03 November 2011

Update on USU-University Negotiations

Dear members,

You will have received an email yesterday from Professor Derrick Armstrong, the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), regarding the University’s proposed future of the USU, in particular the catering and retail outlets.

The USU Board found the email highly concerning and feel it is important to begin by looking at the bare facts of the relationship between the USU and the University.

It is true that Voluntary Student Unionism, which took away $8.4 million in funding from the USU, led the University and the Student Union to enter three working agreements.

These agreements are:

-          The Occupation License: The USU built three buildings upon University land using member funds, the Holme, Manning and Wentworth Buildings. This agreement provides the USU the right to occupy these Union buildings without incurring a rent, as well as the right to occupy affiliate site catering outlets run by the Union, such as, The Conservatorium of Music, Bosch and Mallet Street. This license is not due to expire until 2017.

-          The Service Level Agreement: This is funding (approx $3.6 million annually) provided to the Union by the University to spend on the student spaces for maintenance, cleaning, repair and utilities of its three buildings. This expires on 31 December 2011.

-          The University of Sydney Venue Collection (USVC) Joint Venture: This agreement allows the USU to book University venues (such as MacLaurin Hall and The Great Hall) and to provide the catering for corporate, wedding and University clients using the venues for event purposes. As a result of the joint venture, the USVC now receives 50 per cent (from 12 per cent prior to the joint venture) of all catering, resulting in greater revenue (approximately $900,000 per annum) back into the USU student experience. With the ending of this agreement, the University will take back the responsibility of booking their venues (but not USU venues – Holme, Manning and Wentworth which will remain under the existing USU Venue Collection). This agreement expires on 31 December 2011.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor failed to mention the fact that USU members hold the ultimate authority in deciding the future of the Union. Any transfer of commercial services or termination of the Occupation Licence prior to 2017 must be put to a vote of USU Members (of which there are over 13,100).The proposals outlined in Prof. Armstrong’s email breach the Occupation Licence and cannot occur without the consent of Union Members. Specifically, a two-thirds majority vote is required by USU members at a Special General Meeting. We find it disappointing and concerning that the University went ahead and sent this email to all students without acknowledging this crucial fact.

The USU Board was not consulted about the email sent by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Judging from the response on social media, many students were also shocked by the content. The University did advise us of the termination of the Joint Venture and the SLA late in 2010, and when the negotiation process began this year, the University requested it not become a public negotiation and as such asked both parties to enter the negotiations in good faith.
Forming a good-faith working relationship was stressed as a priority in these negotiations, which the USU took very seriously. Unfortunately, progress was slow; meetings were often short with no agendas, the University failed to abide by their own deadlines and repeated assurances were made that a resolution of mutual benefit was in sight. In May this year, the University advised us that formal negotiations had begun and at this time they would present us with their proposed Retail Plan. However, this plan was not received until October and it proposed that the University take over catering and retail outlets in 2012.

The University’s proposal to take over the catering and retail outlets has not been agreed upon by the USU. In fact, the USU expressed several concerns relating to the plan to the University of Sydney Senate’s Safety and Risk Management Committee. Several Senate Fellows also shared these concerns, in particular the University’s desire to market the USU outlets to external commercial operators. We know the catering and retail operations require improvements, and we’re committed to delivering that outcome. However, unlike the University, our methodology is to reach out directly to the campus community to set our targets and to make changes based on the wants and needs of the student population. The University made a commitment to the USU throughout the negotiations that they would consider the USU’s own vision for commercial operations which was to be delivered after we received the University’s Retail Plan. The email sent by Prof. Armstrong demonstrates a breach of that commitment, and an unwillingness to negotiate any outcome other than a complete transfer. At no point in the negotiations was it indicated that the University would be so audacious as to inform the student populace of a proposal not agreed upon by the USU, without even consulting or warning the USU. The move has left the USU’s Student Board feeling somewhat betrayed that this trust in good faith was compromised.

The Board also find it unsettling that the University shifted its negotiation tact immediately after the Student Service and Amenities Fee (SSAF) was passed by the Federal Senate in October (it should be noted that the SSAF is not a compulsory union fee and goes directly to the University – see previous post.) From the SSAF it’s estimated that the University will receive approximately $10 million per year. Despite this windfall in student funds, the University has attempted to threaten the USU into accepting their proposal by stating that any funding for next year is contingent on a transfer of our commercial operations. The USU will not be intimidated by such negotiation tactics into an unsatisfactory outcome for students.

We feel at the heart of the issue lies the interpretation of the term: ‘student experience’. As the Student Union believe the student experience goes beyond the programs and services, the Clubs and Societies and the big events like O-Week and Verge. To us, it is about making every experience on campus ideal for students – that includes your morning coffee; your lunchtime break and the grey bits in between class. We strive to fill that with colour – it is the USU’s directive as an organisation led by students and has been since 1874. The University, as you can see from Prof. Armstrong’s email, assume to know what students want, but we believe students can and should decide for themselves. We want to continue the wonderful evolutionary trademark that makes the USU such an historic and relevant organisation – driven by student ideals - not by profit.
The Union is a non-profit organisation. The revenue we generate goes directly back into our student experience programs, which is why the operation of our outlets, our Venue Collection and the Access Program is so important to us. We seek to serve the students. It makes sense to us that students are the ones who define what a ‘student experience’ entails.

Allow me to stress that nobody is here to politicise student affairs. The vision of the University and the USU are the same: to deliver the best possible experience to the campus community. We believe that a student experience becomes superficial when it is restricted to programs and services - the USU is an organisation that wants students at the University of Sydney to appreciate every moment they have on campus. We know the University provides a world class environment for learning and an educational experience that is second-to-none. We, as your Student Union, are responsible for providing a world class experience outside of the lecture halls and classrooms; we believe it should stay that way. Maintaining student control over student spaces is key to achieving this aim.

So we turn to you, students and members to make your voice heard, because it’s your voice that really matters. This is a valuable chance to have your say on what direction you believe the future of these essential components of the student experience – food, retail, bars, and student spaces – should be. Comment below, put your hand up for the Are You With Us cause on Facebook and be vocal. Keep student life, student run – it makes sense, doesn’t it?


We will keep you updated throughout the process and we will seek to answer any questions you may have. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.


Yours sincerely,
USU Board of Directors

61 comments :

  1. "The Union is a non-profit organisation...Allow me to stress that nobody is here to politicise student affairs."

    1)

    No-one could ever accuse the USU of being profitable...

    Why is USU fighting so hard to keep control of things that it does neither lucratively nor well?

    USU management of commercial activities has been atrocious for many years - it can't cover its own costs and neither is the quality of the commercial activities much good from students' perspective. If the result of USU's commercial dabbling was crap but hugely lucrative, or fantastic but money-losing, you could see how there would be half an argument for keeping at it. But right now it's the worst of both worlds.

    2)

    How can you say that student affairs will not be politicised when the subject matter of the dispute (land, money, power) and many of the people doing it (USU officers and USyd employees) are affiliated to various political parties?

    "the University has...stat[ed] that any funding for next year is contingent on a transfer of our commercial operations. The USU will not be intimidated by such negotiation tactics into an unsatisfactory outcome for students."

    3)

    Well, you know, if you were making money from the commercial activities, you could tell them to get lost. But you're not, so you can't. USU is dependent on handouts from USyd. So maybe it's time to hand over the commercial operations and concentrate on managing the core functions of USU better.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm trying to study. I sense that Armstrong is trying to exploit my distraction with mere university work so that he can mosy on with the university's master plan under the radar. Well played Prof. "Machiavelli" Armstrong. Well played.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Put in a McDonalds or KFC. Use the profits to help core services. Clearly the re-introduction of Compulsory Student Unionism shows us, how lazy the Union really is!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A well-needed clarification of the facts! Thanks Sibella

    ReplyDelete
  6. While I wholeheartedly support the USU and am forever grateful for how it has enriched my university experience, I don’t think it has been doing a good job with the commercial services like food and beverages, and responding to students’ interests. For instance, despite 89.3% voting for Fair Trade products on campus, the USU has been deafly silent on this issue, despite the coffee contracts finishing up next year.

    If the USU started listening to students and responding to them, then perhaps there is reason to support and defend the USU.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Reading the VC's email last night rang many alarm bells for the overtly 'political' (read: underhand glossed over as 'help') tactics the university was seemingly employing to get their way.

    The above response by the USU confirms my concerns and, as an Access card holder and avid supporter of student-run student life, I am dismayed by the university's nontransparent dealings with the USU.

    Whether the USU is in need of help in managing the retail and catering university outlets, surely the 'give a man/woman a fish' saying still holds true?

    What's of most concern is the bullying nature of the university. Pushing the USU into agreeing to the SSAF when the university doesn't have to put any of the money back into student life was pretty low. Now this email which stipulates things impossible due to the current contract it holds with the USU? Another nail in the coffin.

    ReplyDelete
  8. We have one of the strongest and largest student unions in Australia, and this is not necessarily because people all want to join societies. The fact that compulsory unionism has been lost is a s hame because it means that we do need to sell the benefits the union provides to future students. Getting cheaper coffee and beer is a great selling point to students and if it keeps our union strong then this should be continued. Its just another reason people will hesitate to not join then the ability to fund the societies will diminish, so fuck the uni Iets keep control of our union revenue.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Now that the University has shown its hand, rejecting the formalised agreements to which you refer, what measures can the USU (and the student body at large) take to renegotiate the proposal and maintain student control of the affected venues?

    ReplyDelete
  10. the union runs its services for cliques; having the uni run it would better accomodate the interests of all students.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "The union runs its services for cliques"

    What cliques are you talking about? The thousands of students that buy coffee every day? That sit in Manning? That take dance classes and get on stage in Revues and host Harry Potter Trivia Nights in the Great Hall? That cover Eastern Avenue in non-Newtonian fluid?

    No cliques. Just students.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Excellent work Sibella & Board. Keep fighting the good fight.

    It's beyond ridiculous that after receiving a windfall of $10 million from the SSAF the university wants to complain about the $3.6 million it contributed in maintenance costs and the $900,000 it loses from its catering services.

    The union balanced it's budget this year, under exceptional circumstances whilst delivering an exceptional student experience. If improvement is needed, the answer is to invest in improvement, not wholesale takeover, and hasty commercialisation of our most important student-facing retailers.

    Here's an idea Prof Armstrong: give us $4.5 million from the SSAF, plus an extra million or so to invest in commercial upgrades since you're so thoroughly concerned about the student experience. Or you and Dr. Spence can keep the rest yourselves and go on a permanent holiday. We don't care.

    Just leave our bars, clubs, committees, coffee carts, revues and festivals alone.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Rhys Pogonoski (Honorary Treasurer)November 3, 2011 at 8:24 PM

    Hi all,

    Thanks for all of your interest and comments. Keep them rolling on in. We're a student-run organisation and we will always respond to our members needs.

    Tomorrow and the next few days we'll continue to update this blog with answers to the common questions that have been coming up and responding to comments that need to be responded to.

    Keep on posting and feel free to get us on twitter @USUBoard

    Kind regards,

    Rhys

    ReplyDelete
  14. A valid point is made when you consider that operational inefficiency doesn't benefit anyone

    ReplyDelete
  15. Why don't you just incorporate and sue the University?

    ReplyDelete
  16. REPLY TO "Why don't you just incorporate and sue the University?"

    If we don't have the university, where will we have our education?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thanks for the response Sibella and Board. After considering the two sides, I am of the opinion that student life should indeed remain in student hands. I would not be at all pleased if I had to pay a $263 SSAF to the University only to have Spence and Co. dictating the terms of fund transfers according to their desires.

    As for the two Anonymous posters, how about you reveal your names instead of hiding behind a screen and posting this which are inaccurate? Anonymous 1, do you have any evidence to back up your postulate that politics are involved?

    Further, considering the magnitude of its operations, the losses incurred by the USU in its operations are quite small, and follow a yo-yo pattern year after year, so we can hardly say the USU's losses are trending in a negative direction. Quite the opposite.

    If people bothered poring over the USU's past income statements (clearly you haven't, in which case I'd advise you to do so - they're publicly available), you'd notice that the losses are getting smaller and less severe.

    If Spence were to redirect even a fraction of SSAF revenue from the University to the USU, conditional upon some restructuring and efficiency improvements, the USU could stop charging for Access membership and still be profitable!

    I estimate current Access revenue to be about $1,300,000 if we assume all of the 13,100+ members pay the full Access fee of $99. The university will receive SSAF funds in excess of $10 million as said above. Even if only undergraduate students paid the fee, SSAF income would be well over $8,500,000. I think it's quite fair that some of the funds be directed to a student-controlled Union. Conceivably, some could also be appropriated for the proposed renovation of Wentworth, but that's for another discussion. We would be paying for it, after all...

    Am I missing anything here, apart from Spence's refusal to part with "his" cash?

    --Leon Geisler

    ReplyDelete
  18. "The vision of the University and the USU are the same: to deliver the best possible experience to the campus community. We believe that a student experience becomes superficial when it is restricted to programs and services - the USU is an organisation that wants students at the University of Sydney to appreciate every moment they have on campus. We know the University provides a world class environment for learning and an educational experience that is second-to-none..."

    It's sad that our educational experience hasn't been as "fun" or that academic staff hasn't really been particularly supportive re: education and feedback.

    If they have been supportive educationally, why are there still so many depressed students (especially in a particular faculty - BEFORE they even enter into their career - field)????? Why can't the uni see that the academic staff should also assist students IN class rooms too?

    It's been shown statistically that students are some of the most depressed students in the whole uni. How has the uni NOR USU supported these students? PLEASE SUPPORT THEM, SUPPORT US by curing the disease, not treating the symptoms!

    Actions speak louder than words. DO SOMETHING than complain and talk. ACT. NOW. PLEASE.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Manning and the other buildings belong to us, and I do not want to hand them over.

    The other contracts ending are fine, but these buildings are our buildings and I dont want to give them up.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Where do most USU funding come from? Where can USU seek for more funding apart from the so called Spence- who apparently doesn't want to part with his cash?

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Clearly the re-introduction of Compulsory Student Unionism shows us how lazy the Union really is!"

    You are mistaken on several points here. For one, SSAF is not the same as Compulsory Student Unionism - CSU was money that went directly to the Union. SSAF will go to the University, not the Union, with very few stipulations about how the money has to be used. Secondly, SSAF was not introduced because our Union has been "lazy" - it's a national piece of legislation, intended to counter the damage that has been done to student services by the Howard government's abolition of CSU. The Union lost a massive amount of funding with VSU; that it has continued to thrive in the face of this is a testament to the Union's strength, not its laziness.

    "The union runs its services for cliques; having the uni run it would better accomodate the interests of all students"

    I too am very curious to know which cliques you're talking about. The cliques that buy lunch?! The cliques that drink at Manning? The cliques that - shock, horror - buy stationary on campus?

    These are the services that the University intends to take over - food, beverage and retail outlets.

    On the other hand, if - as I suspect - you are referring to the "cliques" that are clubs and societies, I've got terrible news for you. The Union is going to keep running these. Gee, that's too bad - I guess you'll just have to sit by and watch me have exclusive fun with my cliquey cliquey clubs.

    Or you could, oh I don't know...get an access card, join some of the many clubs available and take advantage of the incredible opportunities afforded to you by attending the University with the biggest, liveliest, strongest Union in Australia.

    ReplyDelete
  22. It is preposterous that the student-run buildings should be handed over. The mere proposal of such an idea is just inadmissible.

    A vital part of the on-campus experience is SERIOUSLY defined by Holme, Manning and the Wentworth building.

    They can't be taken from us!


    Bianca Wu

    ReplyDelete
  23. "Where do most USU funding come from? Where can USU seek for more funding apart from the so called Spence- who apparently doesn't want to part with his cash? "

    A combination of Access Cards, University Funding, commercial surplus (profits made from Manning, Hermann's and every other outlet run by the Union) and the hiring out of buildings such as the Great Hall as mentioned in the original post.

    3 of these are under threat, 2 of them (uni funding and building hire) through "legitimate" means (as in, the USU were told 12 months in advance that they would be discontinued) and the other - commercial surplus - is now under threat because Spence, Armstrong and co. blindsided the USU with yesterday's infamous email.

    The SSAF will form another channel of funding (whether we like it or not) but this will, I daresay, replace Access.

    Other forms of funding? How about a massive USU cake stall? There aren't too many options left out there (as far as I know) which is why this is such a big deal.

    ReplyDelete
  24. #occupythequad
    #occupytogether
    #occupyeverywhere

    ReplyDelete
  25. I came to Sydney University to experience the enriched student experience its famous for. So far this has come mostly from the USU-the club that i joined, became involved in and eventually helped lead: part of the USU. The debates i entered: the USU. The food i ate: from the USU. The talks i listened to, the events i attended, the festivals I participated in: all the USU. Heck i made most of my friends thanks to the USU. I thinks its vital that students remember and recognise how much of their student experience outside of the lectures comes from the USU. And its time we defended that. I heart my USU!

    ReplyDelete
  26. If we are forced to vote giving up the occupation license, when would this happen?

    I fear for a badly publicised meeting, where right-wing students swoop in (from lots of rallying by the young liberals) and make up the 2/3 to give all the power back to the union.

    How will YOU ALL assure this won't happen? You can't have a meeting when the majority of USU members are overseas, working full time or back home away from Uni.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Lets keep it non-political.... but this is exactly why the university have done this. Send an email on the last day of STUVAC when students are in hibernation? Wait until the USU President is in China with no access to Social Media? Sneaky. Nasty. Dirty. Underhanded. Dishonest. Bad faith.

    ReplyDelete
  28. What a joke this is turning into.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Excellent response Sibella. It seems as though the University entered the negotiation process merely to seem responsive so as not to alienate students, rather than having an open mind and a clear aim to achieve the best outcome for students. You have exposed the unfair and dishonest way in which they went about it. It is in our interests to keep student services student-run. I am with you all the way!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Why are you no longer selling cigarettes?

    ReplyDelete
  31. We will not be giving up the Occupation License until 2017, as stated in our contract, unless a 2/3rds majority of members vote at a special general meeting before then. If this meeting is required to be held, it will not be planned until after the Union and the University have another negotiations meeting. In any case, the USU will negotiate only on the condition that our independence and funding are secure and sustainable.

    I'm glad our members and the university community recognise that this is a crucial time for the USU's future. Please have faith that we are striving to achieve the best possible outcome.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Merely agreeing to the university's one sided argument is not why we are Here.. Being a student at the University means that we have to fight for our rights and that is our responsibility as a part of the student bodt consists of 50000 students !! Its afterall....50000 against 6000 ;)

    ReplyDelete
  33. USU, please lower the Academic Dress hire price and enable a longer duration hire please. Graduation marks the SANDSTONE of our university achievement.

    The current dress hire is too expensive and the gown can only be borrowed for a "while" why not let us borrow it overnight and for a lower price?

    ReplyDelete
  34. Im French.. i say riot.

    ReplyDelete
  35. The students should directly lobby members of the Senate, particularly the Chancellor. It would be simple to say this is the thin end of the wedge, but the reality is that this is simply the further making a commodity of the students.

    The losses incurred by the University in the GFC and the continued focus on revenue through overseas campuses and foreign students serve as a distraction from the purpose of the University of Sydney—it is a university for the Students of Sydney, pure and simple. Over a hundred and thirty years of cooperation of Students as part of this compact should not just be jettisoned.

    If anything, whatever your stance on the performance of the Union is; you need to look at the commercialisation of the Student experience. Students critical of the Union should become involved in it, and work to improve it before they simply surrender to the University officially declaring itself a degree factory. Lose this battle and you might as well sign your name on the dotted line for the Melbourne model. 

    The students should directly lobby members of the Senate, particularly the Chancellor. It would be simple to say this is the thin end of the wedge, but the reality is that this is simply the further making a commodity of the students.

    The losses incurred by the University in the GFC and the continued focus on revenue through overseas campuses and foreign students serve as a distraction from the purpose of the University of Sydney—it is a university for the Students of Sydney, pure and simple. Over a hundred and thirty years of cooperation of Students as part of this compact should not just be jettisoned.

    If anything, whatever your stance on the performance of the Union is; you need to look at the commercialisation of the Student experience. Students critical of the Union should become involved in it, and work to improve it before they simply surrender to the University officially declaring itself a degree factory. Lose this battle and you might as well sign your name on the dotted line for the Melbourne model. 

    ReplyDelete
  36. Sorry for the double post…

    ReplyDelete
  37. "Why are you no longer selling cigarettes?"

    It was a part of the University's anti-smoking push, in accordance with the upcoming legislation that will limit smoking on parts of the campus. It was a contentious and controversial move, but I think in the end it had Union support:

    http://yourunionboard.blogspot.com/2011/10/university-of-sydney-union-cease-sale.html

    ReplyDelete
  38. Fred Harker-MortlockNovember 4, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Yeah, what Sean posted.

    I think something needs to be said in response to the idea that "oh well, the USU is in a financial dead end and so we may as well hand over commercial operations to the University - they'll run it better with the cash they have - and ah screw it, what difference is it going to make to my life anyway? Those Union guys never did anything for me, and sure as shit my little world's still going to keep on turning, Union or no Union."

    The problem with this idea is that it totally forgets that the Union is an absolutely pivotal part of our democracy, and therefore of forming everyone's "little world". Like any democratic institution allowing voters to shape the environment around them, the USU provides a mechanism whereby every student at USYD can have a say in what the University will look like - beers in bars, concerts on stage, discounts on all sorts of stuff. If you take the services away from the Union, and consequently its ability to determine these things, you take away your ability to form the world around you. It sounds really high-minded and over-the-top, but it's actually just plain reality – the University administration doesn’t need your vote, and it isn’t young and socially obligated/happy to listen to your needs – it can just tell you to do as your told, and to piss on off out of its office.

    It probably goes without saying that - to me anyway - being at University is a time to start growing up and realising that we are actually the ones who have to take the reigns of civilisation one day. If we can no longer start stepping up to the plate at University (in a nice, cushy, alcohol-fuelled way) by running our own campus lives, how are we going to get used to that idea in "real life"? By focusing only on our jobs and some material junk and then drifting into an election booth every few years, just to place a half-baked vote for some candidate we saw jumping up and down inside a tv screen? But that person determines, to a large extent, all the things I do.

    The point is that there is something far more important than the issues that people may have with what the USU is doing at any particular moment - how they haven't properly responded to calls for Fair Trade items, for example, or how prices around campus, even with ACCESS, are perhaps still too high for average students - or, most worryingly, than the great problems which they're now suffering as a result of misguided government and university policy. It's about maintaining a democratic institution and taking a share in running our own lives - short-term economic and other problems, which can always be solved, are always secondary to the ongoing imperative to retain a little slice of freedom.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Sean's post above presents a particularly interesting argument.

    Let us for a moment take as fact that the Union has been unprofitable. Is this reason alone to hand over control of the Union to the University?

    I agree that, in years past, there has been an inadequate focus on the finances of the Union. One needs only to look at the grandiose list of promises made every year by prospective Union candidates (and compare them to what has actually been done - or worse, the Union's financials) to realise that many policies are made without due consideration to the Union's operations as a financial entity.

    However, this does not automatically lend itself to the commercialisation of the Union.

    I am primarily concerned that the bureaucratic nature of the University will compromise its ability to act in the best interests of students. We experience it all the time when it comes to our individual units of study, our degrees, and occasionally even our faculties. I am quite afraid that it will be the case here as well.

    By contrast, the Union as it currently stands is authentic. Level whatever accusations you will at it - some may even be legitimate - but the Union is authentic. Even if it has considerable room for improvement, it is one important mechanism through which students can change the student experience, and there is great value in that.

    The Union may not be the most fiscally sound organisation in history. But it doesn't have to be. It's run by students, for students. And that's the way it should stay.

    ReplyDelete
  40. To the request for Academic Dress to be borrowed longer/overnight - if they did that, there wouldn't be enough gowns for everyone on graduation days (there's only enough in total for 1.5-2 graduations maximum, if that). To let you keep them longer, they'd need to buy more, and then the price would go up, which brings us to your first complaint. You can't have them cheap and overnight - only one or the other. :)

    ReplyDelete
  41. I think that there is something fundamentally wrong with the attitude of Government (thanks largely to Howard; I do think Rudd's Education Revolution started to address this) in regards to tertiary education. This has trickled down to primary and secondary school education too, which many of you who are parents will have noticed. The core of the issue is lack of funding to tertiary institutions from Government, and subsequent misuse of funding that is given. The result is that educational institutions at all levels are required to run as a business - that is, make a profit. The problem with this is of course that an educational institution is not about profit, it is about education! Similarly, while an educational institution needs to make some of it's own money, it should not be restricted in its ability to educate by lack of funds - the windfall should be filled in by proper account budgeting and funding from Government/bequests/really rich friendly old people. This fundamental issue with Australian attitudes to education has thus crept into the USU. I absolutely appreciate the efforts of the USU and recognise that a lot of their work goes by unnoticed, despite significant costs. This includes "basic" things like building maintenance and the admin associated with our many C&S. However, given the current state of VSU the USU has issues with balancing their books. The University cannot "afford" to keep funding the USU windfall - the USU needs to be entirely self-supportive (but of course, be willing to accept University donations or project financial support should that be offered). Funding provided to the USU from the University is better spent on capital for student education - the whole point of the University's existence! (PS: Vet Science would really like some fancy, updated microscopes. Even a microbiology lab, should they be so lucky! First Year chem would really like clean test tubes at least once during semester. The IT guys would really like at least one weekend where they do not have to do server maintenance and field angry emails from students).

    So that leaves two options for the USU...
    1) Bring back your original source of funding (CSU - I don't think there would be an awful lot of opposition given what is going on at the moment), or,
    2) Accept funding from other sources (namely, the University). To be perfectly honest, I don't think handing over coffee carts to University control will really be such an issue (especially if we get Faire Trade coffee!) By all means, retain control of Holme, Wentworth and Manning - that is essential. But money is money, and if you ain't got it then you need to suck it up and accept help. A constant lack of funds and ending the financial year in the red is not doing anyone any favours and merely leads to being stuck between a University-offer-to-which-you-object and a hard place. I firmly believe that the USU should retain as much of its current ventures as possible, but the reality is there isn't enough money because the membership is so poor. Either bring back CSU and actually have the financial ability to better meet the USU vision, or temporarily accept a deal from the University where outlets are handed over. This sad predicament the USU finds itself in means that the USU simply cannot afford to bite the hand that feeds it.

    PS: For those of you confused between SSAF, CSU, VSU... I suggest you learn what they are ASAP if you intend on being a part of the current debate.

    ReplyDelete
  42. If SSAF is intended to repair the damage done by the Howard government, then it is absolutely necessary that the money be directed to the USU. For the uni to do otherwise would be disingenuous, and not in the best interests of the students (for whom the money was intended after all).

    ReplyDelete
  43. Curious how the University props up the USU with direct funding, in-kind funding etc yet little of that trickles its way down to the student services that matter i.e. Clubs and Societies, member services....need I go on? Where does that money and support from the University go? The university was clear on what the money was earmarked for.....student services! How can we be surprised when they finally say enough is enough after years of blatant disregard for what the money was intended for? Really! When was the last time the USU listened to you? Now that their back is against the wall they want our support! Am I With You?.....No! I am not!

    ReplyDelete
  44. I believe that the USU should remain student run and should retain control of its commercial operations -but I think the University attempting to take control is evidence of the fact that the USU Board is doing too little, too late.

    For example, if the Board has been consistently committed to being responsive to students, why wasn't any action taken to implement the Fair Trade Referendum from over a year ago, in which close to 99% of their members told them they wanted Fair Trade Coffee sold across USU outlets?

    Board members are paid to to their job, and while we students are definitely 'with you' - you, as our union, needed to step up a long time ago. And now unfortunately the University has caught you out.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Rhys Pogonoski (Honorary Treasurer)November 4, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    Hi all,

    Thanks for all of your great comments. We'll continue to try responding to your comments as they appear. Keep posted to this Board blog and keep asking these questions.

    I just thought I'd respond really quickly to two comments above:

    Direct Funding - the University does not directly fund our commercial operations. The SLA, which is the only direct funding the USU receives from the Uni goes to cleaning and repairing the student spaces. Our commercial operations are not 'propped up' with University funding.

    Fair Trade: When the referendum on Fair Trade coffee took place the USU Board became committed to ensuring that the views of students were represented. We were unable to break our coffee contract at that time due the the huge financial burden it would've placed on the USU meaning less C&S funding, less live music, less free entertainment - less USU. We have built the views of our members, regarding Fair Trade, into the tendering process for the next coffee contract that will commence at the end of 2013.

    Regards,

    Rhys

    ReplyDelete
  46. Thanks for your response Rhys! Here's an idea! As a supporter of both the USU and Fair Trade, I feel that it would be wise for the USU to be more transparent about its plans for Fair Trade.

    It will get the 89.3% students on your side, and also be a critical point of difference against the university. There's no guarantee that the uni will make the switch, so if the USU can guarantee that, then I think you're going to have many students defending the USU's commercial operations.

    The emphasis is on the take-over of the food and beverage outlets. If the uni can do better, you're going to lose students' support. But if you respond to students views over the beverage such as Fair Trade, then it shows that the USU will listen and do better than the uni.

    Also, Sibella, thank you for the increased transparency and keeping students up to date. It was time the USU engaged with its members in an open manner, unlike your predecessor. Keep up the good fight!

    ReplyDelete
  47. Can we PLEASE not bring fair trade into this? PLEASE. It is such a one-sided tired agenda pushed by the same 30 kids on campus who never let anyone else have their say.

    Just for ONCE to put the alternative side forward: I wonder if 89.3% of students would have said "yes we want fair trade coffee" if they knew the whole story. In theory, 89.3% of students liked the idea of fair trade coffee. If they knew the amount every cup of coffee would increase by on campus, you can bet those numbers would have turned right around.

    This isn't about Fair Trade. It isn't about cigarettes on campus. And SERIOUSLY... how can the USU consider changing prices academic dress hire fees when it is one of their ONLY sources of revenue left after what the university has done?

    Michael Spence pushed through changes to our faculties and schools without the consent or consultation of most faculties - the law school for example was taking from a huge operating surplus and forced to cover the deficit of other schools... across the board, post graduate and international places are taking priority over undergraduate places so that the Uni can make more money. Now Michael Spence is undercutting the oldest, only-student run Union left in the country. There is something FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG with that.

    Call in the Alumni, call in the Senate reps, call in the students.

    Lets get a petition circulating and lets get our alumni to send letters. Lets start a push to send emails into Michael Spence's inbox. USU, we are standing with you, show us some leadership and show us some action. Lets stop saying 'standby'. Lets move now.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Well said. It's a shame you're "Anonymous" as I'd come find you and shake your hand after that post.

    Instead of bickering about prices of certain things or whether we should have X product or Y service available, we should be saying "Let's keep our Union alive" and showing Spence, Armstrong and co. that the USU is still relevant and can take on commercial services.

    Priorities, guys and girls.

    Also, again in relation to the above post, I think one of the things the Are You With Us campaign is trying to do is similar to your last paragraph - make sure all the students are involved - but I don't think they've targetted alumni as of yet. Dominic Knight (of Chaser and USyd fame) was tweeting all about this last night - definitely scope for alumni involvement here.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Thanks for your response Rhys.

    Well said Philip. We certainly appreciate the increased transparency from the USU on this matter.

    ReplyDelete
  50. To that anonymous that said "can we please not bring fair trade into this" unlike you, the majority of students at Usyd were obviously not as self-centered or obnoxious and did care for the greater good of others.

    Fair Trade WILL come into this because maybe if the USU had bothered to listen to what so many of the students wanted, it wouldn't be in this position anyway. A referendum is binding. It involves implementing the decision of the voters. Well, obviously not in the case of Usyd. Why should we lag behind universities such as Monash, LaTrobe and RMIT? And if you believe 30 students at usyd = 89.3% of the population, I have no idea how you go into Usyd (or any university at all for that matter) in the first place.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Why are issues like Fair Trade relevant?

    Because the USU needs to engage with students about these services since the sad reality is: the majority of students don’t care, or can’t be bothered to care about the take-over. The 'Are You With Us’ Facebook page boasts a dismal 571 ‘likes’.

    The sly issue is that the VC isn’t directly scrapping clubs and societies – if that was the case, I think there would be a bigger uproar. He’s taking over commercial services, which would indirectly but severely affect C&S and campus life, but that link is lost amongst students. Students think that the take-over might mean better food and drinks, and why not, since the USU hasn’t been very good at it.

    So, the USU has to proclaim that it can do a BETTER job with providing food and drinks than the uni. One way to do that is to engage with Fair Trade, which already has the incredibly strong backing of students. It’s tangible issues like Fair Trade which will get uncommitted students on your side.

    PS. Paying a few cents more for coffee is unlikely to be a big deal for students, with the vast majority coming from affluent backgrounds anyway. The whole point is to pay the farmers fairly.

    ReplyDelete
  52. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Sorry Philip, I don't find Fair Trade to have an iota of relevance in this whole situation. If you can outline some other issues that the USU needs to "engage" in, I'd be happy to consider your opinion as higher than something coming from a leftist hack.

    Going off that point, I think we're quite overcharged for coffee on campus as it is. So yes, a few cents more for my coffee is a few cents too many. Therein lies the problem. Many students are barely able to scrape by as it is, and are hard-pressed finding the benefits of getting an Access card. As a long-time purchaser of Access cards, I still struggle to get those savings claimed on the glossy marketing brochures. Whatever.

    From my discussion with a few students, many see the USU as something from afar: a couple of events here and there, a few clubs, annoying elections in semester 1, and a next-to-useless Access card. They don't realise (yes, I'm serious) that they're surrounded by USU initiatives and services - Verge, any concerts on campus, cafes, food outlets and their watering holes (Manning and Wentworth-Hermanns). In reality, these people are not overcharged for being non-members nearly enough. Hence, the USU loses money, Spence gets greedy and wants to take over, with apocalyptic results.

    But that's all about to change. Every student will be paying the $263 SSAF from next year, and Spence should graciously redirect this from his balance sheet into the hands of students who would continue controlling the student lifestyle as before. However, I'd be happy for this money to come with a few strings attached: promote (exaggeratedly so) the role of the Union in student life - plaster USU posters everywhere they're relevant; renovate Wentworth (please!), give every student an Access card and make the Access program more relevant and useful (i.e. economic incentives for on-campus businesses to accept Access cards).

    That is all.

    ReplyDelete
  54. "Spence should graciously redirect this from his balance sheet into the hands of students who would continue controlling the student lifestyle."

    If you really think that is how this is going to go, that Michael Spence will graciously hand over that money you are ridiculously naive.

    And as for giving every student an Access card - do you not understand how the program works? Do you fail to understand the fact that the money raised from the purchase of Access cards at the beginning of each year is one of the USU's key forms of revenue raising? Furthermore, Access means far more than simply discounts on campus - it is membership of the USU, and members reap the benefits. If we gave every student an Access card, we'd be completely financially destroying the Union. Give everyone an access card?

    You're an idiot.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Fred Harker-Mortlock, Guang li and sean have all posted excellent things and just just let me say this, the USU should remain student run.


    BUT the fact that the union does run a deficit every year (although apparently not this year?) and that it does appear to be a clique in charge (despite what adam chalmers said) means that A LOT of students think 'what's the point, even if its student run it's run by students who are only doing it to put on their resumes'.


    Quite frankly, this campaign should of happened years ago. Why didn't it? Is it possibly because the students on board ARE only doing it for their resumes?


    MORE information should be given from the board to students.
    The current campaign 'Are you with us' involves a group of clique students from the on campus political sphere (namely the indies, although labelled hacks are also getting involved). Firstly, people walking around in ambiguous shirts with broad meaningless sayings does NOTHING to help the majority of people on campus.
    I find the whole campaign incredibly annoying and basically it should be a campaign where students are educated about the union.
    A lot of people don't even really understand (a) who runs the union (b) how its run (c) what the union does. Writing a blog does not help get the message across to everyone, especially the apathetic masses.


    I was also going to say what sean said, the board should lobby the senate.
    If they need a two third majority then why would they 'break the faith' (boo hoo) and send out the email? Is there a possible way that they can overcome that (I'm assuming this has something to do with the senate)?
    Where is the information?


    Honestly, the union should be so much more proactive in getting students involved.


    Rhys; "Direct Funding - the University does not directly fund our commercial operations. The SLA, which is the only direct funding the USU receives from the Uni goes to cleaning and repairing the student spaces. Our commercial operations are not 'propped up' with University funding."
    If you did not have this money than you would have to take money from the commercial operations to fund 'cleaning and repairing student services'. So basically, you just ignored what they said. Everything is interlinked and the union would not function without the large amounts of money from the uni.


    If you are not in fact propped up, then why worry about this because you can absolutely function as an independent union. Oh wait, YOU NEED THE MONEY.


    I don't understand how the union loses so much money considering all the resources available.

    Wanting to ensure the student experience is lovely, and should be the aim of the union. But seriously, run a proper campaign of information, with strength and an aim to improve the union which seems to be terribly run at the moment.

    ReplyDelete
  56. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAYL5H46QnQ

    ReplyDelete
  57. I am behind the USU and sad that this is happening.

    I don't think there should be more commercialisation on campus such as Macdonnals ect, that would be horrible.

    I'm not sure things will be better under the Universities control.

    It's also dissapointing this has been brought up in the exam period, deffinetly seems planned.

    It's sad there are only ~ 13, 000 members (I was surprised it was so low), approx $100 is not alot to pay (ammounts to less than $5 per week on campus), before VSU, the overall cost of USU, SRC and SUSport was close to $650 each year! I don't know the exact amount, but it was cerainly alot higher than now.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Dominique Hogan-DoranNovember 15, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    As a former President of the USU, I am concerned and will do all I can to contribute what I can to ensure the longevity of the union's provision of services to students.

    Dom Hogan-Doran, USU President 1990-1991.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Is it time to kick out Spence?

    Staff are sick and tired of Mr Spence too... Corporate style management & control freak. Busy crying poor and laying off staff (eg. kicked out the cleaners), then spending like nobodies business on new buildings and building upgrades. Then there was that stupid branding business - what a huge & foolish waste of money that was.

    ReplyDelete
  60. In hindsight, this blog post and its comments may have been the best thing the Union did all year.

    ReplyDelete

UA-5126621-7