“If Sydney University were a stand-alone country, it would have placed 14th in the medal tally at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, beating countries like Cyrpus, Pakistan, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka,” an article in the August 5 edition of the Inner West Courier began.
“For an institution with just over 50,000 students, the Camperdown-based University is punching well above its weight.”
The article goes on to quote Sydney University Sport and Fitness (SUSF) executive director Robert Smithies, who said USyd’s success had a lot to do with the “strong scholarship program”. But just how much are we paying to demolish Northern Ireland every four years?
In 2013, SUSF received $4 million in funding from the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) to do so – making it the largest beneficiary of USyd SSAF. Just under a quarter of that funding goes to the approximately 400 individuals in the Elite Athlete Program, some University of Sydney students, some not.
SUSF is also contracted by the University under a service-level agreement to administer our sporting facilities – most notably, the pool and two gyms on the main campus. The terms of this agreement are not public, but financial statements from 2012 depict a large organisation with a great many sections. The Corporate and Alumni Relations department, for instance, cost $138,634 in administration and management while netting only $130,297 in sponsorships. Almost $300,000 total was spent on marketing in the same year. The various sporting clubs supported by SUSF received in total $1.4 million.
SUSF claims a “clear objective to provide the opportunity for members to participate in nominated sports at the highest level”, while aiming in its constitution to “encourage the participation in sport by as many students of the University as possible.”
As each student effectively paid SUSF $88 through compulsory SSAF fees last year, this equates to $20 per year per student toward the Elite Athlete Program alone. The program supports “student athletes in their concurrent pursuit of academic and sporting excellence”, according to SUSF’s website. This takes the form of three permanent staff administering a program that includes financial assistance, international travel grants, academic representation, and tutoring. Despite the contribution of each and every full time student to SUSF, a yearly membership fee of $60 is compulsory for facility access. Thus, SUSF will have received $148 from any given full-time student before it is even possible to gain entry into the gym or pool. The pool charges the same $4.50 fee as the most immediate competitor in Victoria Park – though the University owns and operates the facility and the operating body has already received a large amount of money from each student. Taking into account both annual membership and SSAF contribution before paying for a pass, the effective cost to a student of annual pool membership is $140 more at our aquatic centre than at the City of Sydney operated Victoria Park pool.
This difference continues in gym pricing. Even the cheapest gym pass from SUSF is $80 more than membership at the Victoria Park gym and $127 more than membership of the for-profit Newtown Gym, when the SSAF contribution and an annual membership are factored in.
The paid membership system means students, already invested stakeholders in these facilities, have no say over their administration. Only paying members are permitted to vote in annual elections. In contrast, the other major recipients of SSAF funding – the Student Representative Council and University of Sydney Union – hold elections open to the student body generally.
The parameters for distribution of the amenities fee state the funding must, according to the University, “meet the needs of the broad cross-section of the University’s student community”. When contacted, SUSF told Honi that it “is confident it is meeting its goals and aims, and via a structured feedback process of our members as well as our day to day interaction with them we are constantly kept appraised of our delivery on these goals”. There was no mention of non-members, who make up the majority of students. Given the cost of and funding provided by annual memberships, we can conservatively estimate there are far fewer than 10,000 student members. In other words, more than 80 per cent of the university’s student body are contributing funds to an entity over which they have no control. Do our students care about Sydney University’s performance at the Commonwealth Games? Are the sporting facilities accessible enough to all students? Have you got your $88 worth from SUSF this year?