A number of student organisations have responded angrily to the revelation that the National Union of Students (NUS) has reneged on agreements to advocate that the government lower the age of "independence" to 18-years-old immediately.
Instead, it has been discovered that NUS's position is to advocate that the Rudd ALP government lower the age of "independence", and thus become eligible for youth allowance, progressively from 25 to 21, then 18 years of age.
Under the current Social Security Act of 1991, students are only automatically considered "independent" at 25. Up until this age they are considered to be reliant on their parents unless they can meet stringent criteria to prove otherwise. This usually involves earning $18,850 in 18 months — something that's incompatible with studying in most cases.
Illuminated only when NUS released its submission to the Bradley Higher Education Review, this unilateral decision appears to have been made by NUS officials in breach of its own national conference and education conference held earlier this year. Motions were passed at both conferences to campaign for the age to be lowered directly to 18. The decision, which contradicts the position of Universities Australia, was also made without any consultation with member organisations.
Student associations have argued that placing the age of independence at 25 is arbitrary and unfair, given that at 18 people are considered adults in every other respect. They have the rights and responsibilities that encompass voting, working, paying taxes and borrowing money and being sent to war but they cannot receive independent income support to study.
The outcome of NUS's proposal is clear given that many students finish their degree by the age of 21.
Beth Maloney, president of the Newcastle University Student's Association, criticised the move saying, "Apparently NUS believes that an arts student should be able to graduate without ever having been eligible for basic support for food and accommodation."
Many student organisations are angry that despite two conference motions and paying affiliation fees to NUS, their views have not been accurately represented.
With many NUS office bearers also being members of the ALP, some students have speculated that the decision was intended to avoid contradicting the ALP government's position. This dispute raises serious questions regarding NUS' capacity to play both roles without compromising students' interests.
[Laura Ealing is running for the Socialist Alliance in the Newcastle council elections on September 13. Visit http://www.socialist-alliance.org]