students shouldn’t have to justify their objections.

    That said, if you and other right-wing campaigners were really interested in student welfare, you would sponsor a bill that rectifies this situation (e.g. just force student associations to accept all requests for conscientious objection on any grounds) without gutting out the student associations and the services they provide on campus.

    The whole thing is just a right-wing power-play, because students are on the whole, rather inclined to the left. It makes me sick, just as much as the left-wing politicking within student associations annoys you.