As much as we wish we were balling as hard as we appear to be in the photo, that’s unfortunately not the case. It might come as a bit of a surprise, since we’re the Editors-in-Chief of the official UoA student magazine, but in reality, our entire editorial team of 11 lives off the pay of about two full-time workers. Shocking, right?
There is a silver lining: after some negotiation, AUSA has managed to get everyone up to living wage this year. But with inflation the highest it’s been in three decades, and most of us being paid for >10 hours a week, that money only stretches so far. That’s no one’s fault but capitalism. Still though, it’s easy to slip into the trap of finding someone to blame. Lots of people are blaming ol’ Cindy herself, but here at Craccum, we know it’s not so simple, no matter how much we want to blame Dawn Freshwater.
For the majority of students, the “cost of living crisis” is nothing new. Studylink payments have barely covered necessities for decades now, and almost everyone is either somewhat reliant on their family or works at least one part-time job. For a lot of people, it’s both. We know that for us, at least, working several jobs at once is necessary to make ends meet (just). In fact, most of the team also work other jobs while studying full-time and producing this magazine. The devil works hard, but Craccum works harder!
This reality goes all the way back to student loan reforms, the death of free tertiary education, and also the establishment of Voluntary Student Membership (VSM) in 2011. We know for many of you that’s a long time ago, but bear with us. It’s all connected to why students’ concerns about a lack of ca$h have continued to be ignored.
Before the 1990s, university education was completely free (crazy!). And students were provided enough to live on. Imagine. Then, a user-pays system was established, and so the age of student loans began. The New Zealand Union of Students Associations (NZUSA) has campaigned against the rise of student debt since then. NZUSA requires the support of many individual university student unions to maintain their lobbying power. But that campaigning power comes with a membership fee, and the government’s slickest move by far to weaken the student voice was passing VSM.
By making student union participation voluntary, this law appealed to the already broke student population. Why was the population broke, you ask? Oh, because student loans. By promising more money to students if they didn’t join unions, VSM essentially weakened student ability to lobby the government in protest against the idea that students could live on DBs and prayer. With VSM, student unions’ funding streams became controlled by their universities. We don’t have to spell out why that’s a problem, given increasing student fees and money that seems to vanish into thin air. Or more accurately, UoA’s pockets.
Recently, the Victoria University of Wellington Students Association held a referendum without much notice to leave the NZUSA. It’s a hot button topic, and every few years student associations play with the idea of leaving NZUSA and saving some coin. But Craccum’s here to let you know that’s a scam.
There’s power in the collective. Given the proper resources, attention, and money, NZUSA has the potential to push through changes like the COVID-19 hardship fund, first-year-free fees, and interest-free student loans. That’s why being engaged in student politics could be a real way to get us all ballin’.
A student loan free future could still be on the horizon. Hell, maybe even a universal basic income. Or even just decent hours for us, your friendly student mag. But until then, maybe there’s solace in knowing we’re all broke together.
Flora Xie and Naomii Seah.