Welcome back to Glass 2021! Our first article for the new year is focussed on the National Union of Students. Last year was the first year in Guild history that elections were held for NUS Delegates for QUT. The NUS is the National Union of Students, an Australia-wide organisation that represents dozens of universities. Delegates are representatives of the university to this national body.
The QUT Students elected the following delegates, displayed along with the party they ran with and the positions they hold at the QUT Guild:
Olivia Brumm – Reach – NUS Delegate and President
Cameron Mackie – Reach – NUS Delegate and Secretary
Saskia Mathers – Independent – NUS Delegate
Amy Sargeant – Reach – NUS Delegate and Queer Officer
Declan Kerr – Left Action – NUS Delegate
Megha Prasad – Reach – NUS Delegate and Campus Culture Vice-President
Liam Blair – Reach – NUS Delegate and Treasurer
In the second week of December of 2020, these delegates zoomed into the annual general meeting of the NUS in a conference format. The purpose of the NUS’ AGM is to decide on policy that will affect the direction the NUS takes throughout 2021. Glass invited all seven of these delegates to provide their thoughts on this conference, both as a channel of communication to students and a channel of accountability. Several delegates replied saying they would be interested in providing updates on what they achieved at this conference. One NUS delegate remarked to Glass that this conference is the major purpose of the NUS delegate’s service to QUT students. This is what they had to say regarding the NUS Annual General Meeting.
Olivia did not provide acknowledgment to Glass’ request or indicate that she would provide commentary on the NUS Conference and did not submit a summary of her involvement.
Cameron did not provide acknowledgement to Glass’ request or indicate that she would provide commentary on the NUS Conference and did not submit a summary of her involvement.
I nominated myself for NUS Delegate for a combination of reasons – primarily, that I’ve been involved here at QUT in our student union for a couple of years now and I’ve grown my perspective and understanding of student unionism, and the chance to use this experience to contribute to those efforts nationally and further improve the benefit I can bring to QUT students as a representative appealed to me.
The NUS is incredibly factional, and being an independent, progressive delegate, I’ve joined the Grassroots Independents (“Grindies”) faction. I’ve had a good introduction to the NUS as a whole and our place in it, been involved in caucuses within the faction discussing negotiations for NUS Office-Bearer positions, and contributed to submitting policy to be included in the conference platform. And of course, met a bunch of very cool people from a lot of different universities who I’m looking forward to collaborating with throughout the year!
To summarise NatCon itself – I’m honestly still at a bit of a loss of how to describe it. It was alarming to hear other members of the faction talk about how much better this conference had been when as a first-timer, I struggled to understand how this could achieve any meaningful consequences for the union. It was incredibly difficult to follow, disorganised and discouraging, with seemingly pre-decided outcomes thanks to the strong factional structure, which even an entire two days of debate had little influence on. A particular lowlight was how inaccessible it was, in terms of meeting diverse needs to give equal access to participation. Even simple requests such as getting a screen-share to track the current motion visually, instead of relying on the hectic pace of speaking, wasn’t provided until the conference was nearly over.
The positives for me were that the majority of policy passed was in favour of students (to varying degrees) as you’d hope and that the Grindies came away with the positions of Education Officer and Queer Officer!
In terms of how this is relevant for QUT students going forward, it’s hard to say for sure as it’s our first year officially being affiliated. There is nothing specific from NatCon that will have any direct effect, but in general, we’ll hopefully be jumping on board and contributing to national campaigns run by the NUS, helping to make the average QUT student more aware of what’s happening in higher education across Australia. With the possibility of a Federal election in 2021, we may likely see a strong push calling for the reversal of the JobReady Graduate package and government to truly support students, helping to educate students on the politics at play in their degrees.
For the Guild itself, being part of the national union should allow for connecting with other student leaders to learn from each other and explore ideas and better ways of doing things, and I hope we see the benefits of this from the Guild this year. Finally, it also has the chance to make our campus more politically active again, as various factions attempt to win elections for NUS delegate positions (and the Guild as a whole).
NatCon certainly left me at a loss for what the conference aims to achieve, but I have a lot of faith in the place of the NUS itself in Australia’s higher education landscape, and I’m looking forward to doing what I can to help grow the inclusion of QUT students and improve our engagement with important student issues.
Platforms and motions I contributed to:
As well as the below, I also contributed more broadly to topics including mental health services available to students, scheduling of exams outside of university hours, and having adequate tuition-free periods.
17. NUS acknowledges that each student union, as the campus representative body for students, should be present and involved at all university decision-making committees, to ensure the best communication and representation of student issues and priorities. University committees should never be held in secrecy or hidden from students, and NUS is committed to calling-out examples of this as universities acting in bad faith/
30. NUS acknowledges that student representation in higher education should be supported by formal partnership agreements, adequate training for student representatives, and collective networks. Student representatives who are informed, actively partnered in decision-making processes, and involved in peer support networks deliver greater outcomes for students and NUS agrees to work with student unions and universities to facilitate these structures
31. NUS opposes unpaid internships and work experience programs. NUS recognises that work experience forms an essential requirement for many degrees, yet being forced to enter unpaid work to fulfil this requirement is unacceptable. NUS will campaign for the recognition of student work as paid work and will advocate to ensure students are aware of their rights and are appropriately supported when undertaking work experience
Housing: 2. NUS supports students to be able to source accommodation that is legal, affordable and safe. NUS commits to raise awareness of the dire living situations experienced by students (with overcrowding, fire danger, pests, exorbitant prices, withheld bond and dodgy leases), pressure government and property managers to provide acceptable accommodation to students, and inform and educate students on renter’s rights.
Amy did provide acknowledgment of Glass’ request and indicated that she would provide commentary on the NUS Conference. She did not submit a summary of her involvement.
Declan did provide acknowledgment of Glass’ request and indicated that they would provide commentary on the NUS Conference. They did not submit a summary of their involvement.
Megha did not provide acknowledgement to Glass’ request or indicate that she would provide commentary on the NUS Conference and did not submit a summary of her involvement.
Liam did provide acknowledgment of Glass’ request and indicated that he would provide commentary on the NUS Conference. He did not submit a summary of his involvement.
Well, that was the update from your elected NUS delegates of their experience at the NUS Annual General Meeting. For an added perspective on the 2020 NUS AGM, our media colleagues at Honi Soit provided the following overview of the conference, although their commentary is more focussed on the demographics of political parties at the conference. Read it here.
Accountability note: Delegates were notified of their expected contribution to this article on 8/12/20, and reminded after the conference on the 14/12/20. The due date was 21/12/20, three days after the Guild offices closed on 18/12/20.