Advocating for your welfare

NUS Welfare Officer Jordon O'Reilly explains how the peak student representative body operates.

Jordon O’Reilly
National Welfare Officer, National Union of Students (NUS)
Student at Flinders University

What does the NUS Welfare Officer do?

The NUS is the peak representative body for university students in Australia. My job is to advocate on behalf of students on matters affecting their welfare, issues such as mental health, student finances, living conditions and workplace rights. This year we are continuing the ‘Your rights at work uni and home’ campaign, in which we are looking largely into student poverty, cost of housing and mental health.

Why did you get involved with the NUS?

I first got involved because a friend of mine had asked me to meet him at uni to help him sign some forms for something he was doing for our student association. Blissfully unaware, he made me fill out a nomination form, and told me to book a week off work and help him campaign. I lost my first ever student election by six votes to be the Education Officer, but I was lucky enough to become an NUS delegate and attend their national conference.

The conference was a real eye opener. I saw that the NUS had a huge potential to be a big influence in advocating policy in the higher education sector. NUS has a history of being very reactive, mainly depending on the government of the day. However it was when I was elected President of Flinders University in South Australia in 2017, that I found that NUS lacked the ability to drive policy. Since then, the organisation has shifted towards having more of a policy input.

If you’re ever been a fan of the West Wing, there’s a scene where President Bartlet is giving a speech to a room of college students and he says “Decisions are made by those who show up”. Those words struck a chord with me and have made me value student representatives.

Why is the NUS important for students?

Increasingly over the last three decades students have been central to federal politics, and the decision our politicians make have an effect on you. The NUS should be proactively working to find ways to improve the lives of those at university.

A great example of some of the work the NUS has done here are commissioning reports, such as the Student Wellbeing survey launched in 2016/17 that looked into the mental health impact of university on students. A lot of the report was used to enable your student associations and councils to advocate for better mental health services. But these reports are only possible if you contribute.

The NUS should be proactively working to find ways to improve the lives of those at university.

What’s the most challenging part of the activist space and student organising?

I think that student activists and organisers often spend too much talking to ourselves and other like minded people rather than having conversations with “regular” students. The key to any good campaign is to be able to bring people along on your story and have them invest time to spread awareness of your campaign.

Do you feel the voice of your organisation or cause is heard?

I think increasingly the role of the NUS is becoming solidified. Nowadays there are probably more organisations and community groups that want NUS input and help with their campaigns than there has been in the past.

What’s the most rewarding part of working in your space?

I think the opportunity to talk with students and organisations around the country. Being able to take their ideas and use them to shape policy and campaigns to make a difference for them.

How can students get involved with the NUS? 

The best way to get involved is coming up to have a chat when you see NUS activity on your campus. Obviously this isn’t always happening, so chatting to your student unions about what campaigns they are running is also a good start.

You can always find out what the NUS is doing through social media:

Click here to see our action group on Facebook which is used as a forum for students to talk about welfare related issues.

There’s a specific Facebook page for the NUS Welfare Department, as well as the general NUS Facebook page.  

Et Cetera on Facebook

More from Activism