Opportunity for biggest change to student voice since VSM announced
Students are celebrating the Governments announcement of a student voice consultation document at the ‘Voices of the Sector’ hui at Waikato University today.
The consultation document asks questions around three key themes, which in essence focus on the quality, strength and independence of student voice, meanwhile highlighting potential structure changes to further student voice as a point of value for stakeholders and decision-making in tertiary education.
“Ever since Voluntary Student Membership came into effect in 2011, student voice throughout the country has suffered tremendously. The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations have been pushing for changes to student voice ever since this point, and although this has gotten harder as our voice has weakened, we are extremely excited for this opportunity to cordinate a response amongst student organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand” – James Ranstead, President of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Association.
“The Minister has refrained from suggesting a return to Universal Student Membership is on the cards, but students will be pushing for a system that reflects the meaningful student representation that was capable before VSM” said Sam Smith, Project Lead of the NZUSA Student Voice Project Team.
The National Māori Students Association Te Mana Ākonga agrees with the rationale and high level aims of the consultation document.
“Māori student voice can definitely be strengthened in Tertiary Education. A review of Student Voice will undoubtedly show that the Māori student voice is under-resourced and undervalued, both at the regional and national level. This is problematic for our multiple Māori Student Associations who too often are left digging into their own pockets to manaaki and tautoko their Tauira. This review has the potential to increase resourcing which ultimately would allow Te Mana Ākonga to better advocate for the needs of our Tauira, creating safer and supportive environments for Tauira Māori in Tertiary Education”.
The proposed changes, too, are mostly reflective of the way the Aotearoa student population is evolving.
“With a much greater pool of Māori and Pacific students in the tertiary education sector than previously, it is great that the Government is taking a focus on this, likewise with disabled students. It is however, disappointing to see that international students are not included in the consultation document whilst comprising 50,000 of our national student pool, so we will be pushing hard for a change on this in our submission” said Ranstead.
NZUSA partner the Tertiary Education Union has also come out in support of todays announcements.
Sharn Riggs, TEU National Secretary, noted that student voice has been silenced and compromised since the law changed in 2014 making membership of students’ associations voluntary. Riggs also welcomed Minister Hipkins recognition that action must be taken and committed to wide-ranging consultation to address these issues and ensure a strong student voice for the future. The TEU will continue to support the NZUSA and its members as they advocate for their preferred approach to strengthen student voice.
The consultation document will be soon uploaded on the Ministry of Education kōrero mātauranga website. NZUSA and Te Mana Ākonga will be mobilising student groups over the next couple of months to ensure it is students that are driving the discussion on this topic.