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Is “Progressive” Enough?

AUTSA chooses not to sign NZUSA’s National Student Action Plan on COVID-19 due to growing confidence in a strengthening relationship with AUT

By Jack Pirie (IG: @jack_piza)

AUTSA has officially declined on becoming a signatory on the ‘National Student Action Plan on COVID-19.’ The New Zealand Union of Students' Association (NZUSA) put forward an action plan to help counter and soften the effects that COVID-19 has placed on students all over New Zealand. The plan outlines what students require from the government and their tertiary provider to continue study during this time of uncertainty. In collaboration with NZUSA, Te Mana Ākonga and Tauira Pasifika, student leaders and representatives from 44 student associations, councils, and organisations have co-developed the ‘National Student Action Plan on COVID-19.’ One of the most ambitious calls from the plan is the implementation of a ‘Universal Student Allowance,’ available to all (part time, full time, undergraduate and postgraduate) domestic tertiary students.

In a release, AUTSA had said that the main reasoning for not signing the deal was based on a lack of representation/ support for disabled, international and postgraduate students. However it appears that AUTSA did have the opportunity to have their say during the drafting process, in which NZUSA sent out offers to help adapt the action plan. When asked about the communication between the two, NZUSA National President Isabella Lenihan-Ikin said “I first had contact with AUTSA on Saturday the 4th of April, two weeks after the initial drafting. I then spoke to AUTSA at the SRC meeting on Monday the 6th of April. I did not hear any response to my discussion at the SRC meeting until the Facebook post weeks later. No reasons were provided or recommendations given moving forward.”

When asked about this, AUTSA President Sisfia admits “that was a miscommunication delay” as she only noticed the invitation in her spam folder a week after it had been sent. Sisifa still believes that these cohorts are underrepresented and says that may “put the responsibility on us [AUTSA] to do the work from our part to try and lobby the government to look further into this.” In their official statement, AUTSA says they are confident in their partnership with AUT, and their ability to address issues raised in the action plan and more.

When asked about the development in the relationship between AUT and AUTSA, Sisifa says “You can have confidence in the fact that we do have a relationship with them now… despite the fact we were being undermined and left out of a lot of conversations and big decisions for students.” Sisifa has reiterated that the relationship is evidently more “progressive day by day,” and will continue to grow over time. However she also conveys that there continues to be an abundance of miscommunication within the structures. Our concern here as a student body is whether a relationship is enough. We need to ensure and keep our academic institutions accountable for decisions that impact us directly. And a relationship built on such a turbulent foundation simply doesn’t guarantee that everyone is represented.

Miscommunication seems to be a recurring issue for AUT and AUTSA. Sisifa explains that there needs to be consistency in messages being sent out across all forums. There shouldn’t be a message from AUT saying one thing and then students receiving information from lecturers contradicting that initial statement. Miscommunication like this only “creates uncertainty and heightens students' anxiety and fears.” Students are unsure who to listen to and where to get the important information from, especially in these already stressful times. Sisifa mentions that she stands in solidarity with many of us, as she finds herself also questioning “who am I listening to?”

Although there are claims of the developing relationship between AUT and AUTSA, there clearly is still a fundamental flaw in the communication between the two parties. It leaves us asking ourselves whether a ‘progressive’ relationship is enough to sustain trust between students and their institution. Don’t we need accountability, representation and effective clear communication? In regards to an alternative COVID-19 action plan, AUTSA say that they, alongside AUT, are confident that they can create an expansive plan that will go beyond what was proposed by the NZUSA. Until we see evidence of what this plan will look like, we remain both anxious and sceptical for the well-being of our student body.


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