For many of you the New Zealand Union of Student Associations or NZUSA is probably a term you have never heard of before. Long time readers, and PHD students probably know it from articles in the last ten years where Nexus (and almost every other student magazine) have written think pieces of its implosion. Prior to the Freedom of Association Amendment passing in 2011 NZUSA was a strong voice for students rights, student support and the campaign for free education. Since 2012 however it has been mired in internal politics, membership issues, and a campaign by successive governments to defund and marginalise an institution that it felt was a breeding ground for socialism and future Labour MPs.
As with most things once the sensationalism died down we collectively moved on to other things. Our interest had waned and our Students’ Union much like others had stopped paying any more than lip service to an organisation that had been around since 1929.
Then a funny thing happened. With the spotlight off it NZUSA started to collectively get its shit together. The result has been a reasonably strong year of achievement and a nailed down strategic path to being a competent and cohesive mouth piece for the rights of students.
In the last few years, they have provided student voices on comprehensive and nuanced pieces of legislation like tenancy reform, fought for unconditional student allowances to be reinstated, and focused on student mental health, national advocacy strategies, action on climate change, and strengthened strategic partnerships with Māori and Pacific student associations to provide a clear and conscientious voice. All of this while performing one of the most delicate balancing acts in lobbying. Maintaining a constructive dialogue with almost every party (except ACT) and allowing themselves the breathing room to be critical. The later is always the tougher part because everyone likes a cheerleader, but no one likes the friend who is constantly telling them to be better humans. This was in evidence when NZUSA President Isabella Lenihan-Ikin told the government that this years budget is “… a step in the right direction. However, the government has taken a band-aid approach to addressing student hardship and the barriers to tertiary education more broadly.”
Under Lenihan-Ikin NZUSA has a laundry list of achievements for 2020 and while that list was displayed on their social media recently we thought some of it bears repeating with some of the grammar and sentence structure improved (though it did make us smile that the unedited post was working to improve the student VICE at Wintec).
So here is some of what NZUSA , with input from the WSU and other associations, has achieved in 2020
Launched our campaign for YES2020 (cannabis reform)
Successfully lobbied the government to launch an Inquiry into Student Accommodation and hosted nationwide meetings on the issue
Brought 45 students’ associations together to launch the National Student Action Plan on Covid-19
Strengthened our relationship with the Electoral Commission to enhance the participation of students in the election
Brought students representatives together for our National Conference, including a tertiary spokesperson political debate
Hosted our Presidents Training, for NZUSA-member Presidents and increased training and resources for Students’ Associations
Working to establish a National Disabled Students’ Association.
Worked with the NZ Chinese Students’ Association and the NZ International Students’ Association to advocate for international students to come to NZ (pre borders closing)
Strengthened relationships with other associations including an Mou with Tauira Pasifika, and better working relationship with the PostGrad Students’ Association
Became a Living Wage Aotearoa member and subsequently started paying our elected representatives a living wage.
Commissioned Covid-19 research to understand the impact of Covid-19 on the lives of tertiary students
Conducted a survey during Covid-19 lockdown drawing hundreds of responses from students to shape our advocacy
Supported student reps at SAWIT to keep student voice alive at Wintec in Hamilton
Worked with our member students’ associations to strengthen their constitutions and policy
Sought and distributed legal advice for tenants in student accommodation during the lockdown
Advocated for students to leave unfair tenancy agreements and to withdraw from courses that became disrupted and affected by Covid-19, including supporting the Victoria rent strike.
Established the Students Advocacy Network
Wrote a public letter to Campus Living Villages and stood up for students who were required to continue paying for rooms they couldn’t access during Covid-19, resulting in students receiving refunds
Wrote a public letter to Vice Chancellors to campaign for a universal grade bump, resulting in several wins
Funded Thursdays in Black – our campaign to end sexual violence
Commission research into the cost of Universal Education Income
Attended Te Mana Ākonga Kaiarahi Hui
Full disclosure we actually left a bunch of shit off this list because attending meetings isn’t an achievement it’s a function and “Doing a stunt” isn’t the way humans talk when they want to be taken seriously. And before anyone hits back at us we want to loop back to allowing us the room to be supportive and critical.
So what is the verdict? NZUSA is at the time of print re-establishing itself as a powerful and effective for your right and welfare and that can ONLY be a good thing. But it is still a house with its foundations built on sand. For it to truly be effective we need to recognise how quickly it can all disappear. It also means that magazines like ours and students, in general, need to get active and interested in those institutions like NZUSA that fight for you.