National Union of Students (Australia)

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The National Union of Students (NUS) is the peak representative body for Australian university students. Most student unions in Australian campuses are affiliated to NUS. A university is eligible by its classification as a legitimate training provider and the payment of Union fees by the university according to the number of full-time study units of its students.

Delegates and factions

The operations of NUS are dominated by several different organised factions, often with close ties to the youth wings of Australian political parties. In 2013, factions operating within NUS are: Student Unity (SU), Socialist Alternative (SA), the National Independents, National Labor Students (NLS), Grassroots Left, and the Australian Liberal Students' Federation (ALSF).


NUS in its current form came into being in 1987 after the collapse of its predecessor, the Australian Union of Students, in 1984. The AUS itself was known from 1937 to 1971 as the National Union of Australian University Students (NUAUS).[1]

NUS was formed at the same time that the Hawke government introduced the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (a system of deferred tuition payments), abolishing the free education system previously introduced by the Whitlam government.

NUS has had mixed success in its role as a lobby group and representative body. In particular, its limited finances have often meant that it has had difficulty making its presence felt on higher education issues. It was successful in the early 1990s in preventing the implementation of a deferred loan scheme in place of government student financial assistance, and in reducing the qualification age for student financial assistance.

NUS was unable to prevent the introduction of differential rates of HECS in 1996, but did lobby successfully to stop the introduction of a voucher system by then Federal Education Minister Dr. David Kemp despite later claiming victory in a similar campaign.

The union suffered another major setback in 2003 when despite intense lobbying of independent senators, the reform package of Dr. Brendan Nelson passed the Senate. This package permitted the introduction of Domestic Undergraduate Up-Front Fees (DUFF) by universities in addition to HECS places, and allowed universities to increase their HECS rates by 25%. Components of the legislation introducing VSU, and the mandatory offering of the Australian Workplace Agreement as a component of universities’ enterprise bargaining practices were dropped.

In 2003, NUS membership fees became indexed to consumer price index (CPI) removing some of the strain on the union’s finances. NUS charged $5 per student represented by each member organisation. This raised small fears that many small and regional campus organisations might disaffiliate due to increases in affiliation fees.

In 2006 with the introduction of NUS took a massive budget hit with the introduction of VSU.

National Structure

NUS' National structure is formalised into office bearers, committees, and departments.

Membership and organisation

NUS is composed of all affiliated student organisations, and is organised at both a National and a State level. Most university student organisations within the major cities are affiliated to NUS. Member organisations pay an annual fee which is indexed to the Consumer Price Index. Most, but not all, major institutions’ student bodies are affiliated to NUS.

The supreme decision-making body of NUS nationally is the National Conference, held annually at La Trobe University (Victoria) in December. This conference is the central vehicle for policy debate and the election of national office bearers. Delegates are elected from all financial member organisations. The number of delegates and the number of votes held by delegates from a given campus is dependent on the EFTSU’s (Equivalent Full Time Study Units) of the campus. Smaller-scale annual conferences are also held at a state level to elect state office-bearers.

Queer (Queer Collaborations), Education, Environment, Women’s and Small & Regional conferences are also held annually to develop policy specific to those areas, (although the Women's conference, Nowsa, and Queer collaborations are autonomous from NUS).

National Executive

National Executive consists of the national office-bearers, the International Students' convenor, the presidents of each of the state branches, and twelve general executive members. Of these, only the general executive members and the state presidents have votes. The national president acts as chair and has a casting vote in the event of ties. The National Executive meets face to face twice a year, with further meetings conducted via teleconference. It is responsible for administering the union, subject to decisions of National Conference, and authorising the national budget.


External links