National student union refuses to reveal affiliation fees

30 November 2015

The National Union of Students (NUS), a peak body for undergraduate student unions on Australia, has rejected a request to produce a list of all of its affiliate student unions and their affiliation fees.

The request was made by the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), an affiliate of the NUS, as part of its own budget at the start of the year. It came as part of a number of measures that UMSU requested of the NUS.

UMSU’s budget for 2015 allocated $55,500 to NUS affiliation fee. This represents only about one per cent of UMSU’s overall $5 million funding for 2015, although is larger than the budgets allocated to UMSU Departments such as Queer or Wom*n’s (about $20,000 for 2015). It constitutes a substantial reduction from the 2014 affiliation fee of $106,000, believed to be the largest of any NUS member.

UMSU’s original slate of requests of the NUS also included posting its minutes publicly, providing a copy of its 2015 budget to member organisations (including UMSU), and providing its annual returns from 2011 to 2014 to the ACT registrar-general.

Rachel Withers, President of UMSU, told Farrago that the NUS had fulfilled all of these requirements, but did not address the question of providing a list of affiliates and affiliation fees until September, at that time claiming it could not as they were “commercial-in-confidence”.

The issue came to a head at a meeting of the Students’ Council, UMSU’s governing body, on 29 October 2015. The Council requested that the NUS either provide the affiliation list, or evidence of legal advice that would preclude the release of the document.

The NUS received legal advice suggesting there were privacy concerns associated with releasing the affiliation fee figures. While there is a public formula the NUS uses to calculate affiliation fees, a large number of affiliated campuses apply for and receive a fee waiver from the NUS’s National Executive.

As of publication, Farrago believes that UMSU has authorised a payment of $55,500 to the NUS for its 2015 affiliation fees, and has set aside $70,500 in its 2016 budget for the same.

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