Richard Torbay, UNE Chancellor
Considering my countless appearances – most less than flattering - in the former Neucleus student magazine when I was CEO of the UNE Union, I feel honoured as Chancellor of the University of New England to be invited to write a foreword for the newly returned Nucleus. Certainly, it is wonderful to see in the return of the ‘student rag’ a sign of a resurgent student representation at the University, promoting and building the on and off-campus experience.
My experience at the UNE Union, where I spent 20 years starting as a kitchen hand and finishing as CEO, my time on the UNE Council and most recently as Chancellor all lead me to hope we are reentering the days of strong student engagement.
I was appointed as Warden of the Union (CEO) in 1991. Those were the heady days of student politics, particularly as some federal politicians were pursuing an agenda to remove compulsory student union fees, which they eventually achieved. Our objective to counteract this was to reduce our reliance on compulsory fees and build the union’s financial base.
We undertook significant extensions to the Union Bistro, now The ‘Stro. We brought back a lot of food and beverage services around the University and embarked on two very ambitious projects – to purchase the Tattersall’s Hotel and a joint venture with the Armidale Ex-Services Club to build the Belgrave Cinema. All this, while still facilitating more than $600,000 investment in on-campus cultural services and amenity.
It wasn’t all good times though and I still recall when we put the price of coffee up in the union facilities, a special general meeting was called with the primary agenda item, to “sack the warden’. I survived that meeting despite the 499 to 1 vote - when I asked my lone supporter why, he happily informed me, ‘Sacking is too good for you!’
It was an extraordinary apprenticeship that has served me well in my role as Chancellor as well as in politics and I recommend the experience to any like-minded UNE students. I fondly remember many student leaders, presidents of the union and hard campaigners, who have since gone on to roles of responsibility in community and corporate Australia and internationally.
Since the Federal Government removed compulsory fees the student union has struggled to survive, but now those dark times are over and the reintroduction of the fees opens up new opportunities to re-engage. Speaking as Chancellor of the University, it is my great hope shared by the UNE Council, to have a strong and cohesive student representative body - well informed by the Nucleus - in order to promote a better dialogue across the University. I believe that the best decisions UNE has made over the years, were when the students and all stakeholders were actively involved in those processes and may that continue to be the case.
UNEG President David Mailler
At UNE the SSAF is the way back for student fraternity
Despite initial fears of students, UNE has not treated the SSAF as consolidated revenue; I am sure some sectors of the university do not see what the fuss is about. From a student perspective we’re talking about a big chunk of money. From a university point of view we’re talking about a very small change. The fact is it is and remains student money, to be spent on additional student amenity.
UNE students may be, with good reason, frustrated at how long it is taking to roll out student amenity after the introduction of the Higher Education Student Services and Amenity Fee (SSAF) last year. At UNE there was simply no precedence for delivering additional student amenity. An attempt to deliver the services provided by the former UNE student union has failed largely on the basis of having no empathy for what university is about and being disconnected from any student voice. The Student Representative Organisations (SRO) have struggled to rebuild a representative voice in this environment.
Rebuilding the student voice as culture is a three-year process, and as we have been eight years with voluntary student unionism, the student culture has been lost. Prior to 2012 we had a stop-start student representative voice. The SRO are trying to build, in a void, a student voice that gives us credibility. The past is the legacy we’ve got to deal with; it is the future that is going to matter to UNE students.
As one of the ten members of a committee advising on distribution of Student Services and Amenity Fee revenue, I understand that students generally want it here and now. As frustrating as it is for me as undergraduate president, I cannot dismiss the reality of where we are at the moment. The student representatives on the SSAF committee would only agree to the use of SSAF funds for capital works if the university could clearly demonstrate the benefit to all student groups, including UNE’s large external cohort.
I see SSAF as the way back for student fraternity and amenity. It’s a really important part of building back what was lost after VSU (Voluntary Student Unionism). In 2012 UNE collected approximately $2.4 million from UNE students. Second trimester elections hampered UNE consultation with student representatives. We have found SSAF allocations a slow process, largely to do with making sure we get this right, and the lack of UNE precedent. UNE has been very clear on working through the process, making sure we are consulted, and are listening to our concerns.
Some of the SSAF projects being rolled out are an additional independent student advocate; return postage for library borrowing; rail and air transit for students attending intensive schools; and the return of the student newspaper. These are the low hanging fruit that address large cohorts and endeavour to provide amenity in line with the welfare focus of the SSAF survey.
It is worth noting that universities underwrote student services in the years between VSU and SSAF. At UNE therse were largely squandered in the wrong places, not delivering the desired outcomes. The continuing disintegration of student fraternity and the completely isolatiion and loss of the student voice was the result of VSU at UNE. I believe the university administration should look outside of this university to find best practice for dealing with administration of SSAF; its vision is clouded by past history. Universities are or should be places that value diversity and develop inspired leadership. UNE students should be assured that the student members of the SSAF committee are committed to ensuring projects are delivered equitably and are making a difference.
UNEG Vice-President, Josh Osborne
Student Advocacy: Where we are at and where we need to be
It is somewhat depressing that I feel the need to start this piece by explaining the system of student representation at this university and it is indicative of why we need to change it. Currently the Undergraduate Guild of New England (UNEG) and the Postgraduate Association act as sister organisations that represent the students to the university and support/balance the undergrad and postgrad students that sit on Council and the Academic Board. Despite the overarching framework we face some serious problems. Other than the newspaper we have no way to contact our membership unless we get permission to use the email system. Our constitution is a dog’s breakfast, meant to restrict actions as opposed to facilitate them, and lacks clarity. Finally and most importantly we have no financial autonomy. All of these obstacles have all led to successive dysfunctional boards and the loss of all organisational memory about student advocacy. So this is where we are at and when I think about it for too long I get upset.
It isn’t all bad however; the UNEG board has gotten the newspaper through and has made significant progress towards re-establishing some capacity and organisational memory. But these factors combine to make any changes slow and difficult, especially as the board tries to lay foundations for the proper utilisation of SSAF for students. The university has recognised this and is helping to find solutions. In conjunction with Legal and Governance and UNE Council we have plotted a way forward that the Board believes will solve most, if not all, of the problems that student advocacy at this university faces.
It seems to us that the formation of a single student organisation is the way forward. A cohort-based board, with sub-committees formed by the different cohorts, be they postgrads, undergrads, external, international or internal, will advise their representatives on the board of the issues and concerns that various parts of our student body face. This will also reduce administrative duplication and make the case for recurrent funding from the university more palatable, essential should the SSAF disappear. Proper governance of one board will be easier, especially when an executive assistant is employed and can retain organisational memory softening the learning curve of new student leaders. So this is where we think we need to be.
BUT we need the approval of our membership! On the 21st of March at 6:00 p.m. in Arts Lecture Theatre One we are holding a Special General Meeting to vote upon the proposal to move to a Single Student Organisation. I encourage, implore and beg you to be there and help the board make an informed and legitimate decision. SO BE THERE! If we don’t get this right we risk giving future and current students of UNE less opportunity and a poorer tertiary experience and that this board won’t abide.
From an external
Sikiki Lloyd, Mums@UNE President
I've been an external student at UNE for quite some time now… enough to experience Course Rules changes and emailed assignments to e-submitted assignments. I've been fortunate enough to attend some Intensive Schools where I've met a few other externals and lecturers which have been a highlight.
The thing about being external is finding a good support network, a group of like-minded and equally busy people who actually understand the stress and excitement of being an external student. Sometimes the people nearest and dearest to you really don’t get it, and that’s ok. It’s isolating at times but the beauty of studying externally includes the following: that it offers the flexibility that many on campus degrees can’t; some courses are only offered at UNE (e.g. Pharmacy); convenience to get a degree and still work; it’s cost effective; portability; you can fine tune your time management and organisational skills; lots of student support services.
Studying externally, it’s not the right fit for some but it certainly is for me and my little family.