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Largest beneficiary of SSAF gives scholarships to non-USYD students

Mariana Podesta-Diverio investigates SUSF’s questionable use of student money.

Sydney University Sport and Fitness (SUSF), the University’s sporting programs organisation, has once again topped the list of Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) recipients this year, raking in an astounding $3.7m. To put this into context, the University of Sydney Union (USU) received $3.1m and the SRC received $1.4m; the latter is a pittance considering the legal and support services the SRC gratuitously provides to undergraduates.

This starkly contrasts the inaccessible fees for SUSF facilities, which includes the gymnasium/aquatic centre (upwards of $700 for a yearly pass), SUSF-affiliated sports clubs and societies (which require SUSF membership to join),  annual membership ($55 per annum, which doesn’t grant you access to the gym facilities), and ‘Fitness Assessment and Exercise Programs’ ($100).

Yes, SUSF is the premier sporting body of the University and provides a range of organised sports options for students who can afford the membership and/or gymnasium fees. So what’s the problem? Essentially, USYD students are paying SSAF fees that are subsidising sports scholarships for non-USYD students. One of the managers of the Elite Athlete Program (EAP) estimated that approximately 15-20% of EAP scholarships were given to non-USYD students in the 2013 intake. In some cases, EAP scholarships include the funding of travel expenses for athletes and, along with training expenses, may clock in at around $5000. An anonymous source told Honi that non-USYD recipients of SUSF scholarships may even compete against USYD athletes at the Australian University Games.

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Honi made several further attempts to contact the three members of EAP management via phone and email but these were unsuccessful. SUSF’s school holiday programs make somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars; Honi was denied access to specific information by one of the program’s coordinators and couldn’t get in touch with the marketing department, who we were told to contact. What is essentially compulsory taxation of the entire USYD student body is being funneled into financially supporting elite athletes who, ahem, don’t even go here.

Here’s the clincher: why does this happen? By investing in talented athletes from other universities who demonstrate exceptional potential, SUSF is securing competitors who may go on to represent the University of Sydney at a national and international level, thereby securing its reputation as a strong sporting university.

Does this make the expenditure on non-students, rather than our own classmates, justifiable? More to the point: at the very least, don’t we have the right to know how our SSAF is being spent?

Annually, the Australian Government’s full budget (i.e. how our taxes are spent by the government) is publicly released, therefore ensuring the population’s knowledge of where tax dollars are going. The Charter of Budget Honesty Act (1998) means the government is, in this area, bound to transparency.

It would be reasonable to think that information regarding the distribution and usage of SSAF within student organisations should be made available to students, considering that millions of student dollars go towards funding SUSF. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. This level of opacity is unacceptable of any student organisation, but is particularly deplorable in the case of SUSF, whose high costs of participation already render it an inaccessible and unrealistic option for many USYD students.

@mapodi

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