The proposed sale of Arc retail stores is a decision which will have worrying consequences. Arc’s primary responsibility is to provide assistance and services for the students of UNSW. This not only means giving preference to student affordability over profits, but also means standing up to the university administration when it tries to do prioritize profits as well at the expense of its student population.
This sale fails at both; firstly it prioritises the profitability of Arc over the students who work there and those who trust Arc to provide them with affordable food and stationery on campus. Even worse, it symbolises a humiliating backdown to the university administration, whose threats to establish competition against arc stores on campus would be extremely difficult to achieve for the university and is likely to have been an empty bluff.
I sincerely hope that the Arc board do whatever is possible to remedy this mistake before it becomes a serious detriment to the quality of student life on campus.
I am writing to express my concern regarding the recent move by Arc to sell of it’s retail assets to the university. I believe that this is a bad move for the union and the future of student life on campus.
Arc has agreed to sell off its retail assets and the remaining leases on campus, in return for a large sum payed over a number of years. Arc gets 11 million dollars, and a nice pat on the back for rolling over so easily. UNSW students get commercial retail such as Coles Express or Woolworths, and suffer price hikes. Eleven million dollars sounds like a lot, but for an organisation the size of Arc, which now provides services for more than 40,000 students at UNSW, this sum will only last a matter of years.
Since we have now lost one of our only forms of independent income, once our payouts have finished we will be beholden to the university for money. This is not how a student union should be run – how can we be expected to provide a counterbalance and voice for students against the university when we are dependent on the university for money? This is a very clever way for the University to exercise further control over Arc, and ensure students have as little power as possible.
To be clear: the university has put a significant amount of financial pressure on Arc. Arc will receive very little extra income from the new student services & amenities fee (the $263 fee that all students now pay) but the new fee means that Arc can no longer charge membership. This means Arc faces an exponential increase in the number of students it must service, with no proportional increase in funding.
It is however unacceptable for a union such as Arc, which delivers services to and protects the rights of students at UNSW, to simply bend to the will of the university and hand over their only real source of sustainable income. The way forward is incredibly vague. Arc are discussing investing in off-campus businesses, which won’t exclusively employ UNSW students or deliver any services on-campus. This would be a sad outcome. We are not simply a business, we are a student union and we should act to deliver student services on campus.
Furthermore, despite lengthy negotiations with the university, there was very little student consultation with regards to the decision – surprising and disappointing for such a seemingly critical decision.
It will be a sad day for all students when the big supermarket chains move in and the union loses its best source of independent support. Until then it is important that we make sure all students are aware of the situation and the position that the union is in.
During O-Week just under one third of all stalls were run by for-profit non-uni affiliated corporations, at an event intended to introduce students to university clubs and societies – UNSW ‘student life’. These companies were also apparently granted rights to roam walkways, pitching to students as they moved between stalls, while clubs and societies were requested to stay behind their stalls unless they were organising an event.
Corporations that buy a stall at O-Week not only rent a marquee and the opportunity to market to thousands of new students, but apparently they also rent the services of UNSW security to shut down any student response to their presence on campus.
When I began handing out flyers at the ANZ O-Week stall on Wednesday morning explaining that the company was the biggest financier of the coal industry in Australia, and therefore one of the country’s key contributors to climate change, I was told by a Yellow Shirt that I would be removed from campus by security. When I returned with some friends in the afternoon, UNSW security and a representative from FM Assist turned up and told us to leave. Security took down my student ID and the FM Assist rep argued that I was “harassing” ANZ, and that I was in breach of the Student Conduct Policy.
ANZ workers manning the stall appeared frustrated and embarrassed at the gathering of students and security there, and were anxious for us to be removed. They acted as all corporations would when presented with a protest at their office. The difference is that UNSW is a university, not a private bank, and I am a student of this university, with every right to express myself politically on this campus. Indeed the Student Conduct Policy which I had apparently breached begins with the aim that “all members of the University will conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the University’s values and guiding principles to maintain our strong tradition of excellence, innovation and social justice.”
I would argue that if ANZ has a right, granted in return for a considerable financial sum, to pitch their services to students at O-Week, then I have a right, as a student at this university, to present the same people with some more detailed information about the banks’ financing and investment policies. It is then up to the student to make up their mind whether they want to open an account with ANZ. The result of our efforts on Wednesday was that students voted with their feet (and their dollars).
Approximately 10-15 people who may have signed up for an account with ANZ decided not to. Only one person who I spoke to chose to sign up after hearing that ANZ is Australia’s biggest financier of coal power. In regards to the accusation that I, an undergraduate student, was “harassing” ANZ, a multi-billion dollar company, I think I’ll take that as a compliment.
I would argue that the actions of yellow shirts, security, FM Assist and Arc reps demonstrate a lack of respect for free political expression on campus, an incorrect application of UNSW policy on behalf of corporate ‘visitors.’ I also argue they breached the following sections of the Conduct Policy: “respect the rights of others to express political and religious views;” and “not engage in behaviour that is perceived to be threatening or intimidating.”
I would like to know whether UNSW has any ethical guidelines governing which companies can run stalls at O-Week, how much companies pay to have stalls at O-Week, and why, if I was in breach of the Student Conduct Policy, no complaint has been made against me. I and other students had every right to hand out flyers about ANZ. Student rights on campus should not be negated by intimidation tactics. Let’s have this discussion openly.
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