Yesterday, the Education & Science Select Committee reported back on the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill.
The full report from the Select Committee is here.
So firstly the bad: It seems inevitable that students’ associations in New Zealand will become voluntary. Unless a Labour government is elected next year and a repeal is rushed through, in 15 months time compulsory students’ associations will be no more. Once they are voluntary I doubt that any future government will return them to being compulsory.
And the good: The bill is nowhere near as bad or as nasty as Australia, the bill allows for universities to collect fees at enrolment, it sets out clear mechanisms for complaints, and while changing the structure of associations will not kill them (if associations are smart and work with the changes).
And the missing: The bill repeals the current definition of a students’ association and fails to replace it. This is a minor technicality but should be fixed.
The actual details of the bill:
The bill repeals the following sections of the Education Act 1989:
- Section 171(2)(e) which defines student membership of university councils. However, it is replaced with a requirement that the university council conducts an election for up to three student representatives. This is much better than repealing all student representation on councils. This means that no longer will the students’ association President be guaranteed a seat at the council. Although they are likely to be elected by the students to the council as those who are involved in students’ associations will also be most likely to vote in council elections.
- Section 229A, 229B, and 229C. These sections currently lay out what constitutes a students’ association (missing from the new bill), how membership fees are collected, how to object, how to vote to change from compulsory to voluntary.
The bill inserts new sections covering:
- Undue influence, a person cannot pressure a student into becoming a member of the association, not becoming a member, or leaving the association. This clause is good because it sets out clear requirements for both sides. The following section details how a complaint about undue influence is handled by the university council. Furthermore the council has powers to dismiss a complaint if it is not on reasonable grounds. This will stop time wasting and political grandstanding by those who hate students’ associations altogether.
- Membership fees, students’ associations can continue to collect membership fees. Furthermore universities can collect membership fees on behalf of associations at enrolment. Students’ associations can also charge fees to non-members for services they use. All of this is simple, straightforward and a good working model.
However, one issue I have with this is the ability in the bill for councils to withhold funds if they believe that a students’ association is not complying with its constitution. This could end up in a massive spat between the university and the association if someone accuses it of not following its constitution on political grounds rather than actual problems. There needs to be some form of dispute resolution if a council withholds fees and the students’ association disagrees with the reasoning of the council in doing so.
I think this version of the bill is workable and while not something that any students’ association wants it is fair to both sides of the political argument. The only major technical flaw in the bill is the missing definition of a students’ association. The current bill has clause 229A(b)
The students association that, at the commencement of this section, is recognised by the council of the institution as being the institution’s students association for the purpose of representation on the council, is the students association at that institution for the purposes of section 171(2)(e), this section, and sections 229B and 229C.
This bill needs a similar clause maybe reading:
The students association that, at the commencement of this section, is recognised by the council of the institution as being the institution’s students association for the purposes of section 171(2)(e), this section, and sections 229B and 229C.
This prevents multiple students’ associations or rouge groups claiming to be an institution’s students’ association and rather has the council spell it out.
Footnote: I have used compulsory rather than universal in describing current membership of students’ associations as this is the same word as used in the current Education Act.