The heart and soul of student community and culture at any university begins with the student union.

Student unions provide services, support, and community to those seeking further education. Student unions also provide a voice for students when a university inevitably makes a decision that does not align with the values and needs of the student population.

This is no different at the University of Tasmania. With UTAS being the only university in Tasmania, student unionism and activism is vital to ensure the university remains accountable to students amid its educational monopoly.

The Tasmanian University Union has a proud history of providing services, advocacy, and community to students since its formation in 1899. To provide such services, the TUU is allocated a portion of the revenue raised from Student Services and Amenities Fees (SSAF). SSAF funding is student-paid fees that are charged to ensure student services can operate at UTAS; this includes the TUU.

In 2017 & 2018, the funding allocated to the TUU from SSAF revenue totalled $900,000 per year. This amount ensured that student leaders could actively undertake duties and provide services, support, and events for students across all UTAS campuses and those studying online.

In 2019, the University stripped funding of the TUU for the 2020 year down to $430,000, a massive cut of 52 per cent. When funding cuts are made of such a large proportion, it is inevitable that students and the services and experiences that this funding has previously supplied will be affected.

 

This cut to the TUU is a direct attack on students. When funding cuts are made, students are affected. While the university maintains that student services will continue and the university itself will absorb support roles that were formerly the territory of the TUU, it cannot replicate students assisting students, which is the bread and butter of the TUU.

The funding cut is a significant blow to the Union as it negotiates a transformation program and the closure of the Co-Op Bookstore, the rented premises of which had been a significant revenue stream to the TUU. It is clear that the University is latching onto the difficult circumstances the TUU is working through and is using this cut as a steppingstone to completely defunding, and therefore bringing to an end, the University Union.

In December 2021, the funding agreement between UTAS and the TUU comes to an end and will be up for negotiation. UTAS has not made a commitment to fund the TUU past 2021.

By using this funding cut as a step for closure, UTAS is seeking to end student culture on campus, deny the opportunity of student leadership and student-lead initiatives. This will turn the University of Tasmania into a silent, bureaucratic cacophony where students aren’t encouraged to speak out against decision-making by UTAS that significantly affects them and their studies.

UTAS must stop this attack on the TUU. It must restore funding to the University Union to the 2017-18 funding levels and it must commit to funding the TUU beyond 2021. Student life is under siege and the ball is firmly in Vice-Chancellor Rufus Black’s court to do the ethical thing and fund the TUU.

A petition regarding restoration of the core TUU funding can be found here.

Tasmanian Times invites Chancellor Rufus Black to respond.


Ben Dudman is a fifth-year law student studying at the University of Tasmania. Ben was born and raised in rural Tasmania, growing up in Westbury in the state’s north. He is a passionate LGBT+ rights and social justice advocate in the state.