A truly thrilling series. On March 17 2022, I met with Shirley Alexander, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education and Students, about the goings-on of the Students’ Association. A key point on the agenda was the allocation of SSAF funding for the Students’ Association and space allocation in the university. I was focused on proving that management was underfunding the Association to an extent where services such as BlueBird Brekkie have been compromised.
During the meeting, I presented our expected expenditure to Shirley, providing clear reasoning why her budget was not sufficient. She expects us to run services including the Student Advocacy, the Legal service, Vertigo, Night Owl Noodles and BlueBird Brekkie, and Collectives at a 2019 capacity with 20% less funding. It’s impossible. I ran her through where our funding would have to be cut. As many of the Association’s expenses such as Vertigo, Legal service, and Student Advocacy are fixed at the beginning of the year, the only feasible place we can cut costs is BlueBird Brekkie/Night Owl Noodles. Obviously, this is not something we want to do as this service is essential to feeding students on campus and run successfully for a decade.
What was pleasing to find out is that the estimated budget management has given us is a minimum. They will consider the data I provided to decide on further funding. Shirley told me that she had to wait for:
- 1. Our UTSSA audit (due at the end of the month), and
- 2. Census date (when she would know total SSAF), and
- Her meeting with the Vice-Chancellor on this matter.
She mentioned that as an organisation, she would like us to cater our services to the 5,000 international students still stuck overseas. Mind you, the only service of ours not catered to off-campus students is Night Owl Noodles.
UTS Legal service, Casework and Advocacy, Vertigo, peer tutoring, and most collective meetings and events can all be accessed digitally. However, I agree that we can always do better for our international students. We should be addressing this, not just because Shirley has told us to, but because these students are already heavily exploited by our university and require support from their union. I have already begun working with Vertigo to ensure they include international students in their content, and as an Association, we are working to bring back the International Student Collective.
Unfortunately, another issue she has with the Association is Vertigo. She believes that the production quality of Vertigo is too high quality and wastes SSAF fees. While we have already approved the Vertigo budget for the year, we need to work with the magazine to provide more online content for overseas students. We may also need to look into whether we can justify the print quality of the magazine.
Finally, in a surprising turn of events, Shirley made it clear that she would like to see the collectives more active in the coming year. Have collectives become so apolitical that she views them as nothing more than social clubs? Or has she, as she nears retirement, become a staunch supporter of activism on campus? Regardless, collectives on this campus can grow and garner broader student engagement this year and should continue to do so, with or without Shirley's blessing.
The issue with SSAF funding is systemic. As a union due, SSAF should be given to student unions directly. Bargaining with management gives them unacceptable control over our finances. Further, the processes in allocating these SSAF funds are unclear and poorly regulated. From what Shirley said, the allocation is decided by her and the Vice-Chancellor after meeting with key stakeholders. No beloved committee. Nothing. It leaves us waiting half the year for financial security and begging her to let us fund services like Blue Bird which provide essential support for students. It is unacceptable. We have continued to push our SSAF campaign on council, but the efforts have been lacking recently. I encourage you all to continue to get involved.
In the past few weeks, I have also been in negotiations with various members of management about consolidating Students Association spaces on campus and brought this up with Shirley. These priorities for space management of the Association are essential for:
1. Expanding Safe Spaces:
Student spaces have been removed systematically for the past few years, and the university has become less willing to allocate us space. The current Queer and Women’s areas are inaccessible and windowless. The campaign for the Ethnospace has been knocked back despite long-standing demands by students. The disabilities safe space in Building Five was removed, and has not been reinstated
2. Engaging with students:
The UTSSA struggles to engage students and promote our student services, especially since we're hidden away in low traffic areas of the university.
3. Centralising our Services:
The services and offices of the UTSSA are spread across the university. As we return to campus, this distribution across the three levels of Building Three makes it difficult to communicate with each other and run a cohesive Students' Association. It also means students find it challenging to access all our services and link them to the Association.
4. Ensuring the longevity of student services:
Student Association services such as Blue Bird and Night Owl will survive long-term if they have a permanent space on campus. This makes it easier to set up and pack up our services, and also means that we can give staff longer, more permanent hours.
I have been digging around the university, trying to determine which spaces the Students’ Association could take on. In this mission, I identified the Food Co-op. Members of the Association had previously discussed using this space without action. I mentioned this in this meeting, and submitted a proposal to Shirley about using the space, which has been accepted! We plan on running the service through donated goods, like canned goods, pasta, rice, sanitary items, condoms etc. Students could come into the pantry and collect goods as they pleased. The finer details still need to be sorted out, but we will be setting up some working groups for students and members of the university community to get involved in the coming weeks. I’m very excited about the possibility of using this empty space to provide a really practical service for students.
I also spoke to Shirley about the possibility of using the old Bites Cafe, which is currently a storage room, as a permanent location for Night Owl. Further, I have discussed with Shirley and space management ways to consolidate our collective spaces around the Student Association reception in Building One, which might also be successful. I should be able to report on all exciting prospects in the next issue. Or, if you're keen, you will be able to find them in advance on the UTSSA FB page!