Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 1 18 February 1970
Since its unambitious beginnings in 1928, NZUSA, the national union of students, has come a long way. Today it is involved in many activities which are directly or indirectly related to the needs and wants of New Zealand students. It operates a professional travel bureau, a discount insurance scheme, publishes Focus, a national magazine of high standard, and is engaged in a study of how further to add to the material benefits it can confer on students. Through its officers, it conducts research into problems of higher education, represents the student viewpoint on education and other matters to the Government, to Government Departments and to other bodies. It frequently takes up the grievances of individual students. It organises seminars, conferences and takes part in a large number of organisations which have widely varying objectives. It maintains contacts with overseas student unions and international student bodies and also provides the means by which New Zealand students can make a contribution to overseas aid of one kind or another.
However, NZUSA's continued existence has always been somewhat tenuous. Not one of the seven constituent members of the Association totally supports it and its growth, I am sad to say, has been not so much a result of solid constituent backing as of the foresight of its past officers.
NZUSA has been a pawn in many a budding student politician's attempts to gain political office, and this has constantly forestalled attempts to diversify and strengthen the Association as New Zealand's national union of students.
More than this, on many occasions constituent members of NZUSA have blamed the Association for what were basically the failings of the members themselves. Twice a year, constituents come together to form NZUSA's Council, and it is here that the Association's activities for the coming six months are discussed. Only too frequently do constituent Students' Associations promise to undertake some task which is promptly forgotten. NZUSA is too often blamed for such failures on the part of constituents.
I say this with the major reservation that NZUSA—as an organisation—does make mistakes. It does sometimes neglect to do its members' bidding. In general terms, however, it fulfils what constituents deem to be its functions. But it could do more, much more, if constituents (and some are more forward-looking than others) were willing to see the organisation as something more than a twice-yearly meeting of student politicians.
NZUSA is potentially a strong and respected group in the New Zealand community. And the stronger it is and the more respected it is, the more it can do for its members. To give an example, most constituents spend 50c to $1 per student each year on their local student newspaper. Focus cost each New Zealand student 1.9 cents last year. And constituents still complained about the cost! So money is one story. With more money (not a lot), the Association could diversify. Its staff, especially the the President, are expected to be Jacks-of-all-trades. Nobody in those circumstances could expect them to be masters of any as well.
Just as important as financial support is the moral backing the Association receives from its constituents. I could instance many examples—too lengthy to be related here—where a worthwhile project has failed because constituents have about-faced. This does not earn us friends, and it weakens rather than strengthens the organisation.
In all, I believe the students of New Zealand deserve responsible, strong representation at the national level. They need a competent, professionally-run organisation to help them to gain maximum material advantages. I don't see them getting either of these things for as long as local support for the national Association is half-hearted.
I should add in closing that while I have stressed the short-comings of some constituent members of NZUSA, I know of many instances where constituents have acted very creditably in respect of the Association. I simply feel these occasions to be too few and far between.
The Students' Association is charged with vital functions both on and off campus. In each sphere, effectiveness is crippled by the great number of students who just couldn't give two. Even one of last year's most worthwhile efforts—1% Aid—was the prerogative of the few. The $2000 collected for 1% Aid was donated by only three hundred students. The other 5100 students did not necessarily disagree with the aim of increasing New Zealand's overseas aid—it was just too much for them to stir mind and body into extracting the wall et.