On 2 May 1978 then principal of the Waiariki Community College, Malcolm Murchie recognised the importance of having students actively engaged in decision making and strategy setting. In his words, ““An association of students is a critically important body to represent students”. Actions speak loudly and the inclusion of Miss E Roberts onto the Council of the College marked a historical moment: the need for students being partners in education delivery and strategy had been formalised.
From that date forward student representation in Council and across the organisation, in its various forms, has been of significant importance. Waiariki, in short form, transformed itself from a Community College into a Polytechnic, and then an Institute of Technology. This became Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in 2017.
In keeping with Murchie’s instigation, over the last four decades a dedicated student association has represented and supported students through their studies. The first students association was created in 1981, under the legal authority of the institute. In 1987 significant progress was made and the Waiariki Polytechnic Students Association (WPSA) was registered with the Societies Office. The leaders of WPSA made the bold decision to join the national body known as Aotearoa Polytechnic Students Associations (WPSA) in 1990. It was in this same year that the association made its home in the M Block offices on Mokoia Campus, which still house the team today.
1998 was the first year that signaled dramatic changes in the conversation about student associations and representation in New Zealand. The student council put to the vote a motion to make WPSA a membership based association, which was passed. Management of Waiariki understood that a student association could be a powerful group and engaged WPSA in a contract for service model whereby WPSA would tender for delivery of programs on behalf of Waiariki.
Jump forward two years to 2000 and the students voted for WPSA to return to compulsory membership for all students. It was at this same time that WPSA changed its name to Waiariki Institute of Technology Students Association (WITSA). The beginning of the new century was a strong time in the history of WITSA. A number of presidents, beginning with Julie Pettet, created a lasting legacy that would establish WITSA as the representative of students, delivering measurable outcomes and creating impact in the community.
A key strength of any representative body is being able to positively engage with its members. The New Zealand Union of Students Associations (NZUSA), the voice of tertiary students at a national level, was joined in 20017. In addition to being the voice of tertiary students across the country, the union has the ability to influence government policy.
The decision of the National Government in 2010 marked a significant milestone in the history of student representation. Thirty two years after students were granted the opportunity to sit at the decision making table of the Polytechnic Council, the responsibility was removed. Then in 2012 the Government decided that membership of Student Associations across the polytechnic sector would be voluntary. This had – and continues to have – a significant impact upon the association. WITSA was very fortunate to have support from the executive management team of Waiariki who chose to reinstate a contract for service, ensuring the survival of student representation. From 2012 onwards the Presidents, Executive Officers and staff of WITSA have looked for opportunities to grow the services of WITSA. Some Presidents were more successful than others, such as Richard Williams, who formed the first Student Council in 2014, which provided true representation for all students from all campuses.
In the background, during 2012 to 2017, the government was positioning Waiariki Institute of Technology to merge with another tertiary education provider, the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. The merging of two organisations with very different philosophies and approaches to delivering quality education was a huge undertaking. Throughout this period WITSA made its voice heard under the leadership and guidance of Virgil Iraia. All students were concerned at how they would be affected and the WITSA Executive did their very best to ensure a smooth transition occurred.
At this time that the WITSA Executive made the decision to transition from WITSA to a new brand that incorporated the merger. A significant amount of planning and strategizing took place, which culminated in the birth of Student Pulse Te Runanaga Tauira Incorporated. Student Pulse Te Runanga Tauira is a student association whose purpose is to serve and support the students of Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology. With six major delivery sites, Toi Ohomai is much larger than either Waiariki or Bay of Plenty polytechs were on their own, creating pressure on resources and increasing the need to be both innovative and smart about how Student Pulse delivers its services. We are committed to providing support to students and representation of students at all levels of management and governance.
Jerusha Eden was the first student elected as Vice President for the Tauranga region in 2017. Being a student of marine studies Jerusha has a strong passion for environmental and social causes.
“Student Pulse is a necessary system to have on campus at all Toi Ohomai campuses to ensure students are heard and feel comfortable in their learning space. As a student I feel having student representatives is a vital way to understand what students really want and what they’re expecting out of the institution, their tutors and their course. I feel having students, rather than staff, makes it easier for students talk openly about issues they are facing – issues that they may not feel comfortable talking to a staff member about or an issue that they feel a staff member can not relate to”. .
Forty years on from its initial inception, the need for student representation is just as important as it has ever been. The challenges students face in the classroom and in life are almost entirely the same. Balancing the need for income with time constraints, striving to achieve aspirational outcomes. Stephanie Thomson, office manager for the association for many years, provided many hours of service for to support students.
“Student representation and advocacy is at the core of Student Pulse – it is what the organisation is here to do; it’s what students for more than thirty years have decided is its core business – to independently support the students at Toi Ohomai. Like government, Student Pulse operates through a representative system with office holders elected from the student body. Students and trained to listen and inform other students of what help is available”, Stephanie stated.
The Executive Office Holders of Student Pulse acknowledge the impact through service of past Presidents, Executive Office Holders, employees and the thousands of student volunteers. The hours of work contributed by so many have made positive impacts that are immeasurable.
Dr Margriet Theron, the President of the Rotorua Multicultural Council, is an appointed member of the Executive Committee of Student Pulse. She has been aware of the importance of student representation in the governance and management of Waiariki Institute of Technology and now Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology since 1978 – the year she arrived in New Zealand and joined Waiariki Institute of Technology both as a teacher of Economics and a student of Commercial Law. Since then she has been the Dean of the Faculty of Forestry and Technology, a Patron of WITSA, and a mentor for Marlise de Vries, Past-President of WITSA.
Dr Theron commented, “In all these roles I have appreciated the importance of student representation in programme development and quality management, and in addressing the complaints that students might have. Congratulations on this 40th anniversary of student representation, and may we once again see students represented in the governance of Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology.”
Emire Khan-Malak is the elected President of Student Pulse for 2018. Emire said, “the forty year anniversary of student representation is a great milestone and shows how important the student association is for all our students both domestic and international”. Emire is the first Muslim to be elected into the Presidents position and she is very proud to hold the role of President.
“We are all one and together we achieve goals for the benefit of all our students”, she went on to say. Emire shared her philosophy of Me Aroha Ki Tangata Ki Tangata which means Show Love to Everyone. This philosophy is lived out through “Ka Puawai Nga Tangata Katoa” when translated means “Together we achieve”.
The future is uncertain for Student Pulse as it is for the entire tertiary education sector in New Zealand. The review of the education sector initiated by the Government could see dramatic changes occur that may have a direct effect upon student representation in the Bay of Plenty. The review occurs at the same time as a seat for student representation has been returned to the Council. We continue to operate with a contract for service, which is not unusual for a non-government organisation. It is an arrangement that provides both challenges and opportunities.
Reviewing the last 40 years shows a contiuum of change for students and representation. We know that continuum will continue into the future and it is vital that the association creates strategies for success, implements operational successes, and draws upon the knowledge and resources of its alumni to ensure another 40 years of existence can be celebrated.