Campus / Student

WHY REPRESENTATION NEEDS TO CHANGE

Guild President Matthew McKenzie explains the changes to NUS funding.

 

I think representation on campus needs to drastically change. That’s why I ran for Guild President. It’s very easy to sit in the Guild President’s prison office and get swamped down by day to day work (trust me, I know), but the Guild needs to be re-energized, and its efforts need to be reallocated towards the issues that really matter for everyday students.

 

I think this is the same for the National Union of Students. It’s a nice idea, but the organisation is largely irrelevant.

 

One of the great triumphs for NUS in recent history was the implementation of the Student Services and Amenities Fee. This genius piece of legislation made it compulsory for you to pay a fee to the university, the revenue of which is then mostly passed on to the Guild. Guild membership is free, but you’ll still be paying for the services whether you use them or not.

I can’t say that there has been a tsunami of students running to my office in support of this change.

 

So I can’t understand why NUS would support it. And I’ve never been able to understand it. Half of you can’t even afford to buy your textbooks and yet these guys want to force you to give all this money to the Guild.

 

The reason is that NUS isn’t a National Union of Students, it’s a National Union of Student Unions. I have no issue with that. If all the Student Union Presidents want to get together and find ways to make their organizations stronger, then more power to them, but don’t tell me that you’re trying to represent students generally.

 

SSAF was a pretty clear transfer of wealth from students to their student unions. Even assuming I can spend your money as well as you can, you’re still no better off from the whole experience, particularly because so much goes to the university’s administration charge.

 

Speaking of charges, I’m given to understand our affiliation charge to NUS is going to triple to $150 000 in 2012. This puzzles me, given that NUS’s total affiliation revenue last year was around $600 000. I’ll comment on the spending later, but for now, I’m going to ask you to visualize how much money that is.

 

Imagine an elephant.

 

And then imagine $150 000 next to it.

 

See? It’s a lot.

 

Organizations like the Australian Law Students Association, Australian Medical Students Association and Australian Dental Students Association charge very little in comparison and achieve a lot more.

 

If I decided we pay just UWA’s fair share, reducing our payment to be in line with the proportion of students here compared to everywhere else (around $15,000 on last year’s figures) it is quite possible that NUS would sue us for the remainder. Because we’ve given them money we look like we think we have a contract, etc, so we get sued for the rest.

 

Great result if you work for the Guild’s law firm, not so much for everyone else.

 

On my second day in office, I went into my first finance and planning meeting and I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the Guild had a projected cash deficit of $1.8 million this year. We’ve cut that by $500 000, although more still needs to be done.

 

I had to compare how NUS used the money against how I could use the money. New Courses is coming to UWA, and this is the biggest change to education at UWA ever. Spending on educational representation this year should be done locally, to faculty societies, the people that actually sit in the meetings and represent students to the decision makers.

 

NUS is running a national campaign on fees for post-graduate places, which is very kind of them and relevant to New Courses, but given they spent 56k in total last year on all of their campaigns combined, which is less than the fees they received from UWA alone, I’m guessing they won’t miss our money all that much.

 

While I’m discussing the NUS budget, $10k is allocated to mobile phone allowances for the students who are elected as office bearers.

I guess I find this whole thing frustrating. If student organisations are badly funded, and many are, why is so much money being thrown down a hole? Why is NUS talking about climate change at its conferences instead of trying to change the fact that so many of you are living below the poverty line?

 

NUS is just something young politicians do to put on their resumes. The people who go don’t represent the average student, they represent ideologies and they take whatever opportunity they can to discuss the issues they personally are passionate about despite it not being relevant to anyone else.

 

Both sides of politics are guilty of misbehaving at NUS.

 

If you’re not sure of what NUS does, or you’re not 100% convinced that you want your money spent on sending people to rallies, then you won’t want us wasting all that money on affiliation to NUS.

 

That’s why we cut the funding for

 

Matthew McKenzie is the President of the 2012 UWA Student Guild.

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