Provisions for a Student Representative Council
When Griffith University was first envisioned, included amongst the ideals was the formation of a student body to represent the interests of students. The provision for a Student Representative Council (SRC) was included in the Griffith University Act (1971) - which is the official legislation that established Griffith University.
The University’s foundation registrar - John Topley - corresponded with the University of Queensland Union to get ideas on how Griffith University might set up our first SRC.
The Griffith University Interim Council (now the University Council) set up a Student Affairs Committee to consider the place and life of students in the University. In 1971 it recommended that the SRC be a wholly student body and that “it should promote in students mature relationships of equality and superordination, rather than one of subordination and marginality, and to promote the growth of a sense of identity and self-worth”.
By 1974 the University had created a Working Party on Student Affairs which reported to the Student Affairs Committee. They began working on papers regarding the membership and functions of the SRC.
Griffith University Union of Students
The Griffith University Act called for a Student Representative Council, but the first students wanted to be known as a student union. So they petitioned the University Council and they were granted permission in a Council resolution, to be known as the Griffith University Union of Students - or GUUS.
They submitted a constitution to the University Council in 1975 which was mostly accepted, although there were a few minor alterations made.
The GUUS was the link between students and the University. University management expected the Union to cater to all students from all backgrounds and to organise events that encouraged students and even staff to engage with each other to build a healthy and active Griffith Community. However, unlike other universities' student unions, the Griffith administration was already offering many of the traditional services and amenities that would normally be provided by a student union. So each student charge (administration fee) was given to the University's administration and then a portion of this fee handed over to the Union so it could undertake its activities and duties. Union activities at this time included legal aid, travel and insurance services, provision of information and resource material, lobbying governments for better education and publishing student newspapers and magazines.
The Union embarked upon initiatives such as pub crawls, barbeques, live band performances as a way to try to build community at Griffith. The group was also politically active undertaking protests and taking action to draw attention to 'injustice' both on campus and in the wider community.
In 1977 the Queensland Government banned street marches. This of course was viewed by many in society as an infringement upon their civil rights and students at all Queensland tertiary institutions organised marches. Griffith was no different. There were marches on the University grounds as well as students taking part in rallies in Brisbane City.
In 1986 the student union organised protests against the introduction of a on-campus parking fee and the related damage caused to Toohey Forest by creating new parking spaces.
In 1987 students mobilised against the proposed introduction of a $250 administration fee. In attempting to see the Vice Chancellor, a glass door was damaged and a student charged.
The mid to late 1980’s saw major upheaval in the tertiary education sector. Reforms initiated by the Australian Government, known as the Dawkins Revolution after the federal Education Minister (of the time) John Dawkins - saw institutions required to achieve a certain number of enrolled students to be included as part of the federally funded system and also be eligible for research funding.
Griffith was expected to be just below the cut off for the research funding target by the government proposed end date and so looked into amalgamations with other tertiary institutions such as Technical and Further Education (TAFE), College of Advanced Education (CAE) and other universities. See Dawkin's reforms and amalgamation.
Students at the time were worried about the proposed changes and how they would affect the quality of teaching and the atmosphere of the campus. This was reflected in the September issue of Griffitti - (the student union produced newspaper of the time) and looked closely at what the changes proposed by Dawkins meant for the University. Commentary in the publication also postulated on the most likely mergers of Griffith with other Queensland tertiary centres. GUUS predicted that the Brisbane CAE (Mount Gravatt campus) would become a campus of Griffith University. They also published a number of arguments in Griffitti against the University undertaking this amalgamation citing a difference in educational profiles and mission statements and that the Mount Gravatt campus was too far away (about a 6 kilometre journey from Nathan campus back then). The Union also anticipated that the Gold Coast CAE would come under the Griffith University banner. However, the Union felt that this particular merge would only exist until the Gold Coast had the necessary student numbers required by the Federal Government to eventually govern and function on their own.
And so in 1990 - the Mt Gravatt campus of the Brisbane CAE officially became part of Griffith University (see the Griffith University/BCAE Amalgamation Act) and in July of the same year the Gold Coast CAE also came under the Griffith banner. As the Griffith amalgamation jigsaw continued - Queensland Conservatorium of Music (1991) and then the Queensland College of Art (1992) merged with the University. With the exception of the Gold Coast - all the 'new' students joining Griffith University became members of the Griffith University Student Representative Council (SRC).
SRC? What happened to GUUS?
What’s in a name? Well legally - quite a bit. Whilst all the amalgamations were happening, it was pointed out again to the University Council, that the GUUS was not an incorporated body and thus didn’t have the legal authority to act as the student representative body. The Griffith University Act 1971 called for a Student Representative Council (SRC), and whilst GUUS was considered for the most part by both staff and students to be our university's SRC - they had only been granted permission to operate by a University Council resolution. The necessary subordinate legislation to make GUUS 'official' had never been made. Put simply - GUUS had never been formed into a legally recognised corporation (incorporated).
As often happened in the early days of the University, Council believed that provisions being introduced should be tried in practice for a few years, with any bugs worked out before passing subordinate legislation. This had never happened in the pursuing years as the call for Voluntary Student Unionism kept rearing its head and it was felt by Griffith management that it was better to wait for a less volatile period to make any changes to the structure and operation of GUUS.
There was also a push at this time by students for constitutional reform. And so a working party was formed to deal with these issues and over the course of a couple of years, they settled on a new form for the student union. The SRC would take on all of the existing GUUS assets, but this change did not extend to office bears with all new SRC officials to be appointed as the result of student elections.
GUUS was formally dissolved at midnight, 13th March, 1991.
So who represents our Gold Coast students now?
When the Gold Coast CAE became Griffith University's Gold Coast campus - there was discussion on how best to serve the student population there. In May 1990, representatives from the Gold Coast CAE Student Representative Council and from GUUS met twice to consider the best way forward. They determined that it would be best if the newly crowned Gold Coast College of Griffith University had it’s own student representation. At the time it was deemed too difficult due to the distance between the two campuses (around a 1 hour drive) for Gold Coast students to be adequately represented by, and have services delivered from, a Nathan head office. With this decision made, the Gold Coast University College Student Representative Council (GCUC SRC) came into being.
Unlike the student council operations at the Brisbane/Logan campuses, the GCUC SRC was to provide all the amenities that would normally have been provided by a university administration. So this meant that all the fees collected from the student service charge were passed on to them in full. The Griffith University Act (1998) made statutory provisions for the Gold Coast student body to be formed and it would be called the Gold Coast Student Guild. In late 2000, the GCUC SRC had their name officially changed to Griffith University Gold Coast Student Guild.
The final part of the SRC puzzle was completed with the opening of the Logan campus in 1998. Students at this campus joined students from our Nathan, Mt Gravatt and South Bank in being represented by the SRC.
Introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism
Over the years, federal governments had often considered the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU). But this controversial change to student unionism had never actually been enacted. Student groups often protested against such measures, arguing that it would decimate Student Union funding and greatly affect their ability to provide services to students.
Despite the concerns of student groups around the country, in 2005 the Federal Government of the time made membership of student unions (or their equivalents), voluntary. This legislation or bill, came into effect on the 1st of June, 2006. This saw a heavy loss of revenue for all student unions around the country. At Griffith, the loss of funding saw the SRC fold.
In 2010, with a different federal government in charge, compulsory student unionism wasn’t re-implemented, but institutions did gain the ability to charge a compulsory service fee.
At Griffith, the University Council resolved to designate Logan, Mt Gravatt, Nathan, QCA & QCGU as SRC campuses (leaving Gold Coast as a standalone campus with the Student Guild instead) and provided the initial budget of a reconstituted SRC. Elections were held in October 2010. Each campus received an SRC Campus Executive Committee. The President and Secretary were each made members of the SRC Board. The SRC Board then appointed a Treasurer and Secretary.
The university provided the initial budget with the aim of future budgets being partly funded by the Student Services & Amenities Fee (which at that stage was before parliament) and in September 2010, the legislation was passed, allowing higher education institutions to charge a compulsory service fee.
Student Representation Today
Griffith students today are still represented by the SRC for the northern campuses and the Student Guild at the Gold Coast. They still continue to work for students by running events, providing services such as advocacy and support, student publications and attempting to improve the quality of student life on campus and the Griffith student experience.