By Michael Rosser
On Monday 2nd May motions written by me, Postgraduate Officer Michael Rosser, and supported by UTS Students Association President Sammy Howes, will come before the Student Representative Council. The motions- if passed- will abolish the ‘Postgraduate Representative Union’ (PRU hereafter) and Postgrad Collective to put in its place a Postgraduate Advocacy Committee.
So what is this all about?
Firstly to the un-initiated, the UTS Students Association is a democratic student union organisation run by students for students. The SA represents all students at UTS: Domestic, International, Postgraduate and Research students. The SA runs campaigns on student issues, with two examples being the #CheaperTextbooksNow campaign to remove parallel import restrictions from books and campaigns for travel concessions for International Students. The SA also provides student services including the independent Vertigo publication and the Bluebird Brekkie Bar.
The advocacy component of the SA is the Student Representative Council, directly elected in an annual ballot. The SRC holds monthly meetings and is responsible for funding the SA, including its collectives and campaigns. The student body directly elects Executive positions such as the President, Treasurer, Secretary and the Office-bearer Postgraduate Officer. Each department of the SA has a Collective that meets semi-regularly to discuss issues and organise campaigns.
This is where my motion comes in. A few years ago the Postgraduate Collective decided to rename itself the Postgraduate Representative Union, holding an annual poorly attended AGM to appoint Councillors and a Convenor. PRU and the serially re-appointed Convenor of the PRU aim to create a postgraduate association separate to the UTSSA.
Let me be clear – postgraduate representation has not been operating at best practice in the UTSSA over the previous years. It needs to shape up and that is what my reforms propose to do.
Splitting the student union into two halves will fray the focus of the student movement on campus and make it harder for internal advocacy by the President-elect. Despite only being a rebranded Collective the PRU sends a separate funding proposal to UTS Admin for a proportion of your Student Services and Amenities Fees (of which the UTSSA President is currently in negotiation over), allowing Admin the option of playing the two proposals against each other and weakening the UTSSA’s negotiating power. Splitting the union would also have the effect of reducing UTS delegate representation to the National Union of Students national conference by about a third due to a grandfathering clause in the NUS Constitution. This means that rival universities USyd and UNSW would have greater representation compared to UTS as their student numbers are counted collectively despite having separate Undergrad and Postgrad Unions, whereas UTS is not covered by the grandfathering and would lose around a third to a half of delegates depending on Postgraduate student numbers. This weakens the influence of UTS students on national-level decisions such as fee-deregulation campaigns. In both cases UTS Postgrads are worse off and in both cases PRU fails UTS Postgrads.
My proposed Postgraduate Advocacy Committee will be a first step towards recharging Postgrad advocacy at UTS. The Committee will function similarly to a Collective, but with the Postgraduate Officer chairing the meetings and liaising with UTS Officials, reporting back to students on a regular basis.
It’s not a cure-all for Postgraduate governance at UTS but it is a revival. I intend to improve the accessibility of the Postgraduate Department and remove the stagnant PRU. I want to increase PG influence within the University so that future Postgrad Representatives are gifted a sure footing with which to fight for Postgrad Rights.