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legislation has been significantly repealed by the current WA Government since then, at the time it resulted in the collapse of campus life at Edith Cowan University and a severe cut back of it at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.


  1. I don't care as much about the making of joining a union at uni voluntary, as I care about the blatant blackmailing some universities do in order to get you to pay the fee.

    Upon calling my university, I enquired about a concession - on certain grounds - that I be exempt. It was explained to me, that this fee was not in fact a student union fee, but rather a fee to gain access to the campus facility.

    This kind of blackmail is intolerable in my eyes. Not only do I have to spend close to $30,000 to get an 'supposedly' higher education, but I must pay another $450 per year just to access the university. It's no wonder some students get discouraged by university life.

    For this reason, and this reason wholly, do I think that student unions be completely abolished.
    They are nothing more than money sucking scum.

  2. neo, then its not a problem with the union is it? Its your *university* you have a problem with, not the student union itself.

    If you can show that you really can't pay the union fee, the union will waiver the fee and possibly provide you with finanical assistance.

    Also, how is it blackmail ? The campus facilities *are* provided by the union. Its blackmail if paying to catch a train/bus/taxi is blackmail. The $450 is not access to the university, its access to non-academic parts of the university, non-academic services including finanical assistance - interest free loans that are only due when you graduate for example.

  3. Bring on VSU.

    The average student clearly thinks that unions are a waste of money, as this report shows. I'd rather lose a few services no-one cares about and keep my money in my pocket.

    The attitudes are:

    Pro-VSU: Its your cash. You're a big boy, you know how to look after yourself.

    Anti-VSU: The average student is a moron who needs to be taxed, against his wishes, for his own good.

  4. Pro-VSU: I want my cash, screw every one else.

    Anto-VSU: Every one needs to chip in to make uni a better place.

    The reports illustrates a nice land slide effect - people see services getting worst, but won't contribute because they think "what good if my money going to do if no one else will". USU is the only thing preventing this land slide into commericalised campuses and poor student service.

    The union is more than services, the union represents you, the student, on education committees. Its the spokesman for what students should deserve.