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Chris's Random Ramblings

Thu, 24 Mar 2005 - Student Unions 3

Martin replies to my earlier reply. I agree with a lot of what he says in his reply.

It's not really similar: $20k is perhaps half the average income, but even when I was a moderately poor student my income was more than twice the union fee of ~$180. So it's really comparable to everyone paying $1400 per annum. (Which, when you put it that way, sounds pretty good.) And of course many taxes are unrelated to income.

I just kind of pulled the original $20,000 number out the air. I think the point here is that for many people they don't feel they get value for money out of the union fee. Though this is probably true for income tax as well. Someone told me the other day that about 40% of the population in Australia pay no net tax at all (no idea if its true).

I suspect its a kind of fact of life that in Australian society, where its seen as very important to help the disadvantaged, most people will end up putting more into the system than they get out of it. I'm quite happy with that situation, though I'm not convinced we need many layers of effectively compulsory taxation. Especially by bodies that have very low levels of voting participation.

Right, and you can make the exact same argument about taxes: if I feel that, say, hospitals are good, I ought to join a private HMO or pay my own bills or donate to a charitable hospital.

You can apply the same argument, but I think there is a big difference between funding a common good like hospitals and say the scuba or sailing club.

I don't see why compulsory fees should go to fund political, religious, sports or recreational societies. I have nothing against clubs, but it's clearly something people will pay for themselves, and people who don't participate shouldn't be forced to fund them.

I think that there would be much higher support for compulsory fees if this was true.

Therefore, I'd like to see competition between different unions: if one university wants to have a low-taxing union, why not let them? Why is this a federal government issue at all? (Well, I know why, but that's a different story.)

This is where I disagree the most with Martin. I think the choice should be given at the individual student level rather than at the university level. Assuming they're adequately qualified, I'd prefer that students be able to choose which university they attend based on the quality of the education they believe they'll receive, rather than the one with the student union fees they can afford. I suspect I agree with Martin about fundamentally why this is an issue for the federal government.

Thu, 24 Mar 2005 - Student Unions #2

Michael has managed to drag himself out of his sick bed to argue with me about Voluntary Student Unionism.

In response to his comment about HECS fees being much higher than union fees and so are opposed by the unions, I have a couple of comments. The first is that according to media reports, union fees are in many places closer to $600/year rather than $200/year that he quotes. Also, since they must be paid upfront (as opposed to HECS which is only paid back when people are able to), they can act as a disincentive to attend university even at much lower levels than HECS. I suspect the real reason that student unions don't oppose up front union fees is the fairly obvious one that the money goes directly to them.

Also, I don't claim that students will pay for services voluntarily, rather that they will voluntarily decide to pay for services they value, rather than do without those services.

Its rather ironic that students who end up working several jobs whilst at Uni to support themselves and family end up being those who do not have the time to use many of the subsidised services their fees go towards. Its like getting the poor to pay tax to subsidise the recreational activities of the middle class.

Perhaps there is a reasonable compromise where some core services such has health, counselling and representation within the university bureaucracy can be funded through a much lower compulsory fee. Payment towards other services such as entertainment, societies, sporting and political clubs would be on a voluntary or usage basis. I see no reason why services which many would view as recreational activities should be subsidised by those uninterested or unable to use them.

Thu, 24 Mar 2005 - Compulsory Student Unionism

Martin talks about compulsory student unionism, supporting the concept by making the analogy with compulsory taxation. I think one major difference is that unlike many taxes, compulsory student union fees are fixed, regardless of the ability to pay. This would be similar to everyone having to pay $20,000 per year in income tax regardless of how much they earned. They're also levied on a section of the community least able to pay money upfront. Why is there such a strong objection by the student unions to HECS fees which don't need to paid until people are able to, and at the same time strong support for up front union fees?

One other observation I would make is that advocates of compulsory union fees have made some very good arguments for why many services currently funded by union fees need to continue. But there appears to be the implication that under voluntary unionism, students will decide not to contribute. Surely if the student unions are correct about the importance of the services, they will be able to convince the majority of the students (who being able to qualify for university courses should be reasonably intelligent) that the fees are going to a good common cause, and that they should continue to pay the fees.