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University council accepts student charge rise

University of Otago

A service fee of $672 will be charged to all  students at the University of Otago‘s Dunedin  campus next year, as the commercial reality  of legislation changes takes effect.

Otago students were charged a total of $580  each this year for the provision of campus  services, a fee which was jointly levied by the  university ($390) and the Otago University  Students’ Association ($190).

University council members yesterday voted  to accept the increased student service  charge for next year after explanations by  Otago vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne  and university chief operating officer John  Patrick about how the fee was calculated. Prof  Hayne said new legislation had changed the  financial landscape for how student services  would be administered in a joint venture  between the university and OUSA.

Mandatory membership of student  associations was abolished by Parliament in  October, effectively removing the ability of  organizations such as OUSA to charge  compulsory fees for the provision of its  campus services. The controversial move to  voluntary student membership (VSM)  followed the Government’s introduction of the  Education Amendment Bill (No 4) which  brought in provisions to “improve the  transparency and accountability of compulsory student services fees” in August.

Prof Hayne told council members the university had realized it “needed to take responsibility” for charging student service fees, given OUSA was no longer able to under VSM. Despite initial opposition to VSM, its adoption had since opened the door to “a whole new world of co-operation” between the two parties, Prof Hayne said.

Council member and OUSA student representative Katie Reid told council members that the agreement was important because it would ensure the ongoing provision of valuable services to students, including independent legal, financial, and advocacy advice, foodbank and counseling services, and also joint sport and recreational facilities. Contacted after the meeting, Ms Reid said the new agreement would also provide important funding to finance paid employees at the student association.

“It will allow us to keep all of our current 45 full-time equivalent staff members,” she said.

She disagreed the increase in the combined total service fee for 2012 could be solely attributed to legislation changes, indicating a percentage of the fee was for capital developments and new student facilities, such as the Unipol gym’s impending shift to the University Plaza. About $100 in levies was charged in total by the university and OUSA for capital developments this year, while $321 of the 2012 student service fee provides for “sports and recreation facilities”, which also covers clubs, societies, and cultural activities.

Mr Patrick said the service categories were government dictated and the university would be accountable for how it spent the fees it charged students in those respective areas. Student services were “mostly” provided by OUSA, although other “third party providers” were also involved, such as for the provision of child care services. Service fees for University of Otago students at campuses in Christchurch, Invercargill, and Wellington were set at $122.

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