Tertiary institutions have a small window of time to respond to new government rules about how student services are provided. The voluntary student membership (VSM) bill is likely to become law on 28 September, and take effect on 1 January next year. Based on previous experience, here and in Australia, student’s associations are likely to attract small numbers of paying members, and thus need to reduce significantly the services they provide.
The government has also proposed new regulations for how tertiary education institutions (TEIs) can collect and spend student service levies. These are likely to be decided at the end of the month and take effect next year. Under the proposed new regulations TEIs will only be allowed to spend their student service levies on advocacy and legal advice for individual students, careers information, financial or employment advice and guidance, counselling services, health services, media, childcare, sports and recreation facilities.
That allows the possibility that levies may go towards some but not all of the services that most compulsory students’ associations provide. For instance the regulations allow tertiary institutions to fund student newspapers and radio stations but at this stage they do not appear to allow for funding cultural support and services such as music concerts or Pasifika student events. NZUSA’s co-president Max Hardy has criticised the combination of the levies and the voluntary membership bill saying they radically undermine students’ associations’ transition plans “leaving associations and institutions with nowhere near enough time to plan for a voluntary membership environment”.
Education Directions’ CEO Dave Guerin says in practice most students’ associations and TEIs will need to consider introducing services agreements. He agrees one of the big issues for institutions is managing the transition smoothly.
“Most institutions have, or will soon, set their fees, while enrolment materials and processes are also well underway. (Time constraints) will be a problem both for dealing with VSM and for setting up the consultation structures for student services fees,” said Mr Guerin.