A motion to review the current structure of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) at Australian universities has been voted down in the senate.
The crossbench motion called for an amendment to the Higher Education Support Act so that SSAF contributions can only be levied after receiving majority support from students, which would be determined through a mandatory ballot conducted once every academic year.
The motion proved to be a contentious issue in the senate, with conservative senators Corey Bernadi and Eric Abetz crossing the floor, and the Nationals separating from their Liberal coalition partner to instead side with Labor and the Greens.
Concerns raised by the motion about current legislation included the level of student input in directing where SSAF money is spent, and students being forced to pay regardless of whether they access SSAF funded services.
However President of the Tasmanian University Union Heidi La Paglia says the decision is a relief, as the proposed motion could have put the future of SSAF at risk.
“Losing SSAF would mean the loss of many essential student services, including counselling, advocacy, and academic support.
“It would threaten the future of student unions, which rely on it,” she said.
Currently, SSAF is a compulsory contribution and is directed towards several on-campus student support services, including counselling, student advocacy, student media and clubs and societies, as well as legal aid and financial assistance programs.
At UTas in 2014, SSAF was used to establish a new kitchenette and refreshment stations and subsidised Unigym memberships to allow students to receive a 40 per cent discounted rate.
It also funded the construction of a gender-neutral toilet, student personal accident insurance, Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS), the student learning drop in service and new furniture for the Launceston campus library, as well as the maintenance of the university’s sporting facilities.
Commonwealth supported students have the option to defer their SSAF payment as part of their HECS-HELP debt.
An online campaign against the motion was launched by the National Union of Students, in association with the Tasmanian University Union, as well as other national student unions.
Students were invited to sign a petition, which urged members of the senate to vote against measures that would threaten SSAF funding.
According to the online campaign, one in three disadvantaged students drop out of university due to both financial and academic pressures, however this can potentially be alleviated through SSAF funded support services.
“Any changes to the SSAF should aim to strengthen support for student unions and essential student services, not threaten them” Ms La Paglia said.