Students studying in the Health Sciences Faculty at the University’s Cumberland campus appear to be receiving disproportionately low returns on their Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), according to figures compiled by Honi Soit. The figures indicate the Cumberland Student Guild, the campus’ largest student organisation, is receiving less from the SSAF pool than its members are contributing.
When the Labor government implemented the SSAF in 2011 to raise money for struggling student organisations, the Guild hoped to use some of the money to expand its services. But instead of increasing the Guild’s historical funding levels, the introduction of SSAF actually saw them decrease as University funding to the body was substituted, not supplemented. The Guild found itself in a bind, having already scrapped its $200 membership fee in anticipation.
“Students were already paying to be members so we didn’t think it was ethically right to charge them on top of that,” Guild President David Grech said.
With less money to play with, the Guild cut back its membership package and shelved ambitious expansions. Grech warned that if the current arrangement continued, the Guild may have to cut back its popular but expensive Unigames and Orientation Camp programs and even re-examine the role of its full-time General Manager.
Occupational Therapy student Tas Howlander said that although Cumberland had a friendly high school atmosphere – “this feels like Degrassi High” – the absence of social spaces and a campus bar detracted from campus culture. “It’s not about a space to get drunk, it’s just a space where you can withdraw from the study side of things,” she said.
The Guild received just $605 000 from this year’s $12.2 million SSAF pool, a 16.5% drop on last year’s figure. Honi Soit understands it will receive a further $70 000 over two years, drawn from the $4 million Sinking Fund (itself derived from SSAF money). By contrast, the USU received closer to $4 million, while Sydney University Sports and Fitness claimed around $4.5 million. This means that although students in the Health Sciences Faculty are forecast to contribute 9.5% of the total SSAF raised this year, just 5.2% of it will be returned to the Guild.
But these figures do not tell the whole story as some first year Health Sciences students study at Camperdown where they have access to other SSAF-funded programs. In addition to this, both the SSAF-funded Student Support Services and SRC have a minor presence at Cumberland. However, given the Guild remains the overwhelmingly dominant organisation on the campus – providing all food services for example, and support for social events – it seems the general dissatisfaction on the campus with the SSAF’s allocation is justifiable.
When the initial SSAF allocations were announced in 2012, angry Cumberland students undertook a letter writing campaign to he Vice-Chancellor. The decision not to increase historical funding is partially explained by the University’s belt-tightening and its desire to spend funds previously granted to student organisations elsewhere. But the Guild’s suffering may also be a symptom of a decision not to invest in the Lidcombe campus and, eventually offload the whole site. For more, see this week’s edition of UniGate.