Greater student representation and a stronger focus on academic concerns have been promised as part of the most significant overhaul of the Tasmania University Union (TUU) in nearly a decade.
The amount of student representative positions within the existing structure of the TUU will be almost halved from 49 to 27, with the Education and Postgraduate councils dissolved and a new student council developed, formed of representatives from each of the University of Tasmania’s (UTas) course areas.
A new State Council position of Deputy President has been created and consolidates the roles of Education President and General Secretary under the changed structure.
The Secretary, Education and Activities positions on the three regional councils will cease to exist in 2019, as well as all seven of the satellite campus positions.
Current TUU President, Jess Robinson, said there were a number of roles that are no longer relevant to the strategic direction of the TUU.
“The responsibilities of the secretary position can be sustained by anyone on each of the councils, and the role of activities officer should be encompassed by all of the student representatives as well as giving a greater focus to supporting our clubs and societies,” she said.
Robinson said the Education Council was abolished because of its “ineffective structure” and described postgraduate student representation as an “important space,” but highlighted it was unnecessary having postgrad representatives sitting on multiple councils.
“Having this entirely different council was just like adding layers to a cake that didn’t need any more layers,” she said.
The overhaul comes after a strategic review of the union was released earlier this year and called for a sweeping reform of the union’s structure and services. The review concluded that the organisation failed to adequately represent UTas students.
Robinson said working through the strategic review has been “difficult,” but the TUU has ensured students have had a chance to share their thoughts.
“It has been important for us to clarify with students and inform them. There has been a lot of conversations on a broad scale,” she said.
TUU representatives have reached out for feedback from the student body at pop-up booths across all campuses, on social media and via email.
“When you have the opportunity to speak up, you have got to take it. We gave that chance but we recognise we can’t capture everyone,” she said.
As part of the restructure, the Tasmania University Student Council (TUSC) has been founded to balance out the reduction of positions and better convey academic concerns from students.
“One of the biggest complaints from the review was that there was too many representatives with no clear objectives. We have shrunk the campus SRCs, and we have taken the academic representatives and put them into TUSC,” she said.
“The satellite campus positions will now be represented through TUSC, where they will be able to appropriately address issues that arise.”
The TUSC mirrors the UTas Academic Senate, and students are expected to sit on relevant school boards as well encouraged to be involved in an affiliated club or society from the study area.
“It is a restructure that will better represent students. It is a step forward in representing the diversity in our university community,” she said.
The representatives that form TUSC will not be elected, but chosen after an expression of interest is issued by each faculty. The new council will meet at least six times a year.
“It is a large council, made up of a lot of voices. This is a new way of looking at student representation,” Robinson said.
The upcoming student representative elections will be held online in an effort to increase student engagement following low voter turnout and growing numbers of vacant positions. An email with a link to the voting form will be sent out to eligible students in the near future.
Robinson confirmed to Togatus she would not be running in the upcoming elections for a second term.
“I have loved being President of the TUU. It has been a huge honour,” she said.
“My greatest hope is that personal political ambition is not a motive behind people running. I believe personal politics don’t have a place in student representation today. You need to have the student interest at the core of everything you do in this organisation.”
The current changes are part of ongoing alterations to the union that will be carried out over coming years.
“It is a huge overhaul, and this is only the first step. Students are a primary focus for us and everything we are doing is to benefit students,” Robinson said.
Student input into a new name and logo have been flagged for the future.
“We are going to have work to find the middle ground between our history and the 21st century. The TUU has a long history and it is difficult to change it overnight,” she said.
Under the restructure, it is hoped the partnership between the TUU and the university will be strengthened.
Changes to the TUU constitution will be discussed at a special general meeting on Tuesday the 4th of September.