Image: The Spectator
The National Union of Students (NUS) is a national body representing the interests of university students. The NUS has made headlines often over the past few years, often regarding both financial and factional disputes. A few weeks ago, ANUSA decided to reaccredit the NUS – meaning that it would contribute around $10,000 in accreditation fees and funds for NUS’s annual national conference.
The NUS, in its current form, came into being in 1987. In the early 1990s it rose to national prominence with a campaign that helped lower the age of financial independence, making it easier for students to get welfare while at university. It has frequently been included in government bodies and councils that determine higher education policy. More recently, the NUS has been involved in concerted efforts to prevent university fee deregulation, which would relax pricing restrictions for university courses.
Current NUS policy aims don’t just include fee deregulation: not only do they want free tertiary education for all, but they also want the Student Services and Amenities Fees (SSAF) to be controlled entirely by students. Currently SSAF, a fee of a few hundred dollars paid by students at universities across Australia, is collected and distributed by universities – however, students often have some input into where that money goes. The NUS also wants a return to Universal Student Unionism, with the aim of better representing all university students, and increasing NUS funding.
The NUS indisputably has an impact: it has an annual budget of near $1 million, and assets that have a value in excess $1 million. However, many criticisms have been levelled against the organisation.
One criticism is that the NUS has structural issues with its finances. A report from independent auditors TLConsult in 2013 stated that structural problems ‘unchanged for nearly two decades’ meant that the NUS only had enough funds to ‘sustain the organisation for approximately one year in its current form’. Over the past few years, attempts to rectify the budget by cutting the stipend for the national Indigenous, International Students and Disability Officers have failed.
Another criticism is that the organisation is crippled by intense infighting and factionalism. The NUS is split, in order of positions they hold, between the parties Unity (Labor Right), National Labor Students (Labor Left), National Independents, Socialist Alternative, and the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation. Some, like current ANUSA Education Officer Jessy Wu, have argued that ‘compassionate and caring people’ are ‘disempowered from fighting for change within their factions’ by the NUS.
The NUS will mostly like remain a feature in ANU student politics, at least for the time being. Both NUS’s agenda, and the way it sets this agenda, will remain the subject of heated debate because the decisions it makes – or doesn’t make – influences all Australian students in some way or another.