Union Complex Redevelopment

The Union Complex

The Union Complex opened in 1961. Its intent then was to provide a space that allowed students to gather and share their ideas and learnings, adding to the holistic university experience. There was a noticeably clear value placed on the role the student union played in providing students with a ‘whole’ education and developing a true sense of community on campus.

Today, more than sixty years later, the Union Complex remains a student-centric hub that creates a sense of community and vitality on campus that is maintained and driven by UQU, who provide the services, facilities, and social opportunities provided for students within the complex. Without a physical location for your student union to operate out of, there is a direct threat to the ongoing provision of these services, student spaces, and social activities that thousands of students benefit from. Everyday thousands of students pass through the complex, engaging with equity, advocacy and support services, and UQU outlets. 

The Union Complex redevelopment

The University is currently planning to redevelop the Union Complex. The current plans involve the demolition of Building 21A North and 21D to be replaced by a new structure 21E, and the refurbishment of 21A South, 21B, and 21C. 21E will house the student union on the other side of the complex. Plans are still evolving and have not been announced with any certainty. 

What remains unclear is whether UQU will have management control over the new Union Complex once the redevelopment is complete, or whether like universities in other states, the complex will resemble a soulless corporate establishment.  

The decant

What is a decant, you ask? A decant here refers to the temporary relocation of offices, outlets, student spaces, and services to other locations on campus whilst the space they would normally occupy is redeveloped. 

In the case of the Union Complex redevelopment, the current decant plan presented by the University is unclear. This is problematic because it becomes very difficult to determine which UQU outlets and student spaces are being accommodated during the construction phase and where these spaces will be moved to.  

A reduction of UQU-managed space has a direct impact on the broader UQ community and the services UQU runs for this community. The impact could be as significant as a service no longer running at all, or a safe space not being as functional as it currently is. 

For example, it’s critical that the safe spaces provided for our minority groups on campus remain available, as easily accessible and of an equivalent size and quality to the spaces they currently occupy. It’s equally as important that the production kitchen that provides food to many UQU outlets, as well as the hot dinners given away at Kampus Kitchen, will be accommodated through any construction phases to ensure these vital welfare services can continue to operate. 

Hundreds of UQ students queue in the Union Complex to receive their free dinner provided by their student union as part of the Kampus Kitchen welfare initiative.

The risk remains of a decentralised decant. A decentralised student union with half of its staff and/or office bearers having to work remotely or from tiny pockets around the outer edges of the campus will have a significant impact on the types of services that the Union can provide, services which are critically important to the enhanced student experience here at UQ. As recently as April, this was the program the university was pushing for.  

Any decant plan must allocate space for The Food Co-Op, UQU Op Shop, and the Kingham, Holt, Heath, and Innes Rooms. Otherwise, there is a significant risk of having less free and affordable food and clothing, less spaces for Clubs & Societies to activate and hold events, and less study spaces for students. That’s even before a loss of administration, equity services, and the beating heart of student debate and culture on campus. 

Why is student union management of the new complex important?

UQU management of the Union Complex guarantees freedom for students through the provision of safe spaces for minority groups, opportunities for creative expression as an arts, cultural, and social hub, along with critical space to run essential welfare, advocacy, and support services. 

It’s imperative your student union has autonomy and control over its home to allow for the best representation and prioritisation of student rights. Management of the complex allows UQU to be responsive and agile when addressing the needs and wants of the student population and not beholden to the wants and needs of the University if the two should differ.  

Control over the space in which UQU operates is also critical to maintaining the ever-important independence the Union requires to legitimately represent, and advocate on behalf of, the UQ student body. 

The student union exists for a reason, and that is to ensure that the University is always prioritising the needs of its student body and is held accountable when it is not. Independence of the Union and student control of student space is crucial for the sustainment of a strong student voice on campus. 

Agreement between the Union and UQ giving control of the Complex to the Union, subject to conditions. 1961. (Box 26, UQA S131, File 59310.89800.00.1, UQ Archives)