OPINION: Why we should abolish the SRC
Words by Felix Eldridge
The relationship between the Adelaide University Union (AUU) and the Student Representative Council (SRC) is fraught with unaccountability, inefficiency and hostility. There is only one effective long-term solution to these problems: The abolition of the SRC and subsequent incorporation of its functions into the AUU.
The AUU is the stronger, more senior, but less vocal student representative body on campus. It was founded in 1895 and has existed continuously since then. The Union used to own Union House and was more actively involved in student representation on campus. It is currently responsible for the provision of student services, such as free meals, legal advice and employment assistance.
The SRC, which has existed in several forms and names, such as the more successful Student Association, was intended to better represent student interests without the burden of making major financial or legal decisions. While this idea might have been a perfectly reasonable argument at the time, the overlap of responsibilities, or lack thereof, could be better addressed by placing all student representation in the hands of one body.
The current hierarchy of power is as follows: The Union controls its own funds and provides a small budget to the SRC each year. The SRC is hamstrung by this shortage of funds and its inability to procure more. The AUU on the other hand, is flush with both money and staff but doesn’t do anything about representation because it is too busy providing services. In effect, one institution has the resources, but not the willpower to deal with student issues, while the other has the willpower, but not the resources.
The issue of dual authority becomes worse when the Union president, a notionally superior figure than their SRC counterpart, is rarely seen or heard of in comparison with the SRC president and while the Union president is notionally a member of the SRC, the SRC president is not a member of the Union Board. The SRC president in fact requires Union clearance to even speak to the media on topics regarding the AUU, which further reduces the SRC’s ability to represent students freely.
In effect, the AUU controls the SRC and when the members don’t get along with those on the SRC, genuine student representation goes out the window. The Union created the SRC as it’s “activist arm” and thus has shed its responsibility to take stances on issues, whether they be social or political. This is because the Union is petrified of legal consequences and instead prefers to throw the smaller and more active SRC to the piranhas, which whilst a clever way of dodging responsibility, is not an effective method of governance for students, especially for those who are financial members of the AUU.
The majority of Australian universities do not have this dual representative model, favouring a single organization instead. Where there are dual systems in place, such as the University of Sydney, the groups are often in a position to spend over a million dollars annually to provide services, and the Union will almost always be in a position to independently negotiate the revenue it receives from the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), meaning that neither organization can be easily pressured by the university.
Unification would in effect, absorb the functions of the SRC back into the board proper. The Union Board directorate would take on all the office bearer positions that the SRC has e.g. welfare officer, ethno-cultural officer, etc. The 10 board director positions of the Union would remain in place, although their terms would be reduced to one year instead of two. The SRC as a separate legal institution would be abolished and all of its assets and responsibilities would be given back to the AUU, simplifying the issue of authority and accountability
The reform would also mean that the Union could re-purpose some of the funding set aside for honoraria for other uses. Specifically, the honorarium provided to the SRC president, equivalent to just under $30,000 could be redistributed. This funding could mean an extra Union event every year or could be split up to compensate other members of the new Union Board, who have not been offered reimbursements for services since the creation of the SRC. Furthermore, as there will be a slight reduction in the total number of student representatives, student elections will become both marginally cheaper and less confusing for voters.
This proposed reform would encourage more cooperation among student representatives. Due to the different quotas and voting shares, the Union and SRC often find themselves controlled by different and potentially hostile factions. This has historically created friction between the student led bodies and led to allegations that one or both organizations were undermining the efforts and achievements of the other. In particular, the group that controls the Union can tamper with the SRC’s budget and media exposure. By combining the functions, there will be a greater chance of one dominant group attaining a clear mandate to implement positive policies for the benefit of students, rather than wasting time fighting factional battles between themselves.
As such, a unification would make the AUU much more accountable, efficient and cooperative. The logic for reform by unification is obvious, so one must ask why has such an improvement not occurred? Perhaps we all just hate the idea of “mergers.”