All University of Sydney students will be eligible for universal free membership to the University of Sydney Union (USU) from 2019 onwards. Students will still need to pay a sign-up fee to some clubs and societies and $45 to benefit from the ACCESS discount program. All ACCESS discounts have also been decreased from 15% to 10%.
This move signifies a shift from previous years. In 2018, ACCESS cost $75 for a single year of membership with discounts for longer-term commitments. A three-year membership cost $175 and a five-year membership was priced at $275.
At this stage, it is unclear whether any reimbursement will be offered to students who have already paid the full fee for three-year or five-year memberships in 2017 or 2018, or whether those students with ongoing membership will also have their ACCESS discounts reduced.
The elimination of membership costs means that all USyd students will be entitled to run in the annual USU board elections.
USU President Liliana Tai said in a statement to the USU’s official outlet Pulp, “Since voluntary student unionism was legislated, it has always been a goal for the USU to return to a world where universal student membership is possible. Over the past decade, we have struggled to reach this goal with the need of a pricing barrier to ensure the sustainability of our organisation.”
According to Pulp, the university is contributing $1 million to fund this endeavour. Negotiations between the USU and the university have been occurring for several years. The terms of their new agreement are still unclear, but any compromise reached may render the USU dependent on the university for its income streams and impact on student relations.
The USU’s annual allocation of Student Services and Amenities Fees is $4.3 million, more than twice that of the Students’ Representative Council.
USU Board Director Jacob Masina (Mod-Lib) said in a public post on Facebook, “This has been a massive undertaking and thanks go to the University for acknowledging the enormous benefits the USU provides to our community.”
Various USU Board directors have previously campaigned on the platform of making membership cheaper and more accessible. In 2018’s USU election, Connor Wherrett (Unity/Labor Right) campaigned for monthly payments for ACCESS, whilst Maya Eswaran (Grassroots) campaigned to expand the low socioeconomic status (SES) access scheme. Prior to 2016, a program was rolled out for students from low SES backgrounds, the Centre for English Teaching, Early Offer Year 12, and Indigenous and refugee backgrounds to receive subsidised ACCESS cards. ACCESS membership was also reduced from $95 to $75.
USU President Liliana Tai did not respond to Honi’s request for comment at the time of the publication of this article.