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Steve Nicoll



At 4pm today, the University Council is meeting to decide how much they can raise your fees by, and while that might not be of much interest (judging by the numbers who responded to the online poll on the Salient web site, 61 at last count), it should be. Because it affects you all.
At today’s meeting the council plans to pass a motion that the university will increase by the maximum amount possible every year until fees are brought into line with other universities.
Since 2004, Victoria University has applied for exemptions of the Annual Fee Movement Limit (AFML), with requests for a ten per cent increase. The AFML limit was set to ensure affordability of study and certainty of fees while allowing Victoria some flexibility in fee setting to maintain their income in real terms. Increases of less than five per cent have become the exception rather than the rule, and so in August Labour reversed rules that made institutions decrease fees when course costs were higher than the allowed fee maxima. This means that institutions with high fees can shrug their shoulders at the government, stick it to students, and do what they like. Victoria wants to use the AFML of five per cent as the minimum percentage increase for your fees every year starting 2008. Under the rules of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), universities have to meet “more than one” of the following three principles to be eligible for an exemption;
a) That the cost of providing the course was not being met by income from the course;
b) The facility was unable to cross-subsidise courses from its total surplus and be financially viable, and;
c) Not increasing fees would compromise education priorities or severely restrict students’ access to study.
In other words, they have to be in such financial shit that they have to be bailed out. Which is why the last bid to qualify for these exemptions was rejected by the TEC. The comments made by the TEC at the time concerning Victoria’s attempts to avoid the fee maxima are similar to those made last year when they commented along the lines that “This is an example of exactly the type of application that will never be approved.” This reveals the desperation of Victoria University to use students as a cash crop.
Why doesn’t the university look towards expanding its nearly $5.5 million investments, as a preferred option to using students as a revenue gathering exercise? And why does Victoria insist that fees have to increase more than the rate of inflation? The University of Canterbury Students’ Association successfully used this argument in August to negotiate a lower increase.
Quoting the Bank of New Zealand’s consumer price index forecast for 2008 (3.3%), the proposed amendment won enough votes (9-8) at a council meeting to prevent the original proposed increase of 4.5% from going through.
This year the response from VUWSA and the Education Action Group (EAG) was Box City and debt day demonstrations. The next attempt naturally occurs when they attend the council meeting today.
The university is taking no chances over this protest. A leaked document I received last week outlines its policy and restrictions. These include limiting the number of students admitted to the council chamber to 50. The intention of these measures is undoubtedly to limit disruption as much as possible, but according to one source at VUWSA they will not prevent direct action being taken.
While making the council aware that students are unhappy with the current increase in fees, the arrows for change are probably best directed at the government. After all, they provide the meager 2.1 per cent government funding increase each year, which is below the rate of inflation.
If recent moves of the National Party last Tuesday are anything to go by, then we should be more alarmed. At the Auckland University of Technology, John Key announced that his party plans to scrap the fee maxima policy and the AFML effectively, promoting fee hikes and increasing student debt like in the ‘90s when fees rose by over 180%.
Considering National’s favourable results in recent polls, then we could all be facing a dire financial situation. Perhaps Green Party Education Spokesperson Metiria Turei is right when she says that while the current fee maxima situation is far from ideal, removing all barriers to wholesale fee raises would be disastrous.