Last October’s referendum saw the student body overwhelmingly vote for OUSA to remain members of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA). Do OUSA need NZUSA or are they simply a hollow representative body?
Linsey Higgins, NZUSA’s president, told Critic she believes there have been numerous NZUSA initiatives that have helped or will help Otago University’s student population directly. According to Higgins, “since October we have had training for presidents and executive members across the country, held a national day of action to highlight student debt hitting $15 billion, met with members across the country to hear the issues that have affected their students, and launched a successful Thursdays in Black campaign.”
In addition, Higgins noted presenting a submission to parliament on rental standards, which included working with Bryn Jenkins, OUSA welfare officer, and Sean Gamble, OUSA campaigns officer, when they made a submission at the select committee stage of the Residential Tenancies Act amendments in parliament.
Moreover, NZUSA are “about to launch a campaign about student debt that involves knitting”, are also preparing for Local Body Elections, and have been meeting with MP’s and ministerial officials too.
Last year’s OUSA executive were particularly against the vast amount of money NZUSA requires as their membership, which totals $45,000 per annum. They highlighted that by not being a part of the organisation, those funds could be allocated towards groups, clubs or initiatives they believed were potentially of higher priority. Coupled with this was the fact that other student representative bodies, notably Victoria University of Wellington Student Association (VUWSA) withdrew its membership after the reforms NZUSA had promise to implement were not carried out —although VUWSA have since re-joined after another referendum.
On-going discussion with NZUSA and OUSA culminated in OUSA refusing to pay the $45,000 membership fee for 2015, but that has seemingly since been resolved. OUSA president for 2015, Paul Hunt, said NZUSA had been “ineffective and distracted by sideshows… for many years.”
Dissatisfaction with NZUSA seems widespread, and they are now under the pump to deliver as much as possible during the remainder of 2016 to students nationally in order to restore the faith they have provided over their long history as the voice of New Zealand’s tertiary education. Higgins finished by stating that she thinks it is “hugely important that OUSA are members of NZUSA. They represent a large body of students in a very unique part of New Zealand. I strongly value the input that Laura and her executive give to NZUSA. I’m also aware that Otago students are really important to represent, a number don’t live locally, their housing is terrible and people are happy to brand them with lazy stereotypes that need challenging.”
OUSA president, Laura Harris also believed that the association had the backing of the student population; ‘OUSA re-affiliated to NZUSA at the end of last year in light of a referendum that showed a majority of students wishing to retain membership.”