UTSSA will not renew its partnership with CISA (Council of International Students Australia) in an escalation of disputes between student unions across Australia and the organization.
In December last year, NUS severed ties with CISA over a soured relationship described by then-General Secretary Param Mahal as an “unsuccessful” partnership. Others pointed to organizational inactivity and opacity as factors that led to disaffiliation.
UTSSA president Anna Thieben also grounded her opposition to the nomination of Oscar Ong as national president of CISA. Ong, a controversial two-time chair of the University of Adelaide SRC, aligned with Adelaide’s Young Liberals, has a strained relationship with the left on campus.
According to the University of Adelaide on said, Ong was known for rejecting an application for membership from the University of Adelaide Women’s Collective, bending rules to encourage a pro-life club to apply and prohibiting SRC representatives from endorsing NUS campaigns. More recently, in his current capacity as chairman of the AUU board, Ong and his faction passed constitutional amendments to ban criticism of the board by SRC representatives.
“I personally believe [that] we should not seek to re-affiliate with CISA in 2022 because of their right-wing leadership in the election of Oscar Zi Shao Ong. Thieben said in a statement. For her, NGO conservatism betrays the fierce political activism that should characterize cutting-edge organizations like CISA.
“I strongly believe that the election of a conservative CISA president is symptomatic of the underrepresentation of international students in student political spaces.”
Honi understands that SUPRA remains affiliated with CISA. Despite multiple requests for comment, SUPRA co-chairs Shiyu Ma and Yige Peng did not respond.
However, education manager Yinfeng (Benny) Shen said he was “not in the best capacity” to provide answers and left it to a “dedicated person” in charge of CISA liaison. So far, Shen has not provided details of such a person although she has been approached.
Responding to SUPRA’s relationship with CISA, RSC President Lauren Lancaster argued that all student organizations must act to propagate “radical and pro-student agendas” and be held accountable if they fail.
“If their actions do not reflect a concern for equality and universal access to higher education, then I would say any affiliation should be reconsidered,” Lancaster said.
On the other hand, other student unions remain attached to their links with the CISA. Many, like CAPA (Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations), say they were oblivious to controversial NGO records at the University of Adelaide and pointed to their union’s apolitical stance.
John Tan Nguyen, President of Monash University International Student Service (MUISS) concurred, praising the performance of Ong and CISA. However, a considerable conflict of interest arises as Nguyen himself served as CISA’s National Welfare Officer in 2021.
When asked if he approved of Ong’s policies in Adelaide, Nguyen declined to comment, deferring to the “apolitical” nature of his role as chairman of MUISS, and that he “barely knows anything” from NGO records in Adelaide.
CISA has undergone significant changes in recent years. In May 2020, a former CISA president abruptly resigned following damning revelations of abusive behavior and financial misconduct, including obscurity over a $200,000 sponsorship deal.
It remains unclear whether CISA, after years of turmoil and now conservative NGO leadership, can make a tangible difference to the myriad of issues facing international students.
Oscar Ong and Belle Lim, Ong’s predecessor as national president, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.