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NUS: to affiliate or disaffiliate?

For the second time in a year, discussions over disaffiliation from NUS has resurfaced, causing frustration amongst the SRC....

For the second time in a year, discussions over disaffiliation from NUS has resurfaced, causing frustration amongst the SRC.

In March this year, during the fourth meeting of the Student Representative Council (SRC), a major point of interest was regarding whether Western Sydney University would affiliate with The National Union of Students (NUS).

The NUS is the representative body that advocates for the rights and interests of students around Australia. This includes campaigns regarding sexual assault and harassment, climate change, student welfare, funding cuts to higher education, and many more.

Mr. Frederick Bekker, who is the General Secretary for the 2019/2020 term, put a motion forward suggesting the SRC hold a referendum and allow the students to decide whether Western Sydney University affiliates with NUS in 2020.

The agenda item outlined that NUS had been a focal point during the SRC terms of office. Fred also outlined the significant conflict of interest, as several reps including himself are NUS delegates. Fred, who is also the Campus Representative for Western Sydney University at NUS wishes to see this decision be left up to the students, a decision made by a binding student referendum.

 

Here we go again!

W’SUP archives indicate that Western Sydney University SRC has been affiliated with the NUS since 2016. The then President, Mr. Michael Wright said, “The National Union of Students has come under criticism in recent years. In NSW, voters remain sceptical of unions, and student politics more broadly remains the domain of die-hards and hacks. While these claims aren’t totally unfounded, reform and change can only come from inside NUS, and affiliation gives us the best chance.”

As some of you may recall, this is not the first time that Fred has attempted to push Western Sydney University’s SRC away from the NUS. Toby Hemmings, former WSUP editor, reported on this issue last year. Toby’s article identifies Fred as the representative who requested the special meeting to discuss NUS disaffiliation.

After the meeting Fred said, “With the Chair of the meeting contesting an elected position which requires remaining affiliated, and 4 of the sitting SRC members being sitting NUS delegates, the impartial nature of requiring to make to decision to affiliate comes into question.”

 

Fred also said NUS had previously lied about their financial situation, claiming the organisation is misspending SSAF money. Fred said there was drunk and disorderly behaviour at NatCon and even claims of threats of violence.

Sarah Cupitt, the 2019/2020 Vice-President of Undergrad and an NUS delegate, strongly opposed the motion. However, this was not always the case, Toby’s article states Sarah was in favour of disaffiliating. Sarah said that 2019 was her first year of student politics and she was aware the NUS had come under criticism in recent years.

 

“Upon attending NatCon, meeting new friends and sharing all the heated policy drama on twitter, it came to my attention that reform and change can only come from inside NUS and affiliation gives us that power. A power that all students deserve,” said Sarah.

 

Ms. Cupitt also told me that 30 percent of students are on welfare, which would be approximately 9000 Western Sydney University students who are receiving some form of government assistance. She noted that as a result of the NUS campaign, students on welfare are now receiving an additional $550 per fortnight for the next 6 months.

 

During the meeting, a heated discussion took place with Daniel Bonatti, the 2019/2020 Vice-President, Post Graduate; expressing his concern that Fred did not address this issue with the NUS delegates before filing the motion.

Daniel also highlighted that this is an issue for the newly elected SRC to make as their terms of office begin. This was a sentiment that was repeated by various SRC members. Sarah, calling it undemocratic for the SRC to rush this motion on the last day of elections; a decision that would impact the new SRC.This was something that Fred was quoted saying, the affiliation payment of $2,500 was made ‘without any consultation’ of the incoming SRC, back in 2019.

 

Hollie Hammond, who was present at the meeting as a student observer, said, “I think a lot of reps were becoming frustrated, as Fred insisted repeatedly the proposed referendum wasn’t for or against NUS, but many of them remember him leading an unsuccessful motion to disaffiliate just last year.”

 

She went on to say, “I think other reps were getting quite annoyed as he kept insisting NUS is too political, as though student politics, higher education, and unions are somehow supposed to exist in an apolitical vacuum.”

 

Final comments

Fred said, “I knew moving this motion was always going to be unpopular among the other SRC members and would never have passed. However, I firmly believe in strongly standing up for the students that you have been elected to represent, and am proud to have made a stand for my Western Community.”

SRC President, Mr. Matthew Bojanic, said, “The National Union of Students is an incredibly important partner organisation to the SRC. Its work during COVID-19 Pandemic has been invaluable so far in securing additional safeguards and support for our students at Western, and I feel this speaks to the importance of maintaining a strong working relationship with the organisation.

 

“The reality is that there are many areas that still need to be addressed during this crisis, including support for international students, and so it is essential that we continue to work together to advocate for all within our student community. As such, now is not the time to be driven by ideology and partisan political views. Now is not the time to even discuss disaffiliation. Because we must work together to overcome this crisis for the sake of our students, and this involves collaborating with the NUS.”


Your thoughts

Whether you love or loathe the NUS, what do you think on the matter? Should the SRC start putting votes on the student body? Should we go to a referendum? Would this mean the end of the SRC as their role is to vote on your behalf? Let us know what you think below!

 

 

 

Edited by Shayma Abdellatif 

 

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Student Parent Union: It’s never been more important for student parents to connect

Hollie Hammond discusses the unique experiences and anecdotes of student parents, and how you can join the Student Parent Union. ...

Students with parenting and caring responsibilities have always faced a unique set of competing responsibilities. With the relentless demands from study, housework, paid work and extracurriculars, to attending to the time and attention of their children – these are just the tip of the iceberg. While the juggling act of all of the above is already intense and challenging, this had only intensified during COVID-19.

Student parents once relied on family support or day-care facilities to better manage their studies or paid employment. Now, they must decide between falling behind in their studies, or potentially risking the health of their children and family by exposing them outside of the household during a pandemic.

Therefore, many parents are facing difficult decisions around whether to keep their children home from school. More importantly, they have to consider their own work and studies, as well as supporting their children’s studies and education – all with very limited support. While the struggle pre-pandemic was already difficult, the current situation has become near-impossible.

According to data from the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment in 2018, one third of higher education students are 25 and over. This suggests the one-dimensional stereotype of university students as school leavers doesn’t always apply – to say nothing of parents and carers under 25. Students of 2020 have circumstances as unique as themselves, and for many this includes parenting and caring responsibilities.

Western Sydney University has gone to some lengths to ensure its campuses and policies are more parent-friendly. The university has developed a breastfeeding policy and provides paid on-campus child-care. Additionally, WSU has responded to feedback from students by allowing a level of flexibility in changing tutorials that clashed with parenting responsibilities.

With 55.5 per cent of higher-education students in Australia being female, it’s worth noting the gendered nature of care and the pressure experienced by student mothers. As parenting responsibilities can present a barrier to education for women in particular, the university’s work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality is ongoing. Despite these efforts, there are still some gaps in the support offered for student parents.

Currently, WSU staff have the option of joining the Engaged Parent Network (EPN), in addition to existing flexible work policies. Historically, nothing like this has existed for students. For this reason, Western Sydney University’s first Student Parent Union was conceptualised and birthed as a labour of love.

The Student Parent Union (SPU) is a brand-new student-led club that has been built by parents, for parents – and anyone who would like to support them. SPU is an inclusive club that is open to all parents and carers, not just those who are biological parents. It’s also open to non-parents who are willing to help the club achieve its stated aims. It is intended to be a space for parents and carers to support, collaborate and advocate for one another during this incredibly unique phase of life. Never has the need for such connection been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’d like any further information, please look for us on WesternLife, or join our Facebook group