By now you should have heard about the SSAF (Student Services and Amenities Fee). This fee came about through federal government legislation passed late last year. This means universities can choose to charge students up to $263 to fund things like orientation, clubs, free food, advocacy and student media.
Swinburne has been charging this fee to students since January 2012 and it’s estimated to bring in over $3 million this year. By law, this money has to be spent on student services and amenities and can’t be spent on anything else, which on the face of it sounds like it’ll mean an improvement in campus services and culture.
Here’s the problem – Swinburne has so far refused to tell students what they’re planning to do with the money, despite being required by the legislation to consult students and publish priorities for expenditure of the fee. There has been some limited consultation conducted but the majority of students have had no contact from the university apart from a letter informing them that they will be charged the extra fee.
The Student Union has had a funding proposal for a portion of the SSAF on the table since the middle of 2011. The Union is run entirely by students, for students. It is the only 100% student run representative, welfare and events service at Swinburne. It provides all of its services and events despite having had no funding from the university since 2006 and its representatives working nearly full time hours for no pay. The legislation is intended to support democratically elected, independent student organisations like the Swinburne Student Union but all the evidence so far suggests that Swinburne intends to use it to support the Swinburne Student Amenities Association instead.
The SSAA is not a student organisation. It’s fully owned by Swinburne University of Technology and its CEO is a university employee. There are students elected to the SSAA Board, but they are a minority and they have little say in the operations of the organisation. The Board is chaired by Swinburne’s Vice-Chancellor and the organisation is run entirely by staff. The university has also set up a pseudorepresentative group under the SSAA called the “Student Consultative Network” with students elected to this group paid to be part of focus groups but not to conduct any actual representative or welfare duties.
All in all this is a pretty dire situation for student representation and student self-determination.
If Swinburne makes the right decision, to fund your Student Union, it’ll mean the rebirth of campus culture and life at Swinburne. It’ll mean students can re-take the campus and save it from corporate drudgery. You’ll be able to enjoy a lot more activities and parties, more free food, less extra costs, better student media, more development opportunities and better representation. It’ll also means the Student Union won’t have to charge as much for membership. If they don’t, then the SSAF is taxation without representation and should be condemned. Visit facebook.com/swinburneunion for news and updates on the campaign for student control of students’ money.