By Sean Healy
MELBOURNE — La Trobe University administration has backed down in a fight with the Students' Representative Council over the SRC's funding. After a student general meeting on August 15 of 300 students, the largest at La Trobe for some years, and an hour-long occupation of the University Council chambers, the administration told students that they would be given the funding "with no strings attached".
On August 11, the administration had sent the SRC an invoice for $97,252, money which the university had loaned the SRC until the arrival of federal funding through the Department of Education, Employment and Training. This money had been spent on activities ruled "non-allowable" under the Kennett government's "voluntary student unionism" (VSU) legislation.
This demand followed the university's unilateral withdrawal of a funding agreement which would have guaranteed the SRC access to its portion of the general services fee (GSF) paid by students. Negotiations have been occurring over whether SRC staff should be employed by the university (as at present) or directly by the SRC.
Following the withdrawal of the funding agreement, and in particular in the days following the arrival of the "invoice" and the cutting off of administration funds, students showed that they weren't prepared to accept such intervention in the SRC. This culminated in the student general meeting and the subsequent occupation.
On the morning of August 15, the administration through university secretary Doug Bishop approached the SRC to reopen negotiations. During the talks, the university withdrew its demand for the installation of a general manager and made clear it was now prepared to hand over GSF money.
This message was repeated by Bishop in writing an hour into the occupation of the council chambers. However, it's clear that the university will continue to attempt to increase its leverage over the SRC.
The VSU legislation, with its attempts to split student organisations' "non-allowable" political functions from "allowable" service functions, has made student organisations very much dependent on their own administrations and the conditions they place on funding.
The day after the university administration's back-down, ministerial representatives were meeting with the administration to discuss the issue.
Education, employment and training minister Simon Crean has made it clear that DEET funding for SRCs will continue only for several more years at best. And funding will be contingent on government approval of each line item.
DEET funding is a mechanism for implementing VSU, rather than saving students from it. This has been most clearly demonstrated by the ease with which it has allowed university administrations to avoid battles. The La Trobe administration has been able to reject applications to fund several areas of SRC activity out of the general service fee by saying "you can get DEET to fund you for that".