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USU overhauls C&S funding (again)

The Union will move to a grant-based funding system.

The University of Sydney Union (USU) has proposed a dramatic overhaul to their funding model for clubs and societies (C&S) at a hastily-called meeting, marking an end to events-based funding in favour of a new grants model.

In a Zoom meeting this afternoon, Louise Anthony, USU Director for Student Programs, said that clubs will need to apply for funding to the USU each semester under the proposed model. 

Clubs will receive a lump sum grant each semester by the census date, and must return any unspent money to the USU or carry it over to Semester 2.

New clubs will be eligible for $300 per semester, with $800 for small clubs (with 20-120 members), $1000 for medium clubs (120-320 members) and $1300 for large clubs. Clubs will also receive $100 of credit for Welcome Week which can only be spent at USU outlets.

While the USU did not confirm in the meeting how overall funding would change under this model, USU President Irene Ma clarified to Honi that the USU has decreased total funding for clubs and societies by $37,000 compared to 2020 (from $342,000 to $305,000). Their 2019 Annual Report showed that clubs received 1% ($304,000) of the USU’s expenditure that year ($30,065,000). 

The C&S funding model was changed twice in 2019 after criticism from club executives about its hasty introduction. Under the most recent model, clubs received 50% of the cost of on-campus events, plus $1 per attending USU member.

Anthony said that the proposed model was designed to address the USU’s current financial situation. “[This model represents] what we aim to achieve with our decimated staffing resources … It has taken a huge amount of work for the USU to survive,” said Anthony.

Anthony expressed concern for COVID safety with larger events, but acknowledged that COVID-Safe guidelines have not yet been created for society events or many USU venues.

The USU claims that despite the funding caps, the proposed model is designed to benefit smaller clubs and ensure a more equitable division of funding. However, towards the end of the meeting, representatives of  larger societies, particularly in Engineering, criticised the proposed model, saying it effectively defunded several of their initiatives.

While the USU promised a period of consultation during the announcement, the Union only informed club executives of today’s meeting on Thursday – without specifying any details of the proposed model or the time of the meeting. 

Club executives told Honi that in September 2020, 23 societies sent a letter to the USU, expressing their dissatisfaction with the USU’s lack of transparency regarding in-person events and funding.

“It’s clear that the USU does not view clubs and societies to be a financial priority,” said Cole Scott-Curwood, President of the Sydney University Engineering Undergraduate Association. Scott-Curwood told Honi that he was collaborating on a petition to set minimum funding requirements for clubs in the USU’s constitution.

Anthony and Ma emphasised that these changes are subject to ongoing consultation with clubs and societies over Semester 1, before being ratified by the USU Board.

The USU regulates and funds over 200 clubs and societies across multiple USyd campuses.