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Legal Settlement Warning to Universities

The recent out of court settlement reached between Victoria University of Wellington and four Environmental Studies students is a warning to all Education providers. "Regardless of the outcome of this case, the willingness of students to legally challenge their institutions sends a clear message to these institutions - get your house in order" said Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association President Hamish Hopkinson. "While we do not support legal action and actively dissuade people from going to court, we recognise that frustrated students will continue to see it as a last resort."

Since this court case was started, institutions have strengthened their internal quality procedures, which are assisted where there are universal Students' Associations, throughout the country. Hopkinson says these procedures offer the best avenue for resolving problems. "This court case has dragged on for years. The legal process by itself does not ensure the quality qualification students study for." Hopkinson says he would caution against future legal challenges. "Aggrieved students should see their association for advice."

Hopkinson is also concerned for the effect that legal action has on current students. The Environmental Studies degree at Victoria was completely re-worked yet the students studying towards it now have been tarred by media coverage of problems with a course seven years ago. "While some people may feel justifiably aggrieved, the longer term effect is the devaluation of similar degrees for consequent students."

"We call for an Education Ombudsman, independent of the institutions where, if internal mechanisms fail, aggrieved students can turn" argued Hopkinson. "When most students are paying $3000 a year in fees and some as high as $15,000, all students are going to demand greater levels of quality." But Hopkinson says it's not just because of fees. "Students deserve top quality even when society properly values and funds education. We are opposed to seeing education as a product - to be bought and sold. Such a notion fails to see the fundamental value to society of education. Education is an ends in itself, not simply a means to a better income".

For further information email:
Chris Hipkins, Education Vice-President: chris.hipkins@vuw.ac.nz

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