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Compulsory Whitireia student union costs $207,000

Compulsory Whitireia student union costs Polytech $207,000

Media release: Student Choice, 16 August 2010

The compulsory Whitireia Polytechnic student union, currently at the centre of a police investigation over fraud allegations, also took legal action against Whitireia Polytechnic in 2007.  Defending this action cost Whitireia Polytechnic almost $207,000 in legal fees between 2007-2009.

Student Choice said the information on the Polytechnic’s legal costs was obtained under the Official Information Act and provides yet another argument in support of voluntary membership of student unions.

Membership of Whitireia Independent Students’ Association (WISA) is compulsory and all Whitireia students must pay a fee to WISA before they can study.  WISA’s most recent (2007) accounts show that in one year the group took over $173,000 from students in compulsory levies.

Student Choice opposes compulsory membership of student unions and supports the Freedom of Association bill, currently before the Education select committee.  The bill, if passed, will make membership of student unions voluntary.

Compulsory membership of WISA and other unions creates large pools of money that makes a tempting target for fraudsters.  As students are forced to join groups like WISA they don't take an active interest in the organisation.  This gives a small number of people control over large amounts of money and makes fraud easier.

The Whitireia case is the latest in a long line of frauds involving student money:

            2003, Massey Wellington Students Association lost $203,000

2005, Victoria University Maori students association lost $161,000

2008, Christchurch Polytechnic Students Association lost $175,000.

Fraud is the most overt example of the abuse caused by compulsory membership.  Another serious problem is political misrepresentation where students are forced to fund political causes that they don’t support.

Voluntary membership won’t end financial misappropriation in student groups but it will reduce the amount of money at risk and will force committees to be more accountable and transparent.


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