Student Services: A Sales Pitch?

The Microsoft Tech lounge, the first of its kind in Victoria, opened its doors on July 18 in time for the start of second semester at Monash University. Located downstairs in the Campus Centre facing the lemon scented lawns, the Tech Lounge is the fourth in series of such lounges rolled out by Microsoft on Australian university campuses.

The agreement between the software giant and Monash is a joint partnership between the University – who will provide the space and pay operational and staffing costs – and Microsoft, who have provided funding of $150,000 to renovate the space and a further $50,000 worth of their own products. The Monash Student Association (MSA), the student body usually tasked with the provision of student services, has been reduced to a passive bystander, meekly applauding the corporate partnership and reaffirming their own impotence.

A motion opposing the creation of the corporate-sponsored student lounge was put forward at a Monash Student Council meeting held on 29 June, but was voted down by the current MSA administration, dominated by the political grouping Go!  This is surprising given that the MSA’s ‘Monash WTF’ campaign had as its central focus the opposition of university-run student services, highlighting that fact that nobody can provide better services to students than students themselves. Ignoring your own campaign is surely the fast-lane to irrelevance. Who is going to have confidence in you if you don’t?

Members of the University administration showed pride at having secured the perceived beneficence of the software mogul. “Monash is very fortunate to get the Tech Lounge for Victoria,” while also unofficially acknowledging the venture as “a new way of marketing for Microsoft.” It’s student services with a profit motive; relax and be subtlety marketed to.

The lounge is a veritable feast of technology, a diverse palette of devices giving users an immersive Microsoft experience. The lucky lounger can interact with any of the seventeen laptops and three desktop computers running Microsoft™ Windows® 7, experience the web with Microsoft Internet Explorer, or “Kinect “© Microsoft with their friends, who are standing right next to them, using two wall-mounted XBOX® 360s. There are even mobile phones, boasting the world’s fifth most popular mobile phone operating system, Windows Mobile, to play with. Could such a lounge provide the open student forum that such a space should be?

Many will think along the lines of ‘well I think it looks good, there’s lots of cool stuff and it’s better to have it than not.’ But where does this corporate alliance end? While higher education has traditionally been a largely publicly funded venture, phenomena such as the ‘Freehills Law Library’ at the Universities of NSW and Sydney tell a different story. Universities are the new infomercials; their buildings are becoming banner ads and their student services show great product exposure potential. Students at Macquarie University in NSW automatically get Commonwealth Bank accounts linked to their student cards, while ANZ has secured the patronage of our peers at University of Sydney, who also got the Tech Lounge last year.

So what’s next? PriceWaterHouseCooper’s School of Business? McWholefoods (already underway) or your Westpac Second Semester©? A little student lounge may seem trivial, but one edge of the wedge must be small and seemingly irrelevant to get in under the door. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be one of the proud AAMI Graduates® of 2014.

A student space is a great initiative that paints the picture of an informal environment where students can come together in a relaxing atmosphere, free of subliminal hints and subconscious emotional programming. Such a space could host meetings and discussions on a wide range of student, social or political issues or could be used to host events as needed or deemed necessary by the student body. Something we can all take ownership of, and have a say in. What better way to spend some of the SSAF – which we all have to pay – than on a space which has an agenda of student well-being and empowerment, as opposed to the ‘every word implied but never said’ marketing motive of  a corporate alliance.

Rohan Dierich

The author Rohan Dierich

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