As a ticket, Together for ANUSA boasts experienced candidates, with a multitude of incumbent candidates, alongside some new players in the ANUSA scene. Together is running a full executive ticket, alongside Postgraduate and Undergraduate Coursework Officers, College Representatives, and General Representatives. Notably, their Treasurer Candidate, Irina Samsonova, is the only postgraduate executive candidate in this year’s election.
In a very detailed policy document, each Together candidate set out their priorities for ANUSA’s advocacy and service provision next year.
Policy One: Advocacy for Academic Reform
Advocacy for increased accessibility to classes was a common theme across most of the candidates’ policies, which included policies similar to USyd’s “simple five day extensions”, increasing the number of tutorials and other in-person activities out of typical working hours (9am-5pm), and creating EAP-like accommodations for lower socioeconomic students (LSEC). The ticket also proposed including online options for learning and tests, specifically for the College of Business and Economics which removed mid-semester exams but subsequently introduced in-person tests.
Policies also called for the expansion of the current “Let’s Speak English” program to include academic skill training, and greater integration with academic clubs.
The ticket’s college representative and coursework candidates are seeking caps on the maximum weighting of final exams, while others are seeking to reverse the decision to return to in-person exams, or at least allow these exams to be typed on students’ laptops.
Increased accessibility for classes is well within student interest. With the recent transition to on-campus teaching and testing, working students and students with disabilities have been vocal about the inaccessibility this has caused.
The University has been notably lagging in addressing the needs of students with disability, as shown by the slow progress on the implementation of the Disability Action Plan. The ticket’s push to improve EAPs to include take-home assessment arrangements will likely be well received, since the current system does not mandate that Special Examination Arrangements are applied to take-home assessments. The ticket has also consulted with the Disabled Student’s Association, although the association flagged minor unprofessional behaviour in leaving short timeframes for responses to policy.
Increasing tutorial slots outside the 9-5 standard hours acknowledges that many students must also balance their jobs alongside their studies; an important stepping stone for the ANU, where full course load and the part-time course load are respectively equivalent to full-time work and part-time work. Integrating academic clubs is possible, and will improve communication between students and the representatives. In the past, academic clubs such as Law Student’s Society have worked closely with the College of Law representative, which has been in the interests of the cohort.
The ticket has not specified how demands for academic reform will be issued; with potential options being through student-led protests, or through in-house negotiations and consultancy with the University. For the latter approach, the University’s bureaucracy will make the ticket’s promises hard to achieve. The Disability Action Plan for example, was created with minimal student consultation, and the University has yet to source reviews of the new Education Access Plan. Students may question whether the ticket can fulfil its promises, if the union must convince the University bureaucracy.
A possible challenge with the ticket’s program on exam conditions could include accreditation requirements with universities’ regulator TEQSA and professional bodies. Some members of the College of Law faculty have attributed the end of the popular take-home assignments to accreditation requirements with law councils, and ANU is currently undergoing its regular accreditation review with the universities’ regulator TEQSA. It has been difficult to verify, however, claims that accreditation will be revoked.
Policy Two: Rights in Residential Halls
The Together ticket emphasises advocacy for residential students, promising guides for students: one to help students to understand their rights under occupancy agreements, and another to help residents’ committees organise more inclusive events. Some candidates have also pledged to fight for the right to negotiate on rent increases, citing the ACT’s cap on increases for tenancy agreements which is tied to CPI. Others have called for more transparency on the University’s deal with AMP Capital and how money from rent is being spent.
The promise to break the Occupancy Agreement is an endearing one. Under this current agreement, students have less rights than a typical tenant renting off-campus, with different rules on termination of leases, increases in rent, and requirements when applying to accommodation. Increased residential rights will be well received, with the increase of lockout fees to $100 being a constant source of frustration and disappointment within student discourse.
The incumbents have shown competency in addressing student concerns regarding residential halls, with changes to the SR lockout fees applying incrementally being considered a win.
Achieving the goals which involve caps or transparency on residential fees will prove to be a challenge, given the highly confidential agreements with AMP Capital, the hedge fund that owns the majority of residential halls across Daley Road. On occupancy agreements, there exists a strong incentive for the ANU not to shift over to typical tenancy agreements as this places them at a disadvantage when compared to the status quo. Therefore, Together would have to overcome significant external barriers to achieve this policy.
Action on residential halls will need to be paired with progress for off-campus students facing a housing crisis. This year, candidates on this ticket created the Housing Action Collective (HAC). The forum has had low engagements with the general student body with most forums consisting of politically-affiliated students. The ticket may risk isolating off-campus students if they are unable to improve upon the accessibility of the HAC.
Policy Three: Union-managed SSAF
Turning to SSAF and service delivery, the ticket has committed to increasing funding for clubs, furthering negotiations for a larger share of the SSAF funds, and developing its own sources of income.
Clubs Officer candidate Seungbin Kang (he/they) has pledged to seek an increase in the portion of the SSAF allocation directed at ANUSA’s clubs program. This would, in turn, increase the Clubs budget. The ticket is also calling for more involvement between the university’s academic colleges and student-run disciplinary clubs. For example, assisting CBE to form relationships with the actuarial society and so forth. This would presumably be similar to the relationship between the Law Students Society and the College of Law. General representative candidate Luc Campbell blamed ANUSA’s full payment of affiliation fees to the National Union of Students, the only campus in Australia to pay as much, for the more limited funding this year. That said, nobody on the ticket has definitively proposed cutting the NUS fee to increase the Clubs allocation.
A boost to clubs funding would be very welcome, if it can be delivered, especially as the Clubs Committee started to hit its funding limits last semester. The boost in funding in and of itself would allow clubs to provide a greater variety and magnitude of services to ANU students, ensuring that students are getting value for their student fees. The further integration of clubs with the faculties they represent, such as the Law Student’s Society with the College of Law, would allow students from all disciplines to feel more engaged with their academic staff. The integration would also ensure that faculty based clubs do not just provide social events but can also function as a valuable support service for student’s academic progress by connecting them with, and advocating for, support within academic faculties.
Convincing the ANU to remove themselves from decision-making regarding SSAF will be a large ask, given SSAF around the country is allocated by University management to university organisations. It is more realistic to bid to the University for more SSAF to go to Clubs, but with the addition of postgraduates to the union this year, the demand for Clubs events may similarly skyrocket. The criticism by General Representative candidate Luc Campbell of full contribution to the NUS may be controversial to students who support fully paying dues to the National Union, which organises activity on a national level.
Policy Four: More Services and the Night Cafe
On service delivery, Together has continued to expand its pledges on services and what the union has tended to describe in recent years as “mutual aid.” Postgraduate Coursework Officer candidate Catherine Ye promises equipment loans for exam-approved calculators, pens and notepads, dictionaries, and other materials for exams. Meanwhile, General Representative candidate Tom Webster Arbizu is promising more free lunches over the week, possibly in collaboration with the ANU Food Co-Op. Postgraduate HDR candidate Diana Tung has promised expanded grant programs for postgraduates with a “Home Stretch Grant” to support HDR students in the busy last weeks of their dissertation.
The Night Cafe, a promise made repeatedly since Grassroots proposed it at the 2021 election, has returned in Together’s manifesto. Power in Community, the successor to Grassroots who also promised the cafe, have recently come under criticism for the lack of deliverables to show for their work towards it. The cafe has yet to open and it is unlikely that it will open by the end of the year. Treasurer candidate Irina Samsonova noted the need for the ANU to provide a venue and for a new, more viable, business plan. O’Neill stressed that the sudden defunding of PARSA last year proved a distraction from the significant work needed to start a business of this kind.
More services, food programs, and grants are likely welcome to students. They help ease the high cost of living on the ANU campus and provide students with value for their SSAF. Further, if the Night Cafe is delivered, it could be a significant boon to on-campus culture while also potentially delivering a healthy boost to the union’s balance sheet. A quieter venue on campus that is open late to complement the louder Badger and Co could provide students with a better place to study and access cheap food, while providing clubs with a venue for events and meetings. It would see ANUSA make a sorely-needed expansion into the functions of the long-dissolved ANU Union which operated similar venues on University Avenue until it was evicted in 2017 during preparations for the development of Kambri.
If the Night Cafe continues to see a lack of observable deliverables under the Together executive, and the suggestion of updated business plans suggests further work is needed, it may continue to present issues to future ANUSA executives, with ongoing spending on consultancy and hours of work on the project continuing to stack up. Worse, if the Cafe does launch but it is a flop, it could severely damage the union’s finances and cause greater dependence on the University’s SSAF income. The earlier mentioned Union tried to develop a new post-Kambri bar under Lena Karmel in 2019 and was forced to wind up after the bar failed to generate interest from students.
Similarly, though perhaps with less dire consequences, if there is low uptake of the various opportunities provided by the grants by students then ANUSA’s balance sheet could be dragged down by large purchases of services underutilised by students.
This article concludes Woroni’s pre-election coverage. Stay tuned for updates throughout the voting period, open from tomorrow 9am until Thursday 12pm.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed equipment loans for exam materials as a promise made by Undergraduate Coursework Officer Candidate Harrison Oates
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