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State Council Key Focus Areas

Students as Partners

Students as Partners (SaP) is a concept and model that TUSA fully embodies as an organisation. An effective SaP model empowers students through authentic engagement and has been demonstrated to improve students’ perceptions of teaching quality, an important benchmark for UTAS’ evaluation of content. SaP has a wide array of other demonstrated benefits for both students and staff.

Our Framework (based on previous iterations of SaP across Australia, including Deakin’s model here) utilises four approaches:

1. Students as sounding boards

This is where student feedback and engagement are passive, sought to bounce ideas off of, and only acted upon when they significantly differ from the proposed plans. For example, when receiving feedback (e.g., a pulse survey) on proposed and actioned university or college changes, this is promptly responded to (e.g., an update to students).

2. Students as influencers

This is when student feedback actively shapes proposed plans and is utilised in programme evaluation at the university. Involves engaging in a continuous conversation with students about the goals of the university. As shown by the College of Business & Economics’ student engagement on issues with the new KPMG site, a survey was sent out to students, along with hosting an in-person feedback session with students and college heads, and following it up with a MyLO announcement or video on the actioned changes a few weeks later with a “you said-we did” theme.

3. Students as decision-makers

Students are on the committees and meetings that develop university and college plans and strategies. Students have a stake in the decision-making across all sectors of the university. These students have an independent voice, are upskilled, and are in a safe environment to make these decisions.

4. Students as co-creators

Students are actively engaged in the co-design of university and college plans, including curriculum change, university strategic direction, initiatives, and policies.

In our framework, the TUSA additionally considers a systematic approach to evaluating the authenticity of existing and proposed student partnerships.

By utilising this framework, staff at each organisational level can facilitate the genuine inclusion of student voices into course design, delivery, and governance.

Food Insecurity

Research published in September 2022 surveyed 1,257 UTAS students, finding 42% experience food insecurity. The risk factor increased for certain groups, including international students, LGBTQI+ students, and first-year students. A 2017 Universities of Australia Student Finance Survey with 18,500 respondents found that one in seven domestic students regularly goes without food or other necessities because they can’t afford them. International research on the connections between food insecurity, health, and academic performance found that food insecure students have compromised health, dietary intake, and academic quality, which can ultimately lead to postponement or withdrawal from studies.

Research clearly indicates the need experienced by University of Tasmania students and their high vulnerability to the mental and physical health risks and holistic wellness risks associated with low socio-economic status and poverty.

Over the last 18 months, we operated a food insecurity pilot project called freshie bags’, a student-designed and led fruit and vegetable scheme that provided over 340 subsidised produce bags. The project confirmed student needs and highlighted the long-term opportunities that would arise from having access to a dedicated food facility equipped with the infrastructure and resources to co-design resilient food systems. We are pleased to say that this programme will continue into 2023!

Additionally, we offer year-round emergency provisions and food relief vouchers, which can be accessed through our Student Advocates.

TUSA is also further working on a “Food Hub”, which is an inclusive and dignified space where students come together and access nutritious, culturally appropriate food, with the goal of getting it going soon in 2023. Watch this space!

Student Housing & Accomodation

Housing all over Australia is becoming increasingly unaffordable. We frequently see students having to jump into insecure or unsafe rental arrangements or choosing between paying for their classes, rent, or next meal. UTAS told us that in 2022, they’ll have a 90% occupancy rate for their accommodations, but we know there are accommodations such as the MidCity Apartments that the University is leasing out to external parties. Our student representatives want UTAS to make allowances to allow disadvantaged students to stay in UTAS accommodation and communicate to potential students the reality that they may not be able to find a rental upon arriving in Tasmania.

TUSA offers support, financial counselling, and legal support for housing issues and related matters. If you need to talk, please get in touch with our Advocates or our Solicitor through our Student Legal Services. We also administrate a Facebook group for UTAS Students searching for housing, the UTAS Housing Forum.

Improving the Student Experience

Any student who was lucky enough to be studying in the BC years (before COVID) will have quickly informed you how much better it was then and how things have gone downhill since. After three years of COVID and mostly online learning, TUSA is pushing to place the student experience right back at the forefront of all UTAS decision-making. Be that for online or on-campus students.

Your state council is pushing for a “swing back to the middle” on the pendulum that is learning models. It is crucial to offer flexibility in learning for equitable access for all students; however, for those students who choose to study on campus, it is important that they do indeed get that experience of studying on campus.

Furthermore, TUSA is pushing UTAS to follow through on their ‘Island Campus’ promotion of the university and to make learning in the country a central aspect of the student experience.

TUSA believes that more investment needs to be made in the student experience and that student money, such as Student Services and Amenities Fees, should be spent how students see fit. TUSA continues to support and assist the major vehicle of student experience at UTAS, Clubs and Societies, in addition to the Unique Tassie Experience programme, the best way to get out and experience Tasmania!

Students Services and Amenities Fees

Students Services and Amenities Fees is a fee that was introduced in 2012 as a method of ensuring there was a funding pool to ensure that students had access to a range of key services, experiences, and programmes that are pivotal to the student experience, as listed on the Australian Government’s website.

The university is required by protocol to consult formally with student representatives. This consultation should include “publishing identified priorities for proposed fee expenditure and allowing students and student associations and organisations opportunities to comment on those; and meeting with democratically elected student representatives and representatives from key student organisations to consider the priorities for the use of fee revenue”.

However, TUSA believes the level of power that students have in the current university’s decision-making process is inadequate and, in terms of SaP, would range between Sounding Boards and Influencers. Within the current model, TUSA representatives simply have a seat at an advisory committee table that does not have decision-making power.

You can learn more about the university’s procedures and about SSAF here and here.

Mental Health & Wellbeing

It is estimated that 25% of Australian university students will experience mental ill health at some point in their studies, and this has only been worsened by the pandemic. We did a report back in 2020 about Mental Health during the pandemic; check it out here. We know that students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and students from a low socio-economic background are at even greater risk. We also know that postgraduate students have a much higher prevalence of mental health disorders than undergraduate students.

TUSA believes that more needs to be done to address the mental health issues we see and experience in our community. Some of the initiatives we’ve taken include subsidising Mental Health First Aid trainings, hosting wellness activities like Kind September and Stress Less Week, and lobbying UTAS for more flexible extension requests and deferred exams. We also know that one of the biggest ways to combat loneliness and mental ill health is to build community, which is why we strive to support our Clubs and Societies to help students be included and have support networks. If you’re struggling, please reach out to our Advocates, free and confidential counselling at UTAS, or Lifeline.

Sustainability & Climate Action

We recognise climate change as one of the biggest threats to our world. Every year, students tell us that Sustainability and Climate Action are two of the top three most important issues for them. While the pandemic put a pause on some of our plans for the last two years, we didn’t stop everything. We support our Clubs and Societies to be able to deliver sustainability events and programmes, such as the Gardening Society, Landcare Society, Environment Society, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Climate Action UTAS (CAUTAS), and many more. Additionally, TUSA is currently a signatory on the Students Say No to Scarborough petition and is one of the few university unions to divest from fossil fuels!

We avoid investing in exploitative labour, fossil fuels, pollutants, natural gas, and more and instead actively invest in energy efficiency, animal rights, equal opportunity, indigenous projects, health care, and renewable energy. Currently, we are in the process of reviewing our internal practises of sourcing and procurement, especially of our TUSA merchandise and collateral, such as our tote bags, student diaries, etc. We also have student representatives who sit on the UTAS Sustainability Committee and the UTAS Equity Committee to bring your voice and your passions to the forefront of UTAS decision-making.

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