What is the Universities Accord and what does it mean for students?

Welcome to our reporting of the National Union of Students annual Education Conference.  
This year the event is held at the University of Queensland from Monday 25 June to Thursday 29 June.  

Keep reading to see what informational sessions Glass attends, what campaigns the NUS is highlighting, and to see how long it takes for the different factions to get into a screaming match with one another.
Oh, wait! That already happened!  

The Universities Accord is a review of tertiary education in Australia, which the government claims will drive a “lasting and transformative reform in the higher education system”. The first day of the National Union of Student’s Education Conference began with a discussion on the involvement of the NUS with the University Accord.  

Several members of the NUS have been working with the Accord panel, and submitted a report with discussion and recommendations for the future of tertiary education in Australia. The report discusses issues ranging from the problems with work-integrated learning to how to improve safety on campus.   

During the Universities Accord plenary, there was strong disagreement among students about the NUS’s involvement with the Accord, with calls from students to withdraw the submission because they believed it does not represent the needs of students and promotes the idea of education as a for-profit system. 

The conference opened with an introduction delivered by the Chair of Universities Accord Professor Mary O’Kane, a former vice-chancellor from the University of Adelaide and Dean at University of Canberra. Due to the conference starting late, Professor O’Kane was only able to stay on a Zoom call for around five minutes, basically just introducing the Accord and then logging off. Her short introduction was met with outrage from the crowd, with many members of Socialist Alternative angry that the NUS chose a “boss” to open the conference and there was no chance to respond to her or ask questions. 

This anger permeated throughout the panel discussion, with members from all factions repeatedly interrupting the speakers and the panellists themselves becoming enraged and frustrated. The panel was made up of NUS officers, President Bailey Riley (NLS), General Secretary Sheldon Gait (Unity), and Education Officer Xavier Dupe (SAlt). 

The panel was asked why it was important for NUS and student unions to engage in the Accords. Riley responded, “Because if you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu!… You need to be inside the building so you can yell from the inside”. A roar of anger erupted from the crowd, with students yelling over the speaker and each other. 

Dupe refused to participate in the creation of the submission, and said he believed that engaging with the Accords is backing up and reinforcing the government’s view that education is a system to provide the bosses what they need. He repeatedly called for NUS to withdraw its submission on the grounds that this collaboration was appealing to the Labor government and ultimately supporting the view that education should be for-profit.   

Members from the audience sited several recommendations made in the report which they believed were not in the best interest of students. One of those points was the recommendation that the Accord should “work with universities and employers to expand the number of paid placements/internships”, instead of fighting to end all unpaid work. Students also had problems with the recommendation that “the government should commit to increasing university funding to 1% of GDP”. According to Trading Economics, nominal GDP was around $2.3 trillion in 2021; 1% of this figure is $22 billion.  

Riley and Gait both said NUS would not withdraw its submission and would continue to participate in discussions with the Accord panel, and that engaging in the process was the best way to work towards pragmatic and practical change.  

The interim report will be released in July this year. 

Celeste Muller
Celeste Muller

Celeste (she/her) is a Meanjin/Brisbane based writer and Editor at Glass Media. She has a Bachelor's degree in Design (Interior Design) and is currently studying Journalism and Economics at QUT.

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