On the 5th of October, at the Ordinary General Meeting (OGM) ANUSA will move to reform its constitution and expand its membership to include postgraduate students. 

Since the 1980s, the two student unions on campus, the Australian National University Students’ Association (ANUSA) and the Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association (PARSA) have been separate. They have each represented their separate constituencies, and, despite joint protests, have largely kept to their own. 

However, with PARSA’s defunding next year, there will be no postgraduate student union on campus. The ANU has not committed to creating a new advocacy body, and has not promised the $2 million of SSAF (students services and amenities fee) funding to anyone else. 

In a daring ploy, ANUSA’s executive will move to include postgraduates in its membership, beating any potential ANU proposal, and unifying all ANU students into one union. 

The proposed reform is to ANUSA’s constitution  which would change to include postgraduate students. Section 4(1)(a) and 4(1)(c) will remove the term ‘undergraduate’ and replace it with ‘students.’ Following the amendments made to Section 4, Section 5 of the Constitution on membership in ANUSA will be reformed to include ‘any person who is a Student in an undergraduate or postgraduate degree at the ANU’. 

Although postgraduate degrees embody a diverse group of students from differing backgrounds, of importance amongst them are students who are parents and carers. To ensure their voices are represented as well, ANUSA will move to include a Parents and Carers Committee under Section 18 of the Constitution. 

Under a new provision of the constitution, Section 31, titled the ‘transitional provision’, an election will be held to introduce additional Ad Hoc Postgraduate student representatives into ANUSA. With PARSA’s Representative Council term coming to an end in June of 2023, ANUSA wants postgraduate students to have an interim representative council that upholds the needs of postgraduate students. 

The proposed merger raises the question of where PARSA’s SSAF funds will go? ANUSA will likely use the merged union to argue that it should receive both ANUSA and PARSA’s typical funding. ANUSA President Christian Flynn hinted at this when saying “…ANUSA continues to advocate strongly for all SSAF funding that currently goes to PARSA… to be directed to student-led organisations.”

This additional $2 million in SSAF would assist ANUSA considerably in its advocacy and services provision work. It is double what ANUSA currently receives, while a merger would reduce overhead costs. Additionally, ANUSA could now approach the bargaining table representing all students on campus, giving it greater bargaining power.

However, the ANU has not made any offer of distributing PARSA’s funding to ANUSA. The amendments do contain a clause that the Executive will have to agree to trigger the Ad Hoc representatives and it is very unlikely that any executive would do so without the funding already committed. With this understanding, ANUSA could be left hamstrung if ANU resolutely refuses to increase its funding. 

However, these reforms will only be successful if ANUSA believes there is community support from postgraduates. It wants postgraduate students to feel that their needs and interests are also being sufficiently acknowledged and represented should they merge with ANUSA. As such, Flynn noted that ANUSA “…intends to embark on further, university-wide consultations in 2022 and 2023” with Postgraduate students to fully understand the scope of postgraduate service requirements. 

Yet ANUSA is already receiving pushback. PARSA Vice-President, Tristan Yip, believes that the reform is “…extremely premature.” PARSA, ANUSA and the ANU have all been working together to come up with a model for a postgraduate union, and Yip points out that ANUSA has sidestepped this process, ignoring PARSA’s authority as the representative of postgraduate students. 

Yip also disagrees with ANUSA’s concern that postgraduate students will be left without services, claiming: “There is currently no gap in service provision which ANUSA’s constitutional amendments are required to address…”

ANUSA’s move to absorb PARSA is monumental, as it will bring together two major student bodies into a super union that represents both cohorts. Flynn highlighted the importance of PARSA’s merger stating that ‘a single service provision approach holds major benefits for all students, including streamlining services and reducing referral points’. ANUSA believes that a collaborative system between undergraduate and postgraduate students will attract mutual benefits for the union’s goals. 

The undergraduate student body still needs to vote on the constitutional reform. But, with the support of ANUSA behind it, the amendment is likely to pass. The ordinary general meeting is on the 5th of October, at 6:15pm.

We have yet to see what the future holds for PARSA; for now, students can sit in on the consultations that will begin on Friday 16 September, or on PARSA’s own consultation on the 21 September.

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