Student unions won't be shut down after UOW review

A CALL FOR CHANGE: National Union of Students NSW education vice-president Chloe Rafferty was concerned about WUSA being shut down. Picture: Georgia Matts
A CALL FOR CHANGE: National Union of Students NSW education vice-president Chloe Rafferty was concerned about WUSA being shut down. Picture: Georgia Matts

University of Wollongong management has stopped short of shutting down its troubled student union, releasing the results of a year-long review into student representation on campus.

Instead, the institution will give its undergraduate and postgraduate unions a different type of role in a new student council which will be set up over the next year.

In an email sent late on Friday, UOW management proclaimed student voices would “become better, stronger and more diverse” after the university council accepted the recommendations of a controversial review into student representation.

Long-running problems within the Wollongong University Student Association (WUSA) were highlighted this year, with public clashes between Young Liberals – who controlled the union – and left-wing student groups who feared efforts to shut the organisation down.

The union’s leaders put in a submission asking for the review, commissioned by the University Council.

This prompted calls from National Union of Students representative Chloe Rafferty for UOW to drop the review and “commit to WUSA continuing to exist and commit to WUSA continuing to have funding’’.

The university has now confirmed it will “retain” the unions, and give them “refreshed” roles in a newly created “Student Advisory Council”. This will replace an existing Student Representative Forum, made up of various elected students including WUSA and WUPA members, which reports biannually to management.

Under new rules, advisory council members will not be able to hold elected office with student unions, the university said. This would “help provide a diverse student voice that balances political and other forms of student representation”.

Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings welcomed the review outcomes, saying they would allow “a deeper engagement with our students and [maximise] opportunities for our students’ voice to be heard in the governance and decision making at the University”.

In addition to the new council, the university said it would also commit to “investing in student representatives” by providing access to leadership training and team building activities and raising the profile of student representation on campus.

It will also set up “a partnership agreement for consideration by the Vice Chancellor that formalises the institution’s commitment to involving the student voice in the work of the university”.

The university said it would put the review recommendations into action over the next 12 months, with the majority planned to be implemented next year.

The review included extensive student consultation, consideration of relevant Australian Government report recommendations and benchmarking with other tertiary institutions, the university said.