Clubs and societies form a major part of any Australian university. Orientation weeks (O-weeks) are inundated with food, music, games and freebies thanks to student clubs, which exist to meet students’ extra-curricular demands. The plethora of professional, cultural and special interest groups serve as a platform to enrich students’ university lives. Monash itself registered 105 Clayton clubs in 2015 – the most ever housed on this campus. However, with more clubs being registered annually, will rising club numbers produce negative impacts rather than benefit the student community?
Economic theories of competition state that more competitors in a market provide the most efficiency for a market economy. Therefore, the increasing presence of student clubs should yield lower prices for goods and services, higher quality products, more innovation, and thus greater overall wellbeing.
However, the rising numbers of student societies across Australian universities can produce suboptimal effects and, in certain circumstances, cause greater harm than good.
Societies themselves may suffer in an environment where too many competitors exist. The O-week confusion grips many who walk through the throng of club stalls – the feeling of being overwhelmed by the number of options before them. Whilst some may decide to sign up for everything they come across, with no recollection of which memberships they attained after O-week, others will avoid the co-curricular tidal wave altogether and opt to get involved ‘later’, which often translates to ‘never’ or only when ‘there’s free food’. Many clubs inevitably become lost in the array – unmemorable and eventually forgotten.
Alongside deterring students, increasing competitors can also deter potential sponsors or affiliates. When student societies pitch similar proposals to the same high-profile firms or organisations to secure sponsorships and partnerships, firms and organisations often become reluctant to commit to each club individually and have been known to refuse societies’ proposals altogether. This situation is described as rational irrationality, whereby the application of rational self-interest in the marketplace leads to a socially irrational outcome. Evidently, tunnel vision to secure the best benefit for itself can lead to societies ultimately undermining the operations of multiple student clubs.
Moreover, excessive numbers of student clubs can be detrimental towards the student body. In a competitive market, the behavioural exploitation of consumers is not uncommon. Over time, prices for annual club events often hike upwards. Whilst societies promote social balls or networking nights as crucial to students’ personal and professional development, they may charge prices beyond the value of the product provided to ensure bank balances are in the green. In an environment where students have bounded rationality and imperfect willpower, driven by the widespread mentality of needing to be constantly ‘involved’, competitors no longer have an incentive to offer better deals, but rather, to engage in behavioural exploitation in order to out-profit other clubs.
Whilst these dangers may arise in an overcrowded student society environment, it seems that at present, with increasing annual student enrolments, there is adequate student demand to justify the volume of campus clubs at Monash. Nonetheless, in any market rife with competition, the individual choices of competitors themselves will determine whether positive or negative ramifications arise for the wider community. The success of university clubs and the welfare they bring to students ultimately rests not on the number of societies but on the people working behind them.
 Monash Student Association Incorporated. (2016). Clubs. Retrieved January 16, 2015, from http://www.monashclubs.org/Clubs?category=all
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