Letters to the Editors - December 2013

I just want to express my concern, as an External student, at the University’s decision to cut the SSAF for External Students. I have studied both Internally and Externally, and I am concerned that those students celebrating the fee cut are not considering what their SSAF fee actually pays for.

The Vice Chancellor has expressed concern that External students pay for services that are primarily accessed by Internals. If this is the case, then I agree that we should not have to pay for them, but how exactly does the university propose to separate services to ensure that everybody is paying only for what they use? Should the Nucleus Editors demand to see Internal Student credentials before they hand over a copy of the student newspaper? Must we give Internal Students password access to the TuneFM webstream? If we require a second Independent Student Advocate (only one is mandated by legislation), will that ISA simply refuse to deal with any External student requiring assistance?

Professor Barber says that this is just the first step in an “unbundling” of fees for online students. (The Australian, December 9th 2013 “Uni axes services fee for onliners”) Professor Barber also says that this change of fee structure could also include a fee reduction for Externals so that they stop paying for capital works on lecture theatres they aren’t using. When External students travel to Armidale for Intensive Schools, will they study in their own buildings? Because surely under this system they cannot study in any building which has been maintained or built thanks to fees paid only by Internal students. Although this is not a SSAF issue, it does lead me to wonder where it all ends.

I doubt any of the measures I’ve described could be implemented, because they are ridiculous. So, what are we looking as an alternative to 18 000 Externals paying for 2000 Internals? 2000 Internals will pay for those other 18 000!

Previously, we Externals have paid a reduced SSAF fee and, in my opinion, received an excellent return on it. For a start, we don’t even need to pay upfront. It can be covered in a system similar to HECS. Student Support organise BBQs during Intensive School. The library sends out books free of charge to External students, including return postage. UNESA runs a shuttle to and from the airport and train station for students arriving for their Intensive Schools. Every effort has been made to use SSAF money to improve the experience of students studying here during Intensives. As a volunteer with Student Support’s Blue Shirts, I have received so much positive feedback from Externals telling me how much they enjoy coming onto campus and experiencing campus life. The Nucleus recently hired an External Editor, specifically to represent the particular concerns of External students. All of these initiatives will be gone under the new system.

I’m also worried about how this decision divides Internals and Externals. There is already some degree of dissatisfaction between these two groups. How will that increase now that some of us are paying fees and others aren’t? We are all students; we all enjoy enrolment at an amazing University. I want us to be friends, not rivals for services and the attention of the administration.

As an unwilling External student (my degree is not offered internally), I will not be required to pay my SSAF fee next year. Where can I send my $187 to contribute to the supply of services for both Internal and External students?

Just some thoughts for everyone to consider, Kate Wood President, UNE Women’s Society

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Dear Editors,

I have a complaint to file! Last week I went to the library to get some things done on the computer - that was, until I was refused access to the internet! I went to IT and according to them, since I am not enrolled in any Tri 3 units I cannot access the internet on campus. Well that’s bullshit, and let me just tell you, it is a scary moment when you realise you’re suddenly completely dependent on the 8GB/month deal you have with Telstra.

Oh and also, when I went and saw IT about the problem, they filed it under their “problems to fix” list and I got an email about it yesterday. I was stoked! “Yay,” I thought, “and just in time - my 8GBs are almost up.” But then I read the email which basically said “The problem is resolved. You have access to your account and emails. But your internet has been removed. This means you won’t be able to access your account on campus because you don’t have the internet.”

Um, WHAT?

Sincerely, Issue Unresolved.

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‘Some general thoughts and observations’ Originally posted on the UNESA Moodle discussion board on Wednesday 11 December 2013. The Editor apologises for the lack of context but this was part of quite a lengthy discussion.

Hi All,

I have a few observations to make. I only speak for myself, not UNESA or any other student body, and I am happy to be corrected if I have any of it wrong, there are many complexities here and perhaps I am simplifying too much, or making some assumptions that don’t reflect the reality.

First of all in relation to the SSAF funding being removed for external students. I think this is an excellent outcome. As some have pointed out there is not much benefit to external students. I understand that, having been an external student for a couple of years previously; I think it is a common sense decision. My issue has been with discussions around SSAF in that some have suggested that there is no place for the SSAF fund at all. I tend to disagree from my perspective currently as an internal student. I think there is a place for it generally. I can only speak for myself. I’m happy that as it currently stands it will continue in some form.

The second thing I wanted to mention is in relation to the stated aim [of UNESA]. The constitution certainly sets that out. I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting mid way through this year held by the former representative bodies where it was voted to reconstitute the student associations into one body. What I took from that meeting was that there were a number of reasons. First, SSAF was being collected and the relevant legislation required consultation with the student body, and having two student associations wasn’t particularly conducive to that; a united body was required. Additionally, there were issues with the previous constitutions which made it very difficult (I think it was even suggested impossible) to be able to participate in that consultation, and to be responsible with respect to expenditure. Another reason put forth, was that in the event that SSAF funding ceased, it was important that implemented initiatives could continue. A way that could be ensured was by having the student representative bodies have control of the student assets held on trust. This included, to my knowledge, Tune, Nucleus and the Cinema in town. Those assets do after all belong to the students, and the income generated could be used to continue activities should the SSAF funding no longer be available. There’s been some excellent commentary about the need to ensure that advocates and representatives aren’t employees of the university so some level of independence is maintained. I thought these were very good arguments, and I can’t add to them. I think independence is important and that should continue regardless of whether the SSAF funding remains available.

It’s for this reason that I find it a little odd that people are commenting around why UNESA should take control of Tune, or Nucleus. I thought it was common knowledge that had been communicated through that meeting. I also find it odd that people are commenting about the governance training; clearly it’s important given the additional responsibilities the board has. In relation to comments around Fiduciary Duties at the expense of representation, I see the two as linked. To ensure that going forward any employees are independent then operation of those assets I have mentioned could be vital. It is my understanding previously that there were some difficulties with respect to people not complying with those fiduciary duties and that is why the student body did not have control of those assets for a considerable period. It is right for them to seek appropriate training in this respect.

There has been some commentary around the fact that there is some leadership on the board with past experience. Absolutely this is the case, but the composition of the board and activities are in some circumstances very similar, and as I have suggested above, quite different. The way I see it, given that there are some fundamental differences, then it is a bit premature to suggest that the board is somehow incompetent or is not fulfilling its duties. I also think it’s unreasonable to expect that some matters will be resolved in an instant. Trimesters are a perfect example. Assuming that the general student body is unhappy with the situation, and I for one am not and I know there are other students who see this system as a benefit, the process of implementing trimesterisation took some time. If it were to be unwound (and as I said I don’t think it should be, which speaks to another point I will get to below about personal agendas rather than the student body as a whole) I really don’t think that is something that is going to be resolved and have an impact on next year’s timetabling. I think it’s just too late in the day for that and to suggest otherwise is, in my view, foolhardy. But as I noted at the beginning, I’m happy to be proven wrong.

With respect to my comments about representation. What I was suggesting I think was alluded to in the President’s report. I am not saying David endorses my comments, to be honest I’m not sure he’d touch them with a ten foot pole. But he expressed that the organisation represents a large cohort of students with differing circumstances and needs. I am concerned that we have some dominant personalities on this [Moodle] forum, who are quite forward in communicating their expectations. This is a good thing, there’s been plenty of commentary about transparency and there are some valid points made.

My concern arises for a couple of reasons. First, those that are quite forthright have shown themselves to be very capable at representing their own interests. More power to them. Certainly, as any other student they are entitled to representation by the student association, but I question whether that dominance and conviction with respect to a certain matter will lead to those that are less forthright not being represented adequately, and that the organisation and this forum might be used in such a way as to drive a personal view point or agenda, rather than considering the wider student body. I’ve seen one example where an opinion or view was sought from the general board, and it was written off as not being relevant or valid. This might not have been quite as direct in other posts, but it does seem to be a recurring theme to me. The student body is much bigger than half a dozen people.

The other point I was making, is that if you are very capable or representing your own interests, and you have expressed a continual dissatisfaction with the association to the point where you are continually pointing out sections of the constitution (again, I’m not diminishing the validity of these arguments, simply the way they are put forward), might I suggest that they read further, to clause 7.1. Membership is not compulsory and a member may resign. Those who are unhappy - rather than continually posting in a manner which to me reads as quite inflammatory and disrespectful, not to mention unprofessional - and are in a position to advocate themselves might consider that the association is not of benefit to them. I think it is so important that we have voices of as many students as possible. Having said that, while some voices certainly have some valid points to make, in my view any value in those comments is lost as the tone is unnecessarily shrill, alarmist and in some cases downright rude. I’m not sure that’s of any benefit to anybody.

That’s my two cents.

Mark

UNESA Report: A Full Year Back With Nucleus

Progress 2013