The NUS is the peak representative body for students across Australian universities. Established in 1987, the student-run organisation has been instrumental in the higher education movement, fighting back against such issues as university fee deregulation and sexual assault on-campus.
NUS organises two conferences each year: National Conference in which the policy and direction of the organisation is decided for the subsequent year; and Education Conference in which student representatives come together to build their leadership skills, workshop issues and ideas; and hear from speakers involved in the student and social justice movements. The NUS also organises National Days of Action [NDAs], which are student-led protests for the purpose of lobbying and campaigning around the higher education movement in Australia. NUS has multiple Office Bearers and Departments including President, General-Secretary, Education, Welfare, Women’s, two Queer Officers, Ethno-Cultural, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Disabilities, International, Small and Regional, and Environment. In December 2016, the NUS held their annual National Conference, in which they elected their National Office Bearers for 2017, and debated and passed the national policy and direction of the NUS for 2017. Policies debated, but not necessarily passed, can be found here: bit.ly/natcon2016docs. The link also includes all elected national and state Office Bearers. In 2016, USASA sent one delegate (myself) and one observer (Izik Nehow).
At 2016 National Conference, the main policies passed were the education, welfare and women’s campaigns. These include the “Make Education Free Again” campaign from the Education Department – involving a number of NDA student protests throughout the year including the first one coming up on the 22nd of March – and the “Your rights at Work, Uni & Home” campaign from the Welfare Department, which will also be supporting the March 22nd NDA; and a number of campaigns from the Women’s Department including continuing the 2016 campaign against sexual assault and harassment on-campus, and new campaigns to lobby against the tampon tax, cuts to education which disproportionately affect women that is supporting the March 22nd NDA, and to campaign for equal pay. The Disabilities Department has announced the establishment of a new Disabilities-themed conference for 2017. Other departments have yet to announce their campaigns for the year. Work is already underway for both the NUS Education and Welfare campaigns. The Education Department has created material and resources to promote the upcoming NDA on the 22nd of March. In South Australia, state and local campus Education Action Groups have convened, postering campuses, organising lecture-bashes, banner-paintings, preparing for O’Week and other events and promotions to prepare for the protest. The Welfare Department has been campaigning around the new Centrelink automated system, in which students, the disabled and pensioners are being disproportionately affected by the new system which has been sending out false debt notices and delayings payments. Posters, petitions and surveys have been created to campaign around the issue, which is also supporting the March 22nd NDA.
NUS funding comes from individual student unions across Australia who affiliate to the NUS and pay affiliation fees, which ensures that the NUS is able to run their national campaigns. USASA affiliates to the NUS and pays affiliation fees in the sum of $12,000. This means that the NUS is supported by USASA in being able to run campaigns that benefit students not only at the national level, but are of particular benefit to UniSA students. A key example of how NUS campaigns can be of benefit to UniSA students was the 2016 “Support Student Safety, Stop The War on Women” campaign which was ran subsequently to the “Respect. Now. Always.” poster campaign by Universities Australia. In 2016, the data from the NUS Talk About It survey report was launched, which found that 72% of students had faced some form of sexual assault or harassment during their time at university; with about 5% reportage rates to the university and police. Furthermore, The Hunting Ground screening was being rolled-out across campuses, which is a film that follows students activists in the US campaigning and lobbying their government and universities to review and update their policies and procedures around sexual assault and harassment on-campus. The data from the NUS Talk About It survey was instrumental in ensuring that The Hunting Ground screening and panel session – including university management and student representation – took place at UniSA. The NUS and Universities Australia subsequently worked together in the roll-out of the Respect. Now. Always. Human Rights Commission survey and submissions process, which UniSA students participated in. This was at the backdrop of Channel 7’s Sunday Night Freedom of Information Request finding that in the context of the past five years of formally reported incidences, UniSA had seen seventeen cases of sexual assault, harassment or misconduct, with zero expulsions, zero suspensions noted and two formal warnings. This must be viewed in the context, however, of a culture of chronic under-reporting across the university sector. Report here: http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/full-list-of-universities-exposed-by-sexual-assault-investigation/news-story/f7c39dcacce8a9c839bc8b881172173b. At the end of 2016, UniSA launched their new Well-Being Action Plan, which aims to “position the health and well-being of our whole community of students and staff as a strategic policy for the University” and includes the four pillars of Healthy Mind, Healthy Body, Healthy Culture and Healthy Spaces. Due to the support of NUS and the work of USASA in conjunction with the UniSA Well-Being management team, in the pillar under “Healthy Culture”, there is an initiative to establish a specific working group to update UniSA policy specific to sexual harassment, assault and violence on-campus. Groundwork was put into reviewing the policy by the USASA Women’s Committee and the UniSA Well-Being Team in 2016. Aims of the 2017 working group include updating the UniSA C-12.3 Sexual Harassment policy; working with Yarrow Place to establish consent and sexual assault responder training for staff; running an awareness and policy campaign in conjunction with community organisations in the second-half of the year; investigating the role of Equity Contacts and the Counselling Unit in response to sexual violence; and investigating security, lighting and surveillance at UniSA campuses. In 2017, the NUS will continue to support USASA’s efforts in campaigning, lobbying and working with the university to ensure that UniSA is a safe, respectful and inclusive campus for all students; and the Human Rights Commission Respect Survey is set to release their report in May 2017. Campaigns and initiatives like this are instrumental in ensuring that NUS and USASA can work together for the benefit of UniSA students.