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Data security, Footbridge plans and a loaded USU: The Board (October’s version)

Today, the USU Board convened to discuss cybersecurity, new plans for Footbridge and a healthy treasury over sliders and other delicacies.

Welcomed in by the sight of plentiful pizzas, sliders and bottles of Santa Vittoria, the Cullen room was filled with the aroma of spring and an evidently cheerful Board — clearly fresh from the past weeks’ worth of gigs and mayhem. 

Money, money, money

USU Finance Director Rebecca Sahni provided an update into the USU’s finances, and the organisation is rolling in it. Hitting the jackpot and exceeding their own expectations for a $654,000 surplus at the beginning of the year, that figure will jump to approximately $1.8 million. Cash flow for the organisation is “very strong” with the USU currently holding some $8.5 million, “So we’ll have a massive profit this year.” 

This is bolstered by a healthy operating contribution that was $272,000 higher than the Board budgeted, to which Sahni attributed to staffing matters.

One can perhaps look forward to the end-of-year toast to be quite the occasion, if the smorgasbord of delicacies in the room is any early evidence of a grand feast. 

Students Services and Amenities Fees (SSAF) success

The USU also been very  successful in  most of its SSAF applications for increases to various projects’ base fundings. Base uplift funding refers to additional money that student organisations apply for through the University in order to complete or improve upon for a selected number of projects. 

The biggest winners in this semester’s round of applications includes Someday Soon, which attracted a mammoth 2800 attendees. Foodhub, seizing on its significant momentum with more than 1,550 users so far, received the full amount that the USU requested. Increased funding to provide free sanitary hygiene products for menstruating students was also secured. Meanwhile, some major clubs and societies will be delighted to take home most of what they aimed for. 

ProjectsSSAF base uplifts / requested funding
Someday Soon$270,000/$300,000
PULP Magazine$140,000/$176,000
Sanitary hygiene products for menstruating students$40,000/$50,000
XL-sized Clubs and Societies (C&S)$50,000/$64,000
Battle of the Bands + Conservatorium Students’ Association (CSA) activities$30,000/$36,000

Data protection and cybersecurity

On a more serious note, USU CEO Andrew Mills talked at length about the cyber security risks facing the USU following revelations that all of Medibank’s customers — including all international students on a Medibank Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) — have had their data compromised by hackers. 

In response to a question from Honi on the organisation’s approach to data protection for USU members, Mills explained that the USU’s data protection policy is aligned with the University’s, owing to the organisation’s inclusion within USyd’s IT systems. Mills also said that USyd’s position as one of the country’s major research institutions ensures that the organisation has “a very high standard of security”. 

“There is rigorous testing of system vulnerabilities on a regular basis, as often as required,” Mills said. “We are also mindful that all of our databases sit on servers that are all protected by the University.”

USU President Cole Scott-Curwood  gave assurances that the Board is working on a plan and a detailed report in its in camera session due to the “very significant and confidential” nature of the issue. 

“The topic of cybersecurity is one that we’re very concerned about. Protecting our members’ data is a very big priority for us,” Scott-Curwood said.  

“We collect limited data. We have some very good methods to protect that data, and we’re looking at making them even better. We will scrutinise all of that information, so it’s at the forefront of our minds.”

Footbridge survey and plans 

The Board mulled over its plans for the former Cereal Lab site nestled next to Footbridge Theatre. Following initial consultations, the Board favoured installing a bakery or a cafe at the location, with the Board so far favouring the option of a bakery owing to its flexibility.

“We could potentially give all that [leftover] bread to Foodhub as a donation,” Mills said. 

In the near future, the USU will take its shortlist of options for the Footbridge venue to the student population for further consultations. Should this plan be realised, perhaps there will be a future for the cylinders of rainbow-coloured cereals waiting for a new purpose. 

Sponsorship policy and disabilities review 

Another matter of importance is related to the USU’s relationship with organisations whose practices are contrary to international students’ interests. USU Board Director and International portfolio holder Madhullikaa Singh asked a question on the USU’s Sponsorship & Advertising Policy surrounding companies that contribute to exploitative practices.

Answering Singh’s question, Scott-Curwood raised that the policy be broadened in accordance to a review finalised in August: “We don’t necessarily need to have specificity, you could be specifically excluding companies that engage in exploitative practices.” 

Following the Board meeting, USU President Cole Scott-Curwood references the organisation’s promotion of DoorDash — criticised last month for the model that food delivery platforms such as DoorDash employs. 

“In our April 29 meeting earlier this year, we decided to review our Sponsorship & Advertising Policy to ensure it aligns with our values and strategic plan. Prior to this, advertising with DoorDash was contracted – this legally had to be fulfilled, but there is no further obligation,” he said.

“The policy that was approved excludes companies with a record of exploitation rather than specifically a record of wage exploitation. This broadens the scope of exclusion in line with the USU’s values.”

The policy, now approved by the USU, means that it will “not accept advertising, promotion or sponsorship” from companies who implement poor work, health and safety procedures (WHS), including food delivery providers, organisations engaged in the use or production of weaponries and minerals or mining companies. This means that it has been expanded to exclude all companies “with a record of exploitation” rather than a narrower definition.

The Board’s review of its Disability Action Plans was raised by Immediate Past President Prudence Wilkins-Wheat where she advised the Board that matters such as the review required concerted effort and may fall by the wayside should attention lapse. 

When asked by Honi about the scope of the consultations for the USU’s Disability plans, Scott-Curwood says that the details of the consultations are being worked out and promises that relevant student representatives will be kept informed of the USU’s review plans. 

“I suppose to say that initially, it just involves communicating with student representatives and understanding their perspectives and thoughts,” he said. “We’re conscious that the USU has the capacity to amplify student voices and we want to use it to increase support [for] students who have a disability.”


And with that, one of the last USU Board meetings of the year closed to observers, and the meeting convened in camera (over more canapes) to ponder data security and other matters. 

Update: The article has been updated to reflect the USU’s Sponsorship & Advertising policy regarding exclusion of companies with a record of exploitative practices following a request from the USU Board.