Are student unions anachronisms?

The bill to re-introduce compulsory amenities fees isn’t pleasing even National Union of Students President Carla Drakeford.

In an Age op-ed she complains that

there would be no legislative measure that forces universities to direct funds from the complusory $250 fee to independent student organisations … student associations need autonomy to represent the views of their students.

My view is that the role of student unions is at minimum much diminished compared to the past. When student unions started their universities had within-state monopolies and few formal means of tracking student views. Student unions were a counter-balance to university staff and administrations that had weak mechanisms for feedback and no real incentive to act on it.

Things are very different now. Students are asked their views on the university’s peformance so often that ‘survey fatigue’ is a major issue. Every university depends for its survival on the fees of highly mobile international students. Though I had my doubts about whether the demand-driven system for Australian students would work, the mad rush to enrol more students suggests that universities will compete strongly in this market too. Continue reading “Are student unions anachronisms?”