In the era of Covid-19, change is everywhere. I have spent the past 18 months adapting to the Covid-19 university experience. With online classes, altered pub conditions and — of course — those ubiquitous zoom events, university life is well and truly dead.
The normal bustle of inner-city campuses is no more. Student clubs, societies, sports, colleges, and politics have all been impeded by the shift to online learning. At the start of this year, almost all universities in Australia were offering their courses online with only a handful of physically taught subjects.
Yet despite the dead and desolate new reality of our once lively Universities, almost every single student is being forced to fork out around $300 for the Student Services and Amenities Fee.
Known as the SSAF, this fee was introduced as a new form of compulsory student unionism, which was originally banned in 2005. Universities were once permitted to force students to join the student union for an annual fee, which theoretically came with benefits. This nefarious new fee forces students to pay more per year for a lesser deal: no union membership and no special rewards.
Although each university operates differently, the millions collected annually by this fee are normally divvied up and given to sports facilitators, student political organisations, other campus groups, and the university takes the leftovers.
Student unions rely on their share to fund their activism and support programs. Whilst some initiatives are worthwhile expenses, such as the University of Sydney SRC’s free legal service, there are other costs on which everyday students would be offended to discover their fees are being spent.
Aside from the exorbitant stipends awarded to student politicians (some of which are in excess of $30,000 per annum), there are useless expenses such as the $65,000 cost of affiliation with the National Union of Students, an organisation whose woeful waste and ineffectiveness passes without scrutiny.
Laughably, the Sydney University SRC spent some of this money on buying pizzas for particpants in a protest in Washington DC back in 2018.
In the advent of a radically changed university experience, the SSAF should not be imposed upon those studing remotely. It is laughable that someone studying a degree from their bedroom is being charged the same amount as someone with full access to an inner-city campus and its life and facilities. While universities are unlikely to budge on their refusal to implement fee cuts for those choosing to study remotely, there is a case to be made that the SSAF should only be charged to the students on campus.
Under normal circumstances, I would argue that the fee doesn’t go towards any of the student services or amenities that most students actually care about. Now, there are thousands of students studying from home, including many stuck overseas, and yet the fee remains.
With zero students on campus, there is no excuse for unis to continue charging this fee. Universities should adopt a policy wherein only students studying on campus are made to pay this, not those who have no access to these services.
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