The National Union of Students is a Union of students, by students, and for students. At the core of NUS as an organisation is the belief that collective action is the best way to achieve the solid and tangible outcomes for ordinary students.

The National Union of Students was formed in 1987 after students saw the benefit of forming one over arching peak representative body for students that would be strong an effective in being the voice for students.

Over the years we have worked for students to create a better tertiary system.

NUS has considerable achievements and wins for students over the years through its research, extensive surveys of student welfare, campus life and academic quality and have made possible the following for students:


NUS Achievements (1988 – 2015)

1988 – 96

NUS become a member of the Hawke-Keating Government’s Higher Education Council, the government’s highest advisory body covering all aspects of national higher education policy

1990 - 91

NUS directs the development of national regulations to deal with faculty ancillary/course material fees and the prohibition of student fees that did not comply.


Lobbied and saw in the phased lowering Age of Independence to be eligible for student income support from 25 to 22 by 1995 (raised back to 25 by Howard in 1998)


Students on income support at the time were not eligible for rent assistance. NUS lobbying led to the first category of students (homeless students) winning rent assistance eligibility.


Defeat of David Kemp’s West Review plans for the radical deregulation of higher education (including tuition fee deregulation)


Extension of rent assistance eligibility generally to Youth Allowance and ABSTUDY students through NUS lobbying.


Stopping the introduction of Federal Voluntary Student Unionism


NUS sees the introduction of the Education Textbook Subsidy for GST (effectively exempting students from the 8% GST on textbooks for three years)


NUS employs WA-based Project Officer to work solely on the repeal of state based VSU legislation. The WA Government agrees to a compromise model (50% minimum funding guarantee for the Guilds) that is still in place today.


Along with James Cook University NUS jointly won the legal appeal battle in Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to overturn a provisional ACCC ruling that universal student contributions to campus student amenities constituted a breach of the Trade Practices Act.

2002-3 (Nelson Reforms)

While highly modified legislation was eventually passed the Government was forced into many large and expensive concessions through NUS lobbying, media work and campaigning:

  • Stopping Introduction of Federal Voluntary Student Unionism;
  • Reducing HECS increase from 30% to 25%;
  • HECS repayment threshold increased from $26,289 to $40, 307 (the Vice-Chancellors had earlier signed off with the government on a deal at 33K that was scuppered by NUS lobbying of cross-benchers);
  • Thousands of extra Commonwealth Education and Accommodation (now called Relocation) Scholarships;
  • Replacement of 25,000 marginally funded student places with fully funded places (the universities also campaigned for this);
  • Full time commonwealth scholarships exempted from being treated as taxable income A ballpark estimate of the cost of the concessions flowing to students and graduates is around $2 billion.


Abolition of the highly regressive Student Finance Supplement loan scheme (operating since 1992) where students traded in up to half of their YA/AUSUDY/Abstudy grant in order to receive a larger amount in the form of a loan repayable on top of HECS repayments. The loan was a debt trap with an effective 16% interest rate with graduates repaying up to 12% of their gross income.


Since 1998 mature age students on AUSTUDY were not eligible for rent assistance. Removing this anomaly had been a long standing part of NUS’s core welfare reform demands and was often raised by NUS on parliamentary committees. The extension of rent assistance to AUSTUDY recipients was passed with bipartisan support in the final Howard Government budget. (budget papers put the cost at $87 million over the four year forecast).


Success at getting campuses that were breaching the Commonwealth Ancillary Fees Guidelines to repay the fees to students (following an NUS student-led survey of 5 campuses).

2008-9 (Bradley Reforms)

NUS started a campaign around a log of claims for comprehensive student income support reform in 2005 that included extensive work to develop the proposals on the parliamentary committees and serving on the Universities Australia steering committee for the Australian University Student Finances Survey (the first large national survey since 1984). The 2008 Bradley Review support for the reforms and the 2009-10 Federal Budget was the realisation of four years of work. Budget announcements were:

  • Phased reduction of age of Independence 25 to 22 over 4 years; ($100 million over the 4 year forecast period)
  • Increase Parental Income Test Threshold from 32,800 to $42,559 ($560 million over the 4 year forecast period);
  • Increase Personal Income Test from $236 to $400 in 2011 ($288 million over the 4 year forecast period);
  • All Masters by Coursework Students To Be Eligible for Income Support from 2012 ($73 million over the two years);
  • Commonwealth Accommodation Scholarship Scheme replaced with more widely available Relocation Scholarships (based on need rather a limited number of scholarships) ($193 million over the 4 year forecast period)
  • All equity and merit scholarships exempt from being treated as taxable income ($10 million over the 4 year forecast period);
  • Commonwealth Start Up Scholarship Scheme grants of $2254 a year for all 130,000 domestic students on Centrelink benefits to cover up front costs like textbooks, internet, computers, course material fees ($1.3 billion over the 4 year forecast period) Later budget cuts by the Gillard and Abbot Governments led to the Start Up Scholarships being converted into loans in 2015, and extension of student income support generally to masters by coursework students was delayed and then scrapped in late 2014. Nevertheless the overall benefits that were implemented were much better targeted at disadvantaged students than the previous arrangements and have been central to the lifting low SES participation rates across the sector.

2009 -11

NUS appointed to Australian Universities Quality Agency Joint Steering Group. In 2010 NUS runs first large scale student-run national Quality Survey.


After 2006 NUS kept the issue of VSU alive in the parliamentary sphere with our national reports, rankings and lobbying which led to a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of VSU and the government decision to change the legislation. In 2010 the Gillard Government managed to get a partial repeal of VSU (the Student Services and Amenities Fee) past the Senate. It was not NUS’s preferred model but the legislation was amended on NUS advice to include student advocacy services on the list of allowable SSAF-funded services.


NUS President appointed by Education Minister to the Rural Tertiary Hardship Taskforce to develop the guidelines for the distribution of $20 million of emergency grants to the most disadvantaged young regional and rural students.


Successful joint lobbying with Universities Australia to get the government to extend the National Rental Affordability Scheme to university students (subsidised rentals, building new student accommodation).


NUS President appointed by the Education Minister to the three member SSAF Student Services, Amenities, Representation and Advocacy Guidelines Review Panel. Several significant changes were made to clarify the guidelines and strengthen reporting requirements to the student body on the university’s use of SSAF revenue, including the requirement of student consultation in SSAF distribution at a minimum. Most of the primary research for the review panel was derived from the NUS SSAF Surveys.


NUS, CAPA and the NTEU were the only significant peak higher education sector bodies to call for the defeat of Chris Pyne’s radical undergraduate tuition fee deregulation legislation. The legislation was defeated through work on submissions, research, presentations at hearings into the bills and most publicly, several NUS lead National Days of Action which saw thousands of students at each demonstration.

So far the legislation has been voted down by the Senate twice on the 2nd of December 2014 and again on the 17th of March 2015.

The National Tertiary Education Union research shows that 80% of Australians are opposed to university fee deregulation.

The defeated legislation included:

HERRA Bill 2014 V.1

  • Deregulating undergraduate tuition fees through the abolition of the maximum HECS- HELP student contribution rates, universities rather than the Commonwealth would set the fees;
  • 20% of the extra fee revenue collected by universities would be set aside for a Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme to assist disadvantaged students; universities would control how the revenue from their campus is distributed (ie not pooled nationally);
  • FEE-HELP (for postgraduates and students enrolled at private providers) would be abolished and merged with HECS-HELP; student HELP debts would be indexed at the 10 year market bond rate rather than the CPI; graduates who take longer to repay through low income or taking time off to raise children will end up paying much more;
  • Around 80,000 students enrolled at sub-bachelor programs leading to higher education would be eligible for HECS-liable Commonwealth Support Places; these programs are offered by universities, VET, not for profit private providers and for profit private providers;
  • To fund the above measure Commonwealth funding per student will be reduced by an average of 20%, higher education providers could recoup this under deregulation through higher student fees, the indexation rate for Commonwealth funding of universities will also be reduced which builds in long term cuts;
  • Research Training Scheme funding reduced for PhD students, universities allowed to recoup RTS funding though introduction of annual tuition fees for PhD students of up to $3,900 for high cost courses and $1700 for low cost courses. In light of the narrowing of employment opportunities due to cuts to the public sector and publicly funded research agencies the imposition of these fees would be an additional deterrence to students to undertake years of low paid research training. In the longer term Australia needs more researchers, not less, if we are to build the innovation-driven economy that will be needed to maintain Australia’s standard of living in the coming decades

HERRA Bill 2014 V.2

  • The original legislation was blocked by the Senate in December 2014. Minister Pyne made some amendments and re-introduced the legislation to the House of Representatives. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on 25 Feb 2015:
  • The most substantial amendment was dropping the market rate of interest on HELP debts.
  • A pause on HECS indexation for the primary carers of children under 5;
  • A structural adjustment fund of $100 million to assist universities, particularly those in regional areas;
  • Creation of a new scholarship scheme within the Higher Education and Participation Program for universities with high proportions of low SES students;
  • A guarantee that domestic student fees are lower than international student fees for the same course.


In 2016 NUS ran a number of national campaigns some getting vast media and public attention. These included: Fund our Future, Fight For Our Future; Fight for A Fair Price - #CheaperTextbooksNow; Students Against Health Care Spikes; Talk About It Survey; We All Need to Pee; Exploitation of International Students at Work; and Many more


While there was a lot of structual changes to the NUS in 2017 like the abolishment of the Environment department and moving from Trades Hall to our current office in North Melbourne, there was also significant things changed externally. For example: War On Young People Campaign; Anglicare Survey Your Rights at Work, Uni and Home; The Launch of the landmark Respect. Now. Always Survey

National Policy Platform (coming soon)

Free Education

NUS believes that tertiary education in Australia should be free for all. Access to a quality education, irrespective of social status, ethnic or cultural background, gender or location should be fundamental to the the principals of education in Australia.

Since 1997 Australia has consistently sat in the cluster of six OECD countries with the most expensive universities. In Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States and Canada the fees are underpinned with widely available loans schemes. Japan and Korea have mainly private universities with very limited access to mortgage style loans so family wealth (or a commercial sponsor) is the main driver of access. The OECD country with the most expensive fees, Chile is also heavily reliant on private universities and commercial loans. However, in 2013 the new government has committed to introducing free education within six years.

Austria Free
Cyprus Free
Czech Republic Free
Denmark Free
Finland Free
Greece Free
Iceland Free
Ireland Free
Malta Free
Mexico Free
Norway Free
Scotland Free
Slovakia Free
Slovenia Free
Sweden Free
Chile Free
Germany Free

100% SSAF to Students

NUS believes student money should be in student control, not sent straight to the bank accounts of university administrations. Student services have been eroded in recent years and it is because the money students pay to support these services isn’t being directed to them.

The 2013 NUS SSAF Survey has found many universities are appropriating these fees for their own use and the money returned to students varies from university to university.

Return to USU

In 2005 the Howard government successfully passed the Higher Education Support Amendment (Abolition of Compulsory Up front Student Union Fees) Bill (also known as Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU).It marked an end to Universal Student Unionism (USU) in Australia and since its introduction, student unions have been chronically underfunded and are often reliant on tied funding from universities.

NUS will continue to advocate for a return to Universal Student Unionism so students are able and resourced to advocate for their rights, the living standards, and for a better education.

National President

Molly Willmott

0411 606 808


National General Secretary

Sam Roberts