The federal government appears set to scrap the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), describing it as “compulsory student unionism by the back door”. USYD student organisations have condemned the decision, with SRC president David Pink describing the move as “outrageous”.
The SSAF was introduced by Labor in 2011 and allowed universities to charge students a yearly sum which they could collect then distribute to student organisations and services. This year the University of Sydney raised $12 million which it passed on to five student organisations as well as the Student Support Services program.
University of Sydney Union (USU) President Hannah Morris joined Pink in condemning the government’s decision. The USU received approximately $3.5 million from this year’s pool which it used to help fund renovations in Holme and Wentworth, as well as its various festivals, parties, and popular Clubs and Societies Program. “We are absolutely against the decision to scrap SSAF, we strongly oppose it and will fight against this decision as much as we can,” Morris said.
Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) president Joanne Gad labelled the move an “attack” and stated: “the coalition is attacking a key mechanism which preserves education quality, promotes principles of equity, and allows student self-representation.”
Having repealed Compulsory Student Unionism (CSU) in 2007, the Coalition’s move hardly comes as a surprise. Between 2007 and 2011, the University of Sydney was forced to provide millions of dollars of support for student organisations which had been crippled by the demise of CSU revenue. A University spokesperson refused to be drawn on whether such arrangements would again be reached should the SSAF money disappear. “It would be premature to respond to this possible scenario without further detail from the government and discussions with the government, the rest of the university sector, our students and our students’ representative organisations,” the spokesperson told Honi Soit.
According to Morris, the introduction of SSAF assisted student organisations in gaining autonomy from the University. “SSAF funding has also enabled us to actively pursue financial sustainability as a student organisation,” she said in a statement. “The continued expansion of our programs and provision of services for students would be in jeopardy if we didn’t have SSAF.”
Though now committed to the fee’s abolition, the Coalition has avoided laying out any timeline for legislation on the issue after a backlash from Nationals MPs. According to the Sydney Morning Herald there is lingering concern that the eradication of the fee would disproportionately harm regional universities.
With the balance of the Senate now determined by a range of minor parties, it is also difficult to predict whether this legislation will pass.