Over Auckland Anniversary Weekend (while most students were still on holiday and enjoying the sun), the student executive travelled to Wellington to represent the Albany Students’ Association at the NZUSA January Conference, which brings together all the student executives from across the country.
The NZUSA (New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations) conference runs over five days and consists of four different parts. The first day is set aside for Maori caucusing (where all the Maori student reps get together and talk about Maori student issues), during which Albany was represented by Ken Taiapa from Te Waka. The second day is dedicated to gender conferences where the men and women branch off into separate conferences and discuss issues that are facing students of their gender. Amazingly, 40 men in a room did not result in a drunken riot (in fact, the drinking did not begin until after conference) and real men’s issues were discussed such as men’s sexual health and stress amongst male students. Over at the women’s conference, they were discussing students’ work/life balance and women’s representation in the media. They also had a guest speaker – Ministry of Women’s Affairs CEO Shenagh Gleisner.
The remaining three days of conference are spent in what is called the general or main conference, which serves to bring everyone together. This year, the first day of main conference was spent looking at the issues of student debt and focusing on the campaign for the election. The first keynote speaker of the day was Pete Hodgson, the new Minister for Tertiary Education. After his ramblings, the results of a triennial survey of students were presented to the media – and the findings on debt were very disturbing. The new research states that average student debt has risen by 54 per cent since 2004 and now works out to nearly $29,000 per student. After lunch, Laila Harré, former Minister of Youth Affairs and current trade union leader, spoke about the importance of campaigning in a democracy. Following this, all of the student leaders from across the country marched on parliament protesting student debt and demanding a living allowance for all. This got really good media coverage with TV One, TV3, Maori Television, the NZ Herald and Stuff all reporting on it.
The second day of main conference was spent mainly in small workshop groups that focussed on various issues faced by our campuses, such as enrolling students to vote and helping disabled students. Motions were then developed from these workshops. In a nutshell, motions are statements that are debated on the third day of conference and set the direction, focus and policy for the national student movement.
During this conference, 53 motions were developed to be debated. Vice-president Lisa Haakma and I were the ASA representatives with speaking rights for the debate on the final day. We were in favour of the majority of motions at the conference, however, we abstained – quite controversially sometimes – on motions that we felt we either did not have an opinion on or we did not believe were relevant to students at Albany.
The really important motions that were passed are:
• That NZUSA do research on student safety on campuses and in the community
• That NZUSA reaffirms its opposition to the elimination of open entry from NZ tertiary institutions – this essentially means we believe that education should be available to all
• That NZUSA lobbies the government for more effective campaigns promoting Maori participation in tertiary education
• That NZUSA investigates the various impacts of the Electoral Finance Act on students’ associations
• That NZUSA organise a protest tour staggered around New Zealand before the general election
• That NZUSA’s key message and top priority for 2008 is gaining a living allowance for all tertiary students