The Auckland University Students’ Association (AUSA) Executive have proposed leaving the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA). The move is subject to a majority vote by students in favor of leaving the NZUSA at the AUSA Annual General Meeting, scheduled to be held on the 31st of May.
AUSA President Anamika Harirajh cited NZUSA’s high membership fee and the relevance of the organisation’s actions to Auckland students as key reasons for leaving. “Over the next 12 months we’re not leaving NZUSA for the sake of leaving. We want to work collaboratively with them to make sure that it is something that we want to be a part of and that we’re getting value for our money,” Harirajh told Craccum. “The money is a very big issue — $45,000 in comparison to the rest of our budget, that’s a huge amount of money. The benefits for University of Auckland students, the benefits that they’re supposedly getting, it’s just not really adding up at this point.”
The NZUSA is currently made up of 14 members, all of which are student associations of universities, institutes of technologies or polytechnics. Notably, large student associations such as the Auckland University of Technology Students’ Association, the Waikato Students’ Union and the University of Canterbury Students’ Association are not members. In the past, the Otago University Students’ Association and the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association have left and subsequently rejoined NZUSA.
Over the past year, NZUSA has led a number of campaigns focusing on student-related issues. These include advocating for action to address student accommodation issues during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, and lobbying for students to receive a Universal Education Income that is not means-tested or age limited. However, at an AUSA Student Council meeting earlier this month, Welfare-Vice President Ishie Sharma argued that the NZUSA’s campaigns are too Wellington-centric and lack focus on the needs of the students AUSA represents.
The proposed move also has the support of the AUSA Student Council, with the group passing a motion in support of all four of the AUSA Executive’s recommendations regarding leaving NZUSA at their latest meeting. These include giving NZUSA 12 months notice that the AUSA is leaving, working collaboratively with NZUSA during this 12 month period to see if reforms can be implemented to address the issues AUSA has highlighted, working with Te Mana Ākonga and Tauira Pasifika to ensure their financial security, and revisiting the topic of NZUSA membership in 2022.
Responding to the news, NZUSA President Andrew Lessels says they are disappointed by the AUSA Executive’s proposal to leave the union. Lessels says NZUSA is “heartened that they are taking it to their AGM so that the voices of students are empowered in AUSA’s decision making.” The president says he acknowledges the significant financial pressure many student associations face, and the burden NZUSA membership fees can place on associations. “This year we have committed to overhauling our membership fee structure to recognise the diversity of funding that our members have.”
In regard to to the national body’s relevance to UoA students and their needs, Lessels says that “NZUSA has had a number of wins over the years that directly benefit students at UoA, from Fees Free to interest-free student loans and the $50 increase to student allowances in 2017.”
Lessels also cited the Hardship Fund for Learners, Technology Access Fund for Learners and the Code of Learner Wellbeing and Safety as being key areas of student support they were involved in.
NZUSA told Craccum that without a national voice for students, calls for more affordable accommodation, financial and academic support, and accessible transport go unheeded. “Collective power is what makes our movement strong, without that, we are nothing more than isolated voices going unheard.”
Harirajh believes that the AUSA will still be able to coordinate with other student associations and advocate on behalf of students should they leave the NZUSA. The Auckland University of Technology Students’ Association will be hosting an event for all student associations in June, which AUSA plans to attend. “To have that away from the heavily political NZUSA environment is going to be really beneficial to a lot of our student leaders,” says Harirajh. “[Coordination] is possible, we know that because we’ve been doing it, it just shouldn’t have such a big price tag attached to it.”
Should the AUSA be successful in leaving the NZUSA, Harirajh says there are many areas the $45,000 membership fee could be reallocated to. One of these areas is the AUSA Food Bank. “Currently, we don’t have enough in that budget line to keep up with the demand from students,” says Harirajh. “We get anywhere from 10 to 20 students a week coming in to get a food bag”. Other key areas include student support initiatives such as the AUSA Hardship Grant.
Students are encouraged to attend the AUSA Annual General Meeting, to have their say on the executives proposal to leave NZUSA.