- The Australian: Unis to face big fines on union 'fees' [March 16, 2005]: "UNIVERSITIES could face multi-million-dollar fines if they attempt to circumvent a government ban on charging compulsory student union fees, under tough legislation to be unveiled by Education Minister Brendan Nelson. The Howard Government's plan to end compulsory student unionism in Australia will also force universities to cover any shortfall in the cost of student services, presently funded by the $160 million-a-year collected in union fees.
- Labor slams uni change as ideology gone mad. 16/03/2005. ABC News Online
- Students rally against VSU. 16/03/2005. ABC News Online
- Scrapping student union fees 'heavy handed' - National - www.smh.com.au
With all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, a key point is being lost: the proposal is for union fees to become voluntary, they are not being abolished. The objections all make the assumption that no student will voluntarily cough up the money. Think on that.
If nobody is willing to pay, does that suggest that nobody feels like they're getting their money's worth? Most students don't know where the money goes and those that do know are generally pissed off about it. For example, when I was at uni 2/3 of my fees went on sporting facilities which I never used. Two bloody thirds! Sport is not a critical service and should never be grouped with health services and child care.
Elsewhere student unions have been caught blowing million dollar budgets and being unable to produce any documentation as to where the money went. Frankly the unions brought this down on themselves.
None of this makes the government's approach valid, though. It's too much to make fees voluntary AND prevent universities pitching in the money (or charge the fee and administrate themselves). I've always thought it would be much better to leave fees as mandatory, but let students choose where the money goes (or a portion of it). Have the health services, counselling, food outlets etc funded by a set fee; then let students choose whether the rest of their cash goes to sport, clubs, etc.
There's a certain level of enforcement required to make students pay up for non-glamourous services. During O-week, no student is going to agree to pay a large amount of money for a health service. Ask them again when they're sick and broke during exams, it'll be a different matter.
I'm surprised that the government would do something so hard on student unions though, since they serve as a breeding ground for politicians. Most student union groups have a political affiliation, whether overt or not. Take away student politics and pollies will have to cut their teeth in 'real' politics. Don't be fooled for a second into thinking that only left-wing groups take part in student politics... that's crap.
Anyway, if the students really give a shit about "having a voice" then I guess we'll see them turn out in record numbers to protest... or we'll see them all pay the fees, right? Right.