National Union of Students (Australia)

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National Union of Students
National Union of Students Logo.png
Abbreviation NUS
Formation 1987
Headquarters Victorian Trades Hall, 54 Victoria St, Carlton South, Victoria 3053
Membership 20 Affiliated University Student Unions
National President Rose Steele (NLS)
State Presidents
ACT Josh Orchard (Unity)
NSW Chloe Smith (NLS)
SA Sam Davis (NLS)
TAS Heidi La Paglia (NLS)
VIC Cam Petrie (Unity)
WA Jake Wittey (Nat. Independents)

The National Union of Students (NUS) is the peak representative body for Australian university students. In 2015, 20 student unions in Australian campuses 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.


Victorian Trades Hall, headquarters of the NUS

NUS in its current form came into being in 1987 after the collapse of its predecessor, the Australian Union of Students (AUS), in 1984. The AUS was first known from 1937 to 1971 as the National Union of Australian University Students (NUAUS), before allowing membership of colleges of higher education in 1971, which necessitated a name change.[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.

Delegates and factions

The operations of NUS are dominated by several organised factions, some with close ties to the youth wings of Australian political parties. In 2015, factions operating within NUS include:[2]

  • Student Unity (Unity), the Labor right faction. The faction usually controls around 30%-40% of elected delegates. Members of the faction must be members of the Australian Labor Party.
  • National Labor Students (NLS), the Labor left faction. The second largest faction, the NLS usually control around 20%-25% of the delegates. Members of the faction cannot vote as individuals and are bound to vote as the faction demands. The NLS are also constitutionally bound not to vote for, support, or negotiate with the Liberal faction.
  • National Independents (Indies), have traditionally been the third most prominent faction, consisting of moderate Liberals and soft Labor the faction controls around 15%-20% of delegate votes. Members are open to free votes, and fill out their own ballots. National Independents have close ties with the Grassroots Left.
  • Socialist Alternative (SAlt, SA, Trots), often controlling around 10-15% of the votes, SAlt usually obtain 2-3 national office bearers in minor roles including ATSI, Ethno-Cultural, Environment, through negations with NLS.
  • Australian Liberal Students' Federation (ALSF, Liberals, Libs), are often the most despised faction due to their ties to the Liberal Party of Australia. While the faction manages around 5%-10% of votes, it has been successful in gaining positions for Liberal students including Tasmanian State Branch President Claire Chandler in 2012 and Victorian General Secretary Matthew Lesh in 2014.[3]
  • Grassroots Left, are most closely aligned with the Greens. The faction often work on autonomous issues and work closely with National Independents. The faction usually controls around 3%-5% of delegate votes.

Financial and Structural Crisis

A NUS rally to protest funding cuts to higher education

In a report commissioned by the NUS secretariat in 2013, independent auditors TLConsult authored a report which cited NUS' "inflexible factional system" as detrimental to the organisation and leading to “historical accounting approach … out of step with modern financial practices”. Auditors "questioned whether some stakeholders generally understood their responsibilities to NUS", citing alliances by some national officers to factions, rather than NUS, as contributing the structural issues faced by the organisation.[4][5]

The TLConsult audit said that NUS only had enough cash reserves to "sustain the organisation for approximately one year in its current form” and that although voluntary student unionism had resulted in a notable decline in revenue, it was structural problems, “unchanged for nearly two decades”, that were the primary cause of the NUS' current financial problems.[6]

In response to the financial pressures outlined in the audit which cited significant deficits run by NUS over the previous few years, and following outgoing NUS President Deanna Taylor's admission that they “the advice given to NUS is that were our income and expenditure levels to remain status quo, NUS would not exist beyond the next few years”, delegates to the 2014 conference voted in favor of a financial and structural review, and to eliminate the stipend for the positions of National Indigenous, International Students and Disability Officer. However, an attempt to eliminate state officer bearer positions (presidents excepted) was not passed by conference delegates.[7]

National Structure

NUS' national structure is formalised into both a National and State Executives.[8]

National Executive

The responsibilities of the National executive, as subscribed within the NUS constitution, include; setting the budget for the NUS; regularly monitoring of the finances of NUS; employing staff on behalf of NUS; authorising the publication of material on behalf of NUS; and implementing and interpreting the policy of the NUS. The National Executive may also delegate its powers as it considers appropriate.

The members of National Executive are:

  • The National President (chair, casting vote only),
  • The National officers (non‐ voting),
  • 12 General Executive Members (voting), and
  • The State Presidents (voting)

Members of National Executive may not hold more than 1 voting position on National Executive at the same time.

The national officers of NUS:

  • National President,
  • National General Secretary/National Deputy President,
  • National Education Officer,
  • National Welfare Officer,
  • National Women’s Officer, who must be a woman,
  • Two National Queer Officers, one of whom must be a woman,

(non-paid national officers)

  • National Small and Regional Campuses Officer, who must be a students currently enrolled at a small and/or regional NUS member campus,
  • National Environment Officer,
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer Officer, who must identify as a student from an indigenous background,
  • National Ethno‐Cultural Officer, who must identify as a student from a culturally or linguistically diverse background, and,
  • National International Students Officer, who must be currently enrolled as an international student
  • National Disability Officer, who must identify as a student with a disability.

State Executive

The state branches of the NUS include; New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, and Western Australia.

The members of State Executive are:

  • The State President (chair),
  • The State Officers, and
  • The NUS Liaison Officers of the member organisations

The state officers of NUS:

  • State President,
  • State General Secretary,
  • State Education Officer,
  • State Women’s Officer, who must be a woman, and
  • Any other state officer positions created by resolution of State Conference

Union affiliation

Typically University Student Union's Representative Council's will vote on NUS affiliation. In 2015 University Union's affiliated include;[9]

State Union University Representation
Delegates Total Votes
ACT Australian National University Students' Association Australian National University 5 58
ACT University of Canberra Students' Association University of Canberra 5 45
NSW Arc @ UNSW SRC University of New South Wales 7 108
NSW University of Sydney SRC University of Sydney 7 116
NSW UTS Students' Association University of Technology, Sydney 7 104
NSW Wollongong University Student Association (WUSA) University of Wollongong 6 66
SA Adelaide University Union SRC (AUU SRC) University of Adelaide 7 81
SA Flinders University Student Association Flinders University 5 43
SA University of South Australia Student Association University of South Australia 7 95
TAS Tasmania University Union University of Tasmania 7 70
VIC Deakin University Student Association (DUSA) Deakin University 7 97
VIC Monash Student Association (MSA) Monash University (Clayton) 7 92
VIC Monash University Gippsland Student Union (MUGSU) Monash University (Gippsland) 2 13
VIC RMIT University Student Union (RUSU) RMIT University 7 132
VIC Swinburne Student Union (SSU) Swinburne University 6 64
VIC University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) University of Melbourne 7 153
VIC Victoria University Student Union (VUSU) Victoria University 7 77
VIC La Trobe Student Union (LTSU) La Trobe University 7 86
WA Curtin Student Guild Curtin University 7 107
WA UWA Guild University of Western Australia 7 82


  1. ^ Barcan, Alan (2002). Radical Students: The Old Left at Sydney University. Melbourne University Publish. p. 330. ISBN 978-0522850178. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  2. ^ "National Union Of Students List of NUS Delegates". 5 November 2015. Retrieved 5 November 2015. 
  3. ^ Pen, Justin; Rajvanshi, Astha (22 December 2014). "National Union Of Students In Crisis With Falling Support And Revenues". Retrieved 22 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Loussikian, Kylar (14 January 2015). "NUS needs to refocus on present century to survive". The Australian. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Loussikian, Kylar (12 December 2014). "National Union of Students in financial turmoil". The Australian. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Loussikian, Kylar (12 December 2014). "National Union of Students in financial turmoil". The Australian. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 
  7. ^ O’Mallon, Finbar. "Live Blog - NUS Conference 2014". Catalyst Magazine. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 
  8. ^ "National Union of Students Regulations" (PDF). National Union of Students. Retrieved 2 November 2015. 
  9. ^ "Student Politics Australia". Martin Ditmann. Retrieved 2 November 2015. 

External links