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Advisory Groups Advise

31 May 2013

A re-structure of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) and the Melbourne University Student Union Ltd (MUSUL) passed by Students’ Council on 17 December 2012 will see the introduction of four Advisory Groups (AGs) to UMSU operations.

The changes mean that control of student services previously the responsibility of MUSUL, including Union House Theatre (UHT), Rowden White Library and Arts Programs (such as the operation of the George Paton Gallery) and the VCE Summer School, will sit with UMSU. In addition to taking on these aspects of the union operations UMSU will be organised into four clusters of management-Advocacy and Legal, Communications and Marketing, Arts, Library and Entertainment, and Clubs and Student Reps. Three of these clusters; Advocacy and Legal, Arts and Entertainment and Communications and Marketing, will be advised by an AG, made up of relevant UMSU staff and officer bearers, student councillors, committee members, and students interested in those areas. It is proposed these groups meet at least twice a semester to advise the relevant clusters on Union operations.

“The whole idea was to encourage greater communication and feedback both from the student perspective and staff,” says UMSU President Kara Hadgraft. “It was really seen as a great opportunity for greater collaboration and also information sharing and operations.”

The Advisory Groups Policy was passed by Students’ Council on 21 March this year. Decisions made by the AGs are non-binding, and have “no capacity to direct staff members”, but can make recommendations to Students’ Council or the relevant committee for review, and are to act in an “advisory capacity”.

The day to day experience of students when dealing with union services is expected to remain the same despite the restructure, although over time Ms Hadgraft hopes students will notice they have greater input over services like the UHT and Rowden White Library.

“On the ground it might not seem like a great deal of difference but we hope there will be an ongoing shift…whether that’s diverting funds to certain areas or collaboration with various student groups such as the student theatre groups to direct the way something like UHT, the direction they take, that’s our aim.”

Other aspects of the restructure have already begun, with UMSUadministering the budget for departments newly in their control in 2013.

The ability of UMSU activities and programmes to adjust to potential future funding cuts was also cited as a reason for the restructure. The Change Management Plan passed by Students’ Council explained that these “…should be scalable with the aim of increasing participation while controlling variable cost increases”. In late 2012 during consultation over potential implications of the restructure, UMSU General Manager Justin Baré and former UMSU President Mark Kettle expressed concerns that funding could be cut under a possible Coalition government.

Ms Hadgraft says the new structure is more adaptable to potential cuts in funding in the future. “If there is a case where we are working within a reduced funding budget there wouldn’t be an unmanageable loss of the quality of services that could be delivered because there could be great collaboration.”

“The other thing with that is that in any kind of student organisation there’s always going to be enthusiastic, energetic students who are willing to work harder if there’s less money,” she says.

Ms Hadgraft says UMSU control of student services will make them less vulnerable to reduced funding. “I think in an organisation like MUSUL, it has such a significant part of it’s business model which is around commercial services, those commercial services are always going to be needed to be funded and are always going to be expensive operations their funding model may take priority, whereas UMSU the priority is always going to be around things like student services and so on.”

MUSUL CEO Trevor White says the ability to respond to funding cuts was one of three objectives of the changes. “The first component was to make sure that students have more say in the services that directly influence them. The second issue was to make sure that the organisation had the capacity to manage…the back of house services, and the third part was to make sure it had the financial capacity given that the SSAF may disappear at some point.”

He thinks it has achieved these objectives. “I think it’s more resilient now, financially and organisationally…than it was 18 months ago.”

Advisory Groups are open for all students to attend, and look set to meet at least once in semester one.


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