Dom Post on VSM

The Dom Post editorial:

Whitireia Independent Students’ Association is not the first student association to have trouble administering the fees it collects.

However, with $1 million missing from the association’s funds, it will add impetus to the campaign to make students’ associations truly voluntary.

Good. There needs to be a good reason to take money from people compulsorily – and when it is, the money must be managed to the highest of standards. At Whitireia neither has been the case.

And I hold Parliament responsible. They have given the powers of compulsion, without any requirements for accountability.

Students attending Whitireia do not have to be members of their association, but the system is set up to make it hard for them not to be. They automatically join when they enrol but, according to the association website, “should you not want to be a member and require a full refund, you must opt out within 20 days from the commencement of your course of study”. So few do that the association has an income of about $350,000 a year, income that it and Whitireia Community Polytechnic, which handed over money despite doubts, have proved unable to administer satisfactorily.

This is better than at most institutions, but still no substitute for a proper voluntary opt in regime.

Most students could no doubt find a better use for the $135 that fulltime students pay than providing an involuntary subsidy for pool players.

And even if the services it was offering were essential, it is clear that the association, like others before it, lacks the professionalism needed to manage the funds it is given, and the delivery. No organisation is exempt from fraud, but there have been too many instances in students’ associations of mismanagement of funds.

There are some associations, such as OUSA and UCSA, which have a history of good management and value for money. But the overall prevalence of fraud in student associations seems massively higher than most other sectors. There are less than 50 such associations, and the number which have had fraud is in the range of 10% to 20% I would say.

Students attending tertiary institutions do need non-academic services such as health clinics and cafeterias. It makes more sense for those essential services to be provided through a student services levy administered by the institution. That would leave student associations to provide optional extras, such as student newspapers and wall planners – and students to decide whether they want those things enough to join up, and pay up.

Exactly. If a service is “essential” then the institution should provide it.

Hopefully Parliament will recognise the status quo is indefensible, and vote (with appropriate modifications) for student associations to become voluntary.

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