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The USU: A wolf in sheep’s clothing

Conservatorium students deserve their fair share.

Despite more than a hundred thousand dollars worth of SSAF contributions, the USU does little to help the Con. Last year, the Conservatorium Students’ Association (CSA), received $0 from the University of Sydney Union (USU) and this year, the Association has been allocated the mid-level amount of $2000. Given that the USU receives almost a third of the University’s Students Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) allocation, Con students effectively pay the USU over $120,000 in allocated SSAF annually — the CSA’s $2000 equates to just 1.6% of this sum. This is particularly shocking since the CSA acts as both the USU and the SRC for the students at the Con. The Association not only runs well-being initiatives year-round, they are almost the only organisers of campus events and spend countless hours in committees and meetings, fighting hard for educational quality and student experience at the Con. 

It’s worth noting that the Con also lacks the typical SSAF-funded amenities that are essential to fostering student life on campus. The Con has no bar or pub on campus, only one cafe. It has no sports facilities, and distinctly lacks clubs or societies based on-site. 

If the USU were to re-invest even 10% of the campus’ USU SSAF contribution, they would be spending only $12,390 on Con students and events. I’d be surprised if, in total, the actual number spent is even a quarter of that per annum when you account for the cost of their much loathed promo shots at the Con — how nice of them to think of us when they need a harbour view for their branding.

The USU argues that the CSA can’t receive more funding because they didn’t get the sign-ups required. The truth is that most students at the Con “cannot be bothered” signing up to the USU just to join the CSA — of which they are automatically made faculty members upon enrolment. Con students see the USU as a distant organisation with no relevance to them or their University experience and are deeply hesitant to hand over email addresses to an entity they know little, if anything, about. Many students barely recognise the value of clubs and societies, because the USU makes no effort to engage the Con. It’s a rare thing for Con students to make the trek to Camperdown just to participate in a club activity or have a drink at Hermann’s — most remain blissfully unaware of the difference between their student and USU numbers. There is a solution to this apathy, but that solution involves the USU seeing the Con as more than a cute photo op. The USU needs to hold events at the Con, spend some money on uni life and maintain a regular, visible presence on campus for students to see and understand their value. 

If the USU still sees fit to withhold, at the very least, the large club funding from the CSA in future years then they are essentially robbing Conservatorium students of their SSAF contributions. Do they do this out of ignorance or purely to bloat their own coffers and buy pretty, if somewhat conceited, banners for Eastern Avenue? Students are right to question the efficacy of the USU as an organisation. We should all be wondering whether they truly serve the students whose money they use, or their own bottom line at the expense of an entire USyd campus. These are just a few questions for the new board to ponder as they survey the wreckage left by their predecessors. 

Matthew Carter is Treasurer of the Conservatorium Students’ Association.

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