Although the USU Board does not usually meet in January, a meeting was in order yesterday to discuss updates to Welcome Fest, clubs and societies funding, and revamped USU spaces.
While the status of Welcome Week will remain up in the air until January 31 when the university confirms whether or not there will be a return to campus, the USU has been busy making preparations for a hybrid delivery.
On campus events include an “expanded” main stage program, an outdoor cinema, as well as the usual stalls from more than 180 clubs and societies. Welcome Fest will also have online events for students unable to return to campus, such an online campus race, online Sydney day trips and more than 30 online club events.
Welcome Fest 2022 will also feature some new additions, including Welcome Fest events at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (the Con) and a shuttle bus bringing students between the Con and the main campus. USU CEO Andrew Mills was particularly excited about the upcoming collaboration between the USU and the Con, showing attendees a selfie with him and Con members from the “first visit by the USU to the Con in ten years” in December last year.
As usual, we are still in the middle of a p*nd*mic, so COVID safety remains at the forefront of Welcome Fest considerations. When Honi asked whether Welcome Fest will require a vaccine mandate, Ruth Altman said that whilst staff and student volunteers will be required to be double-vaxxed as per the USU’s Mandatory Vaccination Policy, it had no power to apply mandates to students. Altman also added that masks and social distancing will apply, and that security has been hired to assist with crowd control.
In a similar vein, when Board Director David Zhu asked whether booster shots would be recorded and mandated for staff, Altman said that boosters are mandatory. The USU has also placed an order for RATs as part of its efforts to maintain a COVID-safe work environment.
To Honi’s dismay, Manning festivities were pushed back due to the public health order ban on singing and dancing. However, upon seeing our live-tweets, USU President Prudence Wilkins-Wheat assured us that there will be many other “exciting” outdoor events.
When Honi also asked about the status of Glitter Gala, Sam Trodden told us that it is currently scheduled for March 17, pending COVID restrictions.
Clubs and Societies (C&S)
Funding tier levels for clubs and societies will remain the same as 2021, with the USU introducing an additional discretionary pool amounting between $15,000 – $60,000, based on feedback. There is also a separate discretionary pool for Sustainability and Efficiency initiatives amounting to $60,000. Applications will open in Semester One and will be reviewed on a monthly basis.
The Clubs team will also be hosting an online Welcome Brief on Monday, February 7 that will include additional updates on funding, venues, and C&S planning and development. Trodden said that the USU wanted to give clubs and societies “as much time as possible” to plan for the upcoming semester and the briefing would provide “crucial information” for society executives.
Upgrades and Rebrands
Mills excitedly spoke about the long overdue renovations to the Holme building over the break, including a revamped L5 office for the USU board directors and new flooring for Footbridge Station. Courtyard will also be getting a facelift, with new outdoor lights currently being installed in its Jacaranda trees.
There were also tenancy updates in Wentworth, including an International Students Welcome Hub and new USU-branded vending machine space in the food court where Snack Express used to be. RIP Snack Express, you will (probably) be missed </3
The USU has also completed its Pulp rebrand, where the online student publication will be printed as a monthly creative magazine akin to its predecessor BULL. Although editor applications will not open until Semester One, the recent Holme renovations have also resulted in a brand new office for incoming Pulp editors, an office that is notably not located in the SRC’s underground basement/dungeon and frequently at risk of mould outbreaks.
As well as the Pulp rebrand, the USU has also begun distributing stamps on Student Services and Amenities Fees (SSAF)-funded initiatives that read: “Your SSAF Fees At Work”. Mills said that this was developed in response to the university wanting greater transparency about how students’ SSAF is spent.
When Board Director Nicholas Comino asked whether this was part of a nation-wide initiative by universities, Mills said that to his knowledge, the initiative is only happening within the University of Sydney. The new stamps have also appeared on SRC and SUPRA materials.
The USU is also showing positive preliminary results for its operations throughout 2021, especially in the wake of NSW’s Omicron wave in the latter part of the year. After revising the budget in light of the Omicron wave, the USU reported a total income of more than $14.5 million, which is approximately $812,000 more than its adjusted forecast.
It also returned a net surplus of more than $651,000, which is more than the $241,000 estimation after its COVID reforecast. Although these results will still have to go through an audit process, Mills’ described the USU’s financial position as a “very strong outcome”.