The NSW Supreme Court has ordered mediation between Macquarie University and an independent student association, stalling an effort to wind up the latter and transfer nearly $600,000 to the university.
The Macquarie University Postgraduate Student Association (MUPRA) is the campus’ last independent student organisation and has been fighting for its survival since the university requested the NAB put a freeze on its accounts in December 2013.
The university wants the organisation to close and for consultation with students to be run through other bodies it has established. It has promised to use the funds for the benefit of the postgraduate students MUPRA represents.
Meghan Hopper, who has been assisting the seven students named in the legal action, said they were happy with yesterday’s outcome.
“Mediation is a good outcome we feel, it means the university will actually have to sit down and come to the table with a few more options than ‘close down and give us your money’,” she said.
A spokesperson for the University of Macquarie declined to comment.
Student associations and unions across the country have said they’re greatly concerned by the case.
Rose Steele, President of the National Union of Students, told New Matilda it was “unprecedented”.
Steele said she hoped it would not inspire other universities to use the courts to pursue independent student organisations.
“I think it would be deplorable for a university to go after student unions and their money,” she said.
“It really is the case that these organisations are student run and should be run for students by students. The universities don’t really have a place in challenging them.”
Other student leaders told New Matilda they were watching the proceedings closely.
The President of the Wollongong Undergraduate Student Association, Peter Munford, said the case was especially worrying for his campus.
Like MUPRA, Munford’s organisation has not had great success securing funding from its university, and has been left reliant on money saved before the Howard Government scrapped Compulsory Student Unionism in 2006.
“At Wollongong we’re in a very similar position at our undergraduate student association,” he said. “We’re currently relying solely on our funds from Compulsory Student Unionism.”
The Gillard Government attempted to reinvigorate student organisations in 2012 by introducing the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), seen as a lighter version of Compulsory Student Unionism.
But loopholes in the legislation have allowed some universities to shift funds away from independent student unions and towards organisations they control.
Many student bodies have struggled to recover without the revenue.
The President of the Swinburne University of Technology student union, Brendan Spackman-Williams, said his organisation had secured a solid portion of SSAF funding but remained vulnerable.
“[The MUPRA case] does set an unnerving precedent for universities who are unhappy with an independent organisation to remove them from the university, which is quite frightening,” Spackman-Williams said.
“This could mean – if the university wanted – the same thing could happen to us, basically.”
“We’ve now built ourselves up a little big since [SSAF was introduced] but we’re still far less entrenched in the university than we’d like to be.”
If MUPRA and Macquarie University fail to come to an agreement they’ll be force back before the Court at the end of May.
Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon yesterday offered her backing to a group of students protesting against Macquarie University in front of the NSW Supreme Court yesterday.
“I am attending this protest with Macquarie University students as the Greens support independent and democratically run student unions,” Rhiannon said in a statement.
“The Greens are calling on Macquarie University management to drop their court case and let MUPRA continue with their important work for post graduate students.”
“The decision of Macquarie University senior management to pursue seven MUPRA student representatives through the courts reflects poorly on this institution.”
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