The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) voted on February 3 to reduce their National Union of Students (NUS) affiliation fee by almost 50 per cent, from $106,000 to $55,500. The decision comes as other institutions approach the deadline for determining how much they will pay to the national organisation, and follows revelations that NUS has recorded major budget deficits in past years, despite reports to the contrary.
UMSU President Rachel Withers explained the decision by citing UMSU’s tighter budget for 2015 and by expressing some concern over NUS’ management. “There have been some serious questions raised over its ability to perform basic organisational requirements,” she said in a statement to Honi.
Despite this, she reaffirmed UMSU’s commitment to NUS: “I don’t want anyone to think we are turning our back on NUS. I want to see it improve, and I want to work closely with NUS this year to make that happen.”
To that end, UMSU passed a motion to make payment of its reduced affiliation fee conditional on certain concessions from NUS, which would include the provision of the minutes from its last National Conference, its proposed budget for 2015, and submission of its outstanding Annual Returns to the relevant authorities.
Affiliation fees are responsible for the vast majority of NUS’ revenue stream, but no list of affiliates and the fees they pay is made public. Despite this, it is widely believed that UMSU was one of the largest contributors to the organisation and the reduction in its fee will likely be felt.
NUS expressed confidence that the savings it identified at its most recent National Conference, which controversially included the decision to cut the stipends of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, International Student, and Disabilities Officers, would allow it to cope with the reduction in funding. “The savings made across all departments are giving the organization breathing space,” said NUS National President Rose Steele.
Alongside UMSU, the Curtin Student Guild and USyd’s SRC are frequently cited as the other major fee contributors. Both organisations are set to decide how much they will continue to pay to NUS in the coming weeks. Affiliation fees are on the agenda for Curtin Student Guild Council’s next meeting, to be held on February 19, while USyd’s SRC enters into budget negotiations tomorrow.
Neither organisation was willing to suggest a likely outcome of their budget discussions. However, USyd’s SRC is controlled by a Grassroots-led coalition that was elected off a campaign that indicated that its NUS affiliation could be revised if its budget needed to be tightened.
“NUS’ greatest source of funding is affiliation fees,” Steele reminded Honi when asked what the outcome for NUS would be if other institutions followed UMSU in reducing their payments. “It would be difficult to be a voice for students if the organisation is restricted by falling affiliation.”