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Educators Condemn Compulsory Student Unions



Speaking on behalf of the Education Forum, John Morris, Headmaster of Auckland Grammar School, said proposed changes to legislation on tertiary students' associations would in effect be a return to compulsory membership.

The legislation announced recently by Trevor Mallard, Minister of Education, would provide that students enrolled in an institution with voluntary membership may vote to return to compulsory membership if the student body receives a petition signed by 10 percent of students. Also an existing students' association representing at least 50 percent of students may vote to do so. Membership fees would be collected automatically by the tertiary provider on behalf of the association.

"While the details are not entirely clear, the legislation will in effect be a return to the anachronism of compulsory student membership. Like lots of other associations, tertiary students' associations exist to provide representational and other services to members. The vast majority of associations are voluntary and legislative compulsion is undesirable except in exceptional cases, for instance where health or safety is an issue. No basis for exceptional treatment exists in the case of student associations. To the contrary, higher education should be characterised by individual and intellectual freedom. Vesting coercive powers in student bodies is totally unwarranted and undemocratic.

"As is the case with other service providers, membership of student associations should rise or fall on the basis of the quality and cost of their services. Compulsion forces students to join associations whose services they may not want or whose views they may not share. It is abhorrent that students should be forced to contribute resources to associations whose views on political or moral issues they may strongly disagree with.

"Compulsion ensures the survival of poorly-run associations offering high cost services. There is no reason to believe voluntary associations cannot prosper on the basis of quality services which members actually want and at competitive prices."


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