By Ethan Schultz

PARSA executives have expressed “shock and disappointment” to Observer at the changes to their funding arrangements announced last month. The association remains committed to fighting the decision and adamant that without them, postgraduate representation will suffer.

When the news that PARSA’s SSAF funding would be cut, PARSA executives and postgraduate students expressed “shock” to the revelatory news. A PARSA executive characterised the University’s approach to PARSA as “conflicting,” stating the Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s office cut their funding, whilst they worked with another University office to reform their constitution. 

This narrative has been opposed by an official ANUSA statement, which claims that the undergraduate association has “provided advocacy and community for postgraduates for many years”

The Postgraduate and Research Student’s Association (PARSA) will not be receiving funding for 2023. In a recently published announcement, Grady Venville, the Academic Deputy Vice-Chancellor, explained that PARSA’s “inability to maintain executive positions, unsatisfactory management of governance, and failure to meet obligations as an organisation” have disqualified it from SSAF funding. 

Every organisation receiving funding from the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) – which has included ANUSA, PARSA, Observer, and Woroni – enters into an agreement with ANU at the end of the year that determines the amount granted for the next year. 

PARSA’s Acting Vice-President Tristan Yip told Observer that PARSA was asked to sign an agreement additional to the common SSAF contract at the end of 2021. The second agreement granted the University “the option to rescind funding if PARSA failed to meet their constitutional obligations”, according to Yip.  

SSAF is a semesterly payment made by all students, collected by ANU and allocated to each student association for the provision of satisfactory performance. On these grounds, ANU has decided not to fund PARSA for 2023. Currently, the executive role of President is vacant and there has not been an elected PARSA president since 2021. 

In 2022, 1.7 million dollars of the SSAF pool was allocated to the PARSA budget. One of the largest components of the PARSA budget is allocating funds to portfolios, which include equity and education portfolios encompassing student advocacy and College representatives. PARSA also funds the education programs ‘Shut Up and Write,’ Higher Degree by Research, Student Extracurricular Enrichment Fund (SEEF), Legal Aid, and migration services. 

In the 2022 PARSA budget, $510,250 was allocated to postgraduate and research students in the forms of grants, portfolio funds, and other programs. Student programs were allocated the second largest share at $145,000, followed by education portfolios at $110,000. 

$80,000 was allocated to support grants for students experiencing financial hardship. 

Eleanor Cooper, the PARSA General Secretary, told Observer that the PARSA executive experienced “shock and disappointment” at the news of the funding cut. She expressed concerns about “how the University intends to ensure that PARSA’s staff team are not adversely affected.” Cooper ensured that the current PARSA staff will advocate to maintain funding allocations for their portfolios. 

The PARSA executive was notified about the University’s decision the day before it was publicly announced. 

A new constitution was recently passed in May to establish an advisory committee that would oversee governance of the organisation. ANU’s Corporate Governance and Risk Office (CGRO) had also been collaborating with PARSA on constitutional reformation up until the University’s decision was made.

Yip characterised the funding cut as an “extreme response”, and further expressed frustration at the alleged “conflicting narratives coming out of the University” as CGRO had already been working with PARSA to reform its constitution when the news broke. Another executive member of PARSA told Observer, referencing the May constitutional update, expressed the decision rendered their work “for naught”, since the decision “was based on the governance issues of 2020 [to] 2021”. 

Yip shared this view, remarking that the decision is “punishing people who had nothing to do with these governance issues”.   

International Officer, Sonia Jeena, posted a petition online to rally support for PARSA, publicly stating that PARSA is committed to fighting this decision. There has been no official recognition of the petition from the University. Yip argued this was due to the University’s “nature to not take these kinds of initiatives seriously.” At the time of writing, the petition has just 60% of its targeted signatures.

An official comment from ANUSA characterised the funding cut as revelatory of “the power that SSAF allows universities to wield over student unions”. 

“ANU has taken advantage of this power with respect to PARSA and this sets a precedent of cutting student union funding that profoundly concerns ANUSA”, the statement continued.

ANUSA held similar concerns about the University’s power over student associations when the advisory committee proposal emerged, and responded with a proposed merger of ANUSA and PARSA in the hopes of better limiting University interference. PARSA had rejected the merger based on alleged concerns about the capacity for ANUSA to effectively represent postgraduates. 

“We don’t see how this could work, logistically”, Yip told Observer

ANUSA’s statement, however, claimed that the association has already been advocating for postgraduates in recent history. “We have already been providing legal representation to postgraduates since early 2022”, they said, “and most ANUSA departments have provided advocacy and community for postgraduates for many years”. 

Yip disagrees. “The narrative that ANUSA [already advocates for postgraduates] is highly disingenuous”, he rebutted. 

The University has committed to providing a replacement for PARSA if their operations cease as planned by 2023. Information about the University’s new system to deliver postgraduate student services has yet to be released, although it has been reiterated that “there will be no reduction in funding”.

Cooper insisted that PARSA will provide the best outcomes for students, rather than a new organisation without their decades of experience. PARSA remains hopeful that the decision will be changed so that they may continue to serve the postgraduate students of ANU into the future. 

 

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