2015 has been an exciting, successful and inclusive year for the Student Union, which saw the beginning of many ongoing projects.
2015 was the year that the idea of UMSU leaving Union House for a new location began to really take shape, after being first raised by the University in late 2014. The University is looking to create a central “Student Precinct” to co-locate UMSU, the GSA and all student-facing services (including the centralised all-faculty student centre that was created through the BIP, the book shop, Wellbeing services, Student Advice and Careers). UMSU and the GSA worked collaboratively on their approach to these conversations, although we have maintained that we require separate spaces. Throughout the process, UMSU have remained adamant that our services cannot be split- leaving North Court behind is not an acceptable solution to a tricky problem. Most of 2015 was spent trying to design the governance and procedures of the project, with the only investment so far being $2 million put towards designing a process to “co-create” with students. UMSU held two forums about the major changes, which both informed students and forced the University to respect our voice more strongly.
This year also saw the relinquishment of the 18 year lease to the Union House bar space. This lengthy lease, originally created by our predecessor MUSU (Melbourne University Student Union), has been on sold from tenant to tenant, few of whom were equipped to run a successful bar. The space has a lot of potential, but over the last few years has been steadily declining in popularity, and is usually deserted. Following the surrender of the lease, UMSU negotiated with MUSUL to run a student-controlled UMSU bar in the space rather than get a new tenant, to which they have agreed. UMSU and MUSUL are still negotiating some of the details of this arrangement, including who will hold the liquor licence, but there is no doubt that the bar will be UMSU run and UMSU controlled. The space has been offered as a Student Lounge since the last tenant’s departure and will operate as a bar from O Week 2016.
2015 also saw the establishment of the UMSU Mentoring Network, a volunteering program led by three student directors that aimed to created mentor-mentee relationships between new and existing students; U Week, a week long volunteer-powered campaign to get more students involved in extracurricular activity; UMSU-facilitated semesterly Student Markets, at which students were provided with a stall/table/pin board/racks as requested to sell their crafts/second hand items at a market hosted and promoted by UMSU; Orientation student directorships, to allow students to have more say over the direction of O-Weeks; a Volunteering division and staff co ordinator to support our growing suite of volunteering programs and opportunities; and an UMSU 10th Birthday party, to celebrate 10 years of the organisation and its growth from the shell of a student union it was in 2005.
This year I attempted to strengthen our relationship with the Intercollegiate Council, and spoke at individual college dinners about getting involved in UMSU. This is still a massive barrier that needs to be tackled, as we still are not seeing many college students engaging in the union.
The University undertook a complete overhaul of its Statute and Regulations. Despite UMSU initially not being consulted on this, we pushed to have our voices heard and ultimately impacted some important changes, including all student reps (not just the President) being allowed to take study leave that doesn’t count towards their total, and having student representation on General Misconduct hearing panels.
We also began to engage in conversations with the University around the next SSAF deal, with negotiations to start in 2016. Kerry Ferguson was engaged to create a review of the SSAF arrangements and make recommendations prior to this stage. We have spoken at great length with Kerry about the current arrangements, the need for transparency in all uses of SSAF and the benefits of a multi-year funding agreement. Even with the threat of SSAF removal hanging over us, Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis has assured UMSU that the University will fund us even without the SSAF.
The Government continued to try to push fee deregulation through the Senate, and it continued to be blocked by the cross-benchers, Labor and the Greens. After the change of leadership in September, deregulation was “shelved” by the Turnbull Government. In November, Senator John Madigan introduced a bill to the Senate calling on the Government to make Student Service and Amenities Fees dependent on a mandatory yearly ballot. This failed, however the liberals abstained. This is an issue that is likely to be a major conversation in 2016.