On January 3 this year UNSW launched The Hub, an university-funded initiative that seeks to provide a central space for students in the areas of “student development, participation and engagement”.
Located on the upper-campus between the Morven Brown Building and the Central Lecture Block (CLB), The Hub states that they are a multidisciplinary team, providing support and new opportunities for UNSW students to enrich their on-campus experience.
Whilst any university attempts to better the university experience for students can only be seen as a welcome and beneficial venture, there have been concerns as to whether there is a ‘doubling up’ of services offered between The Hub and UNSW’s not-for-profit student organisation, Arc, which has been in existence since the abolishment of the UNSW student union in 2006.
According to one of The Hub’s Student Participation Advisors, Rebecca Webb, The Hub offers such a wide range of activities, events and initiatives that it’s “difficult to put them all into one sentence”.
However, Webb did list examples such as placement offers, advice about topics such as attaining special consideration, counselling, internships for social work students, volunteer opportunities and leadership programs and events such as the recent International Women’s Day celebration.
Conversely, Arc also provides support in many areas that may be seen to be overlapped by The Hub including subsidies, a space and recognition to all of UNSW’s clubs, legal advice and entertainment.
Arc also seeks to supply “information, support and resources on just about anything” via its initiative ‘Contact’, organise O-week to help commencing students adjust to university life, provide representation through the Women’s, Queer, Disability and Ethnic collectives, as well as advocacy for internal and external student issues such as tenancy and with the appealing of grades.
President of the UNSW’s Student Representative Council, Tim Kaliyanda has said the SRC “welcomes the creation of The Hub as a positive initiative” as he believes its implementation will “help alleviate the backlog of students using services like counselling and disability support during peak times of semester”.
However, Kaliyanda stressed the need for autonomous student support initiatives. “It is crucial that UNSW recognises the importance of independent student support and advocacy by properly resourcing organisations on campus such as Arc and Kingsford Legal Centre that provide students with frank and fearless advice” he added.
Adding to Kaliyanda’s comments, one Medicine student told Tharunka of his preference for an independent student support organisation on campus. “To be honest, if I wanted academic advice, I’d probably want to get it from a body that didn’t reside under the jurisdiction of the university… I’d just feel more comfortable given I’d be guaranteed impartiality” he said.
Webb told Tharunka that The Hub has no intention of “stepping on other organisation’s toes”, and rather seeks to “further develop partnerships and relationships with relevant bodies”.
Chair of Arc, Natalie Karam, told Tharunka that “given the mutual recognition by Arc and UNSW as partners to deliver services to students, we would welcome the opportunity to run some of our services in a shared space with The Hub.”
“Arc and UNSW are both national leaders in their respective areas (in 2010 Arc gained 2nd place in the annual Australian Camps Unions Managers Association (ACUMA) for Student Development), so it makes a lot of sense for us to work even more closely together to deliver expanded services” Ms Karam said.
Currently, aside from posters, and with the Arc retail stores ceasing trading this year, Arc will be limited to lower-campus, which may serve to decrease the access and awareness of Arc’s services and facilities for students whose faculties reside on upper campus and seldom venture down to the lower regions of the University. “This [The Hub’s on-campus location] would enable us to provide an integrated student support service to students and address issues surrounding Arc’s upper campus presence” Karam added.
One student, who wished not to be named, said he didn’t understand why there were two similar providers on campus. “If one organisation within the university already caters to the extracurricular student life, it seems unnecessary for the university need to waste our tuition fee providing the same thing twice” he said.
“Arc already get a grant from the university to run student development, wouldn’t it be more efficient to stream all student engagement funds into one central body and then dispense the left-over funds to other areas that would benefit from increased funding?” he added.
International Studies honours student, Jemma Williams said she was uncertain about the two organisations’ role within UNSW. “I feel like it could potentially create confusion for students about which avenue to select for certain issues,” she said as she felt for the most part, they were both offering the same things.
According to the Chancellery, the number of enrolled students has risen by approximately 20% to 53,000 in 2012, within the space of 12 months. This is in direct response to the government having established its higher education funding budget for 2012 to be based on the number of students enrolled at tertiary institutions. However, the funding for Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has not increased to accommodate for the sudden influx of extra students.
Given that students listed access to adequate mental health services as one of the most vital aspects of university services, one source told Tharunka that he felt the university was attempting to deal with the increased student numbers that will be requiring CAPS services by the implementation of a social-worker counselling service via The Hub.
He believed that this approach was a cost-cutting measure as fully trained and qualified psychologists are significantly more expensive for the university to fund than social workers.
One former Pro-Vice Chancellor has already been quoted saying that in peak times, such as around exam time, CAPS has been drastically overwhelmed, with their staff struggling to keep up with the demand. With the inclusion of services provided by The Hub, this issue would potentially be mitigated, provided students requiring more examination by psychologists were given referrals to CAPS.
There has also been concern that the service would not adequately serve the best interests of students placed in emergency situations, such as being placed in a position of homelessness. In the current state of affairs, students may need to consult both Arc for legal advice, and then The Hub for emergency accommodation arrangements.
According to a source from Arc, despite Semester 1 2012 having only recently commenced, 100 students have sought legal advice from Arc, with quarter of that number having to be referred from the Hub.
Of that half, 13 had to liaise both with Arc and The Hub to solve their issues.
Given the highly stressful condition such a student would already be in, the creation of one centralised body could be seen as being more constructive in supporting the student. Clearly both organisations are offering helpful and essential services; however the division could not only serve to generate misunderstandings amongst the student body about who to consult, but could also prove to be significantly less cost-effective.