Jane Nethercote writes:

Compulsory student unionism is out, voluntary student unionism is in. But not to worry, the government is setting
aside $80 million over three years to soften the blow.

The money will help the sector “adjust to the
changed funding environment and will help them change from a
reliance on compulsory fees to other income streams”, says Education Minister Julie Bishop, who is seeking responses to her VSU Transition Fund Discussion paper.

But not everyone will be getting a handout, as The Age
notes today. In fact it’s quite clear that the funding doesn’t cover welfare
and child care facilities, or health and dental services –
unless it’s sport, chances are it’ll be snubbed.

The scope of the transitional funding package is limited to university
sport and recreational
facilities, with a focus on “newer and regional
universities where communities have limited access to alternate
facilities”. A clear attempt, then, to appease National Party
constituents, although Senator Barnaby Joyce was quick to label the
amount of $80 million ridiculous.

But is there any room to move? For example, can a theatre be considered
a recreation facility? Can a cultural or non-physical activity be
considered “recreation”?

We asked Bishop’s office to define “recreation” and were told that it
would be pinned down during the consultation process. So there’s room to move – for the government at least.

Ordinarily, recreation means “social sports” like abseiling or
mountaineering as opposed to competitive sports, says Tom O’Sullivan, director of the Australasian
Campus Union Managers’ Association. ACUMA’s response to the paper
“will request a clarification”.

But perhaps the discussion is academic. By the time the government’s
extra funding comes in on 1 January 2007, many student facilities will
have already collapsed, says John Pezy, president of the University of Adelaide’s Students Association in The Advertiser.

Peter Fray

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