On the December 20 budget meeting the UWA Student Guild Executive proposed that the guild no longer pay its affiliation fee to the National Union of Students. There were two arguments presented. The “de-affiliation” argument claimed that the National Union was a waste of time and money. The “send a message” argument posited that not contributing financially would put us in a stronger bargaining position to make improvements to the organisation. The Guild Council eventually decided, by 10 votes to 9, in favour of refusing to pay an affiliation fee.
The UWA Student Guild exists fundamentally to protect and promote the interests of students. This requires the guild to develop a strong education policy platform which exists on a number of levels. At the highest level, education policy includes issues like HECS fees, youth allowance and the level of commonwealth support for UWA’s new postgraduate course structure. By refusing to engage with the National Union of Students (NUS) our Guild cripples its ability to represent UWA students on a national level and damages the lobbying strength of NUS. What we are left with is a guild where education issues are relegated to a sub-council and abandoned by Guild Executive as a priority.
NB: It is worth noting in this article that Guild Council is not parliament, and I do not consider myself a member of the “opposition”. Matt McKenzie is a good guy and we regularly work together to achieve progress. On this particular issue, councillors from all four election tickets supported my amendment to fund NUS.
What the National Union of Students does:
The national union of students runs campaigns and makes submission to the highest levels of government. They meet with the Commonwealth Minister for Tertiary Education and contribute to decision making bodies such as the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. NUS has a whole raft of successes, which include substantial improvements to youth allowance, $950 to students in the stimulus package and billions of dollars in commonwealth support for new courses and masters programs. NUS has prompted Senate inquiries to be launched and is a major player in the development of higher education policy.
What it costs us to affiliate and what that fee allows UWA to do:
UWA pays a fee of $2.50 per student. This allows us to send delegates to NUS National conference, gives us access to NUS campaigns and means that NUS is mandated to represent UWA students on campus-based issues such as commonwealth funding for New Courses.
The paradox of a student union dismissing the need for a union:
The “deaffiliation argument” claims that NUS is a waste of time and money. This argument focuses on the large amount of money spent on wages. However, just like any union or industry lobby group, resources spent on staff are what achieve wins for members. Full time professional staff research education issues and draft submissions to government, while elected staff work full time to lobby ministers and run campaigns.
The insincerity of claiming we can improve an organisation by ditching it:
The “send a message” argument is either insincere or sadly misinformed. If we refuse to contribute towards NUS, we will no longer have a say in trying to improve the organisation and ensure that UWA students interests are taken into account. Further, the organisation’s ability to achieve wins for students will be weakened by having a G8 member pull out. As the title of this article suggests, the education direction of the guild is now entirely uncertain.