How is GSA currently governed?
GSA is governed by a Council of 15 elected graduate students, who act as our board.
The role of Students’ Council is to determine GSA’s position on issues affecting graduate students at the University of Melbourne and more broadly, and to make strategic decisions about how GSA operates and spends its funding to ensure we meet legal obligations under Victorian and Australian law.
What are the planned changes to GSA’s governance?
The Students’ Council is proposing a new model of governance for GSA and they are unanimous in their support for this change. The new structure would encompass a seven-member board, which would include four experienced professional directors to work alongside three postgraduate student directors.
This board would work in collaboration with the GSA Students’ Council, who would focus on issues directly related to graduate students rather than organisational governance responsibilities like finance, compliance and risk.
Why a new governance structure?
Under GSA’s existing constitution, Councillors have a legal obligation to prioritise governance responsibilities – that is, the strategic direction and accountability of GSA. This significantly reduces the time that Councillors have to meet with students and work on the representative issues that affect graduate students’ experiences at University – like fair fares on public transport, study spaces for research students, and social issues like equality, diversity and inclusion.
The new structure would allow GSA to benefit from the governance expertise that professional directors bring, while also ensuring that Councillors have the time to advocate on issues that matter most to graduate students. The proposed governance structure will create a stronger and more efficient GSA.
Is there a lack of confidence in GSA Council’s ability to perform its role?
GSA Council is comprised of student representatives who are intelligent, driven and capable. However, the demands of postgraduate study, work, internships, family and friends often means that even the most passionate representatives simply do not have the time GSA needs them to commit. The new structure would allow Councillors to focus more time on student representative issues and policymaking, with the board handling the governance responsibilities.
Why can’t GSA just hire someone to assist with governance responsibilities in order to relieve pressure on student representatives?
GSA staff, under the leadership of our CEO, have responsibility for the day-to-day running of GSA – that is, the events, training and support that GSA provides to students.
The board has a different function: it oversees the strategic direction of GSA, as well as making sure the organisation complies with its legal and financial responsibilities. A GSA staff member cannot perform this function because the board’s role is enshrined in law.
Are the proposed changes coming from the University?
GSA is a not-for-profit organisation, independent of the University of Melbourne. While GSA receives Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) funding, the University does not play a role in the governance and management of GSA.
The proposed changes are being led by GSA Council, who are supported by GSA’s operational staff. The new governance structure will not change or undermine the independence of GSA.
Who makes the decision about whether the changes go ahead?
Graduate students do!
The new governance structure will be voted on at a Special General Meeting (SGM) on 22 March. All graduate students are invited and encouraged to attend. Further details about the SGM will be emailed to you if you’re on our mailing list. Need to subscribe? Sign up on our website.
Who appoints the directors?
The initial board has been appointed by GSA Council. We met with and interviewed almost 30 incredible people and discussed with them the reasons for their interest in sitting on GSA’s board, as well as their understanding of the graduate student experience.
We’re convinced that the four professionals we have appointed will do an exceptional job – and we’re proud to confirm that our President and one of our co-LGBTIQ Officers will make up the two pre-appointed students on the board. (The remaining student spot will be filled after the SGM.)
After our initial board, further board members will be appointed by a four-person appointments committee, including two students and the board chair, and requires a 75 per cent vote in favour of appointing a director.
The Vice-Chancellor will have a nominee on the board appointments sub-committee, but this person has no real power except in agreement with students and the board.
The board will comprise of a diverse range of professionals with considerable experience across a range of industries, including the public and private sectors as well as a range of non-profits and associations. This was raised as a key priority in our student focus groups.
If the Vice-Chancellor’s nominee on the sub-committee has no real power, what’s the point in having them there?
GSA is formally affiliated with the University of Melbourne, but we are an independent organisation.
As an affiliated organisation, and one whose funding is determined by the University, we have a responsibility to our constituents to have a good working relationship with the University.
We’re not afraid to tell them when we think they’re wrong, or to hold them to account on the issues that matter most to graduate students, but we know that one of the best ways for us to be effective is for the University to be willing to listen to us.
The Vice-Chancellor’s nominee on the board appointments sub-committee is a gesture of goodwill.
Will directors be paid?
Yes. All members of the board and Students’ Council will receive appropriate pay for their time and expertise. They will be paid to work for GSA and for graduate students’ best interests.
We believe that remunerating our directors fairly means we’ll get the best people on our board, and thereby give GSA the strongest possible foundation to better serve students.
How can we be sure that the board is working the best interests of graduate students?
In the new structure, there are several checks and balances in place to ensure board accountability:
- there will be three student directors on the board
- there is a requirement in the constitution and governance documents that the board must consult with Students’ Council on important issues
- there are processes built in to our key governance documents to deal with disagreements on organisational direction which may occur between the board and Students’ Council
- students have the power to dismiss board members via a Special General Meeting if deemed necessary. Board members do not have the same power to dismiss elected students.
Are any other student associations doing this?
As far as we know, GSA will be the first student association in Australia to adopt this governance structure, however similar models are commonplace overseas.
Student associations with highly comparable structures include Leeds University Union and University College London Union.
GSA is prepared to break from the status quo and embrace a new way of governing that will be in the best interests of students.
Outside of the university setting, it’s common practice for a professional board of directors to govern a not-for-profit. The structure GSA is proposing is not unusual, in fact, it’s best practice in not-for-profit management.
Where can I find out more about the changes?
We’re running two Q&A sessions where you’ll have the chance to meet with GSA Councillors and chat about the proposed changes.
They are drop-in sessions, held in the Pierre Gorman Room (room 102) in the 1888 Building, Parkville campus. You can come at any time.
The Pierre Gorman Room has disabled accessibility via the lift behind the 1888 Building, by what used to be the Lot 6 café.
You can also take up your GSA membership to get on mailing list and receive updates about the changes and details of the Special General Meeting on March 22.
Why am I only hearing about this now?
A number of students have raised concerns about lack of direct notice being provided to them, as is legally required.
The reason we have not been able to inform each student individually is an issue of privacy law. The university cannot provide us with the details of every member (currently, all graduate students are members of GSA).
Under certain circumstances the university will email students on behalf of GSA, for instance during elections. We requested the university notify graduate students of our proposal to replace our constitution and on this occasion the University was unable to accommodate our request.
Given we were not able to deliver a message directly to every student we have sent emails to every graduate student on GSA’s mailing lists, emailed GSA’s 106 Graduate Groups, posted via GSA’s social media channels and website, and used Councillors’ personal networks to get the message out.