Monday, May 16, 2005

President's Column - The squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

Last week I was rallying support for next week’s protest in the Quad, and Michael Gilchrist (organizer for the Association of University Staff) used the alliteration “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” to describe conflicting issues in an election year. Those causes which are the most vocal and best organized are the causes which influence what parties put in their manifestos, and who voters vote for on election day (whenever that might be).

This is particularly the case for student issues. Students are viewed by politicians and the general public as apathetic; a group that are either too busy or too lazy to care. This could be a determining factor in explaining why students have been effectively ignored by the government for so long. Other than a few small advances (thanks for the letter, Jim), students are in no better position now than they were ten years ago.

It is time to change this, and the time is next Tuesday. VUWSA (in conjunction with the Association of University Staff) will be marching from the Kelburn Quad and Bunny Street to Parliament. This is the beginning of VUWSA’s election campaign, and coincidently falls two days before Dr Cullen delivers the 2005 Government Budget. Our message to the Government is that students and staff are not going to stand for an under-funded Tertiary Education system any longer. More specifically, this can be broken into two categories that affect all students.

The first of these is an end to fee increases. Labour pledged in 1999 to make tertiary education more affordable. Despite this, in 2003 Steve Maharey (then Minister of Tertiary Education) announced a system of “fee maxima”. This allowed institutions to raise fees to a set level – at Victoria this resulted in a 3% and 4.5% fee increase in 3004 and 2005 respectively. According to NZUSA research, as much as 60% (or $4.4 billion) of student debt is from fees. The fact that institutions have been able to raise fees shows that the Government is not concerned with fixing this generational debt.

The second category is a decent pay increase for university staff. If you don’t think staff pay affects students, think again. New Zealand academics are amongst the lowest paid in the OECD. Unless their pay is increased, the best and brightest academics, researchers and lecturers will head overseas where they will be paid more. This will deprive you (the student) of the best research and teaching, and degrade the academic quality of Victoria University, and, ultimately the degrees that you worked so hard to gain.

There is a perception that protesters are arrested and not allowed to leave the country (or deported). This couldn’t be further from the truth. New Zealand has a strong tradition of freedom of speech. As a nation we have taken to the streets over contentious issues such as the Vietnam War, the 1981 Springbok Tour, and the Civil Union Bill. Students have to uphold this tradition.

I strongly encourage you to come along to Tuesday’s protest. Classic kiwi muso Chris Knox will be playing in the Quad from 12 noon, and we will head to Parliament at about 12:30.

If you only take part in one political action while your at University, regardless of your political believes or allegiances, there will be no better opportunity than next Tuesday.

Come along and show the government that students aren’t going to take it any longer.

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