Clubs and societies shakeup

Sam Langford and Brendan J. O’Shea explain recent funding changes to clubs and societies

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On January 28, USU Clubs and Societies (C&S) executives received an email detailing changes to the C&S funding model for 2016. Whilst many changes flew under the radar, others were more controversial.

Don’t panic, these changes don’t represent the end of your beloved weekly free drinks yet.

The 10 events quota

The most controversial change limits club funding on free-for-ACCESS events. Previously, clubs could spread their $4,000 funding cap across unlimited events without imposing attendance fees. The new system will require attendance fees after 10 events, or clubs will be forced to fund extra events out of pocket.

According to USU Board Director and Honorary Secretary Shannen Potter, the change was intended to “encourage clubs to budget and plan events more strategically by not relying on C&S funding for every event…[providing] executives with stronger events planning and management skills.”

However, for clubs and societies who typically run small free weekly drinks or game nights, it is feared the sudden imposition of attendance fees may adversely affect member turnout.

Club executives who approached C&S were initially informed that the 10 event quota applied to the entire year. In brighter news, following a meeting last week with the executive of games society Sutekh, Potter clarified the quota applies to each semester rather than year.

This bodes significantly better for weekly drinks, but less well for the USU’s ability to communicate important changes to clubs and societies.

Changes to grants funding

The second key change pertains to C&S funding for faculty clubs and societies. Under the previous system, societies associated with a faculty – for example, Sydney Arts Students Society – received annual faculty grants from the USU of $4 per annum for each ACCESS card holder enrolled in the respective faculty.

For societies associated with larger faculties, this could amount to a pretty hefty sum – SciSoc’s (the science society) 2014 annual faculty grant came to $8,596. This was in addition to the $4,000 of funding available to all clubs, meaning that societies like SciSoc could theoretically draw from over $12,000 per annum (compared to the typical society’s $4,000).

Potter said the “rationale behind removing this scheme is fairness,” especially to “other clubs who do not have access to this funding”.

Less fair however, has been the level of communication in the policy transition period. Unlike the other changes announced in the January 28 email, automatic annual faculty grants were replaced with an application-based system in semester two 2015. According to Potter, no clubs applied, though Honi understands that there is confusion amongst faculty club executives over how the policy change worked and whether they had been informed, perhaps indicating a more pervasive communication problem within C&S.

Potter says that “as far as [she knows] the clubs were informed they had to apply via email.” Yet several faculty clubs, including SciSoc and EdSoc (the education and social work society) were unaware of any such email, and only enquired about funding when they realised the money had not been received. Honi understands that when some club executives enquired about if and when the policy changes were communicated to them, the C&S office responded that an email would be sent out “as soon as possible”.

Potter sympathised with the clubs’ confusion, but also suggested “there needs to be a bit of onus on club exec. If you were previously getting a payment from C&S which suddenly stopped because you missed an email/didn’t get one/club execs changed maybe it is worth going to C&S and exploring your options that way”.

Indeed, initiative on the part of clubs seems the only remedy to complex and contradictory regulations. Whilst faculty clubs, like all societies, now have the option to apply to increase their $4,000 funding cap to $6,000 or $8,000, one of the eligibility criteria for an increase is to have received membership fees of over $750 in the past year.

Given that ACCESS members are automatically granted membership of their faculty society, many of these societies do not charge for membership, making it impossible to fulfill this requirement. Potter acknowledged that while “they are not in principle ineligible for this increase… their circumstances may be different to other clubs”, and encouraged clubs with questions or problems to approach C&S.

It is clear the controversy surrounding these changes is, at least in part, due to inefficient communication by C&S. However, there is still time for clubs and societies to have their say, with a survey sent out to club executives this week. Concerned students are encouraged to get involved in the discussion, and get in touch with the C&S office at c.socs@usu.edu.au.