April 02, 2005

The case against VSU

The driving logic and motivation behind VSU can be summed up in the following quote from a report produced by the Student Association Inc:

Federal Education Minister, Dr David Kemp, referred to Western
Australia as a working example of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) in its purest
form, stating ‘when campus organisations cannot take their customers for granted,
they will have to provide a better service or they will lose their customers…In
Western Australia, which has had VSU since 1995, we have already seen change in
the services provided’

Despite Dr David Kemp's claims the result was far removed from the idealistic projections as the following extract from the same report shows:

In reality however, VSU resulted in a significant demise in
the services that were provided to students in Western Australia . Although the
legislation has been significantly repealed by the current WA Government since then, at the time it resulted in the collapse of campus life at Edith Cowan University and a severe cut back of it at Murdoch and Curtin Universities.

Further more the introduction of VSU will also undermine student's authority in educational institutes:

Under the proposed legislation, the Student Association would lose
approximately 75% of its net income. This would almost certainly result in the
winding up of the organisation, terminating the delivery of services and activities
currently provided and also terminating any prospect of development of improvement of campus facilities in the future. In addition, the SA’s representational role in the university decision making processes would be lost.

Proponents of VSU like to tout that people will join the union if they want its services. The following data show instead that people will value their money over even basic services, even if the buildings are falling around their ears.

From the a report produced by University of Queensland Union:

In 1995, the following percentage of students joined their respective student unions:
  • Curtin - 10%
  • Edith Cowan - 13%
  • Uni of WA - 28%
  • Murdoch - 38%
After 4 years of cost cutting and aggressive advertisement, the figures improved:
  • Edith Cowan - 6%
  • Curtin - 30%
  • Uni of WA - 30%
  • Murdoch - 35%
However during this 4 year period:

Most of the commercial services continued to operate after 1997 but the profits were insufficient to continue to the comprehensive range of non-cost recovery services,publications and advice/support normally offered by the guilds...universities had to step in to provide financial assistance to the guilds to ensure the maintenance of a basic level of student services, and in the case of Edith Cowan the university took on a role the role of direct administration after the Guild collapsed.

As you can see, despite the disintegration of services due to lack of members, students still would keep their money rather than improve their university services. This attitude is born from greed and the mentality "I can put up with this because eventually others besides me will join and make things better. Then I can reap the benefits with out any personal cost." To make matters worst the current VSU legislation prevents universities from funding non-academic activities, all student services would vanish following the collapse of student guilds.

There is an interesting table on page 5 and 6 detailing the effects of 4 years of VSU. Its a despairing sight as it forecasts the losses we will be expected to endure. Specifically:
  • Student Emergency loans - lost from 3 universities
  • Full program of cultural events - lost from 3 universities
  • Student conference funding - lost from all 4 universities.
This puts lie to the claim that university life would not be significantly affected by VSU's introduction.

If the past is any indication the introduction of VSU nationally will see the deterioration of student services, student representation, university life and basic services.