SSAF – Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF)?
In October 2011, the Australian Parliament passed legislation that allowed Universities and other higher education providers, to charge a compulsory Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) from the beginning of 2012.
In 2012 this fee was capped at $250 and the maximum fee is subject to an annual indexation determined by the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training.
The University of Melbourne determines the rates of the SSAF and this information is found on the University’s website.
Unlike previous compulsory fees of this nature the SSAF does not require upfront payment and can be deferred as part of the Higher Education Loan Program.
What can the SSAF be spent on?
The Higher Education Support Act outlines a list of activities that the SSAF can be used to fund:
- providing food or drink to students on a campus of the higher education provider;
- supporting a sporting or other recreational activity by students;
- supporting the administration of a club most of whose members are students;
- caring for children of students;
- providing legal services to students;
- promoting the health or welfare of students;
- helping students secure accommodation;
- helping students obtain employment or advice on careers;
- helping students with their financial affairs;
- helping students obtain insurance against personal accidents;
- supporting debating by students;
- providing libraries and reading rooms (other than those provided for academic purposes) for students;
- supporting an artistic activity by students;
- supporting the production and dissemination to students of media whose content is provided by students;
- helping students develop skills for study, by means other than undertaking *courses of study in which they are enrolled;
- advising on matters arising under the higher education provider’s rules (however described);
- advocating students’ interests in matters arising under the higher education provider’s rules (however described);
- giving students information to help them in their orientation;
- helping meet the specific needs of *overseas students relating to their welfare, accommodation and employment.
SSAF funds may also be used to fund infrastructure required to support the activities listed above.
What does the University do with the fee?
The University allocates funds to:
- Melbourne University Sport
- The Graduate Student Association
- Services for students at campuses other than Parkville
- And a range of other University-operated student services
As part of the allocation model determined by the University in 2011 an amount of funding was also designated to support the operation of a single Advocacy service for students. This service is operated by UMSU and the University has entered into a contract with UMSU for this purpose.
How are organisations like UMSU accountable for how they spend the SSAF?
Student representative organisations like UMSU receive SSAF funds from the University under the terms of a SSAF Agreement. This Agreement reflects legal requirements governing SSAF expenditure and mandates that UMSU reports to the University on how it spends SSAF funds annually. The Agreement also requires UMSU to undertake regular assessments of service provision with students.
Just as importantly UMSU is accountable directly to students through the democratic decision making processes that allow students and their representatives to determine the UMSU Budget annually, and to establish the organisation’s strategic direction.
How were current SSAF allocations determined?
In late 2011 the University ran a consultation process involving students and other stakeholders to assist in determining allocations for 2012-2016.
In 2015 the University engaged a consultant to review its model of SSAF collection and allocation. As part of this process the University undertook a survey of students to understand student opinion in relation to the SSAF. Details of that survey are here.
In 2016 the University will be working to respond to the recommendations of the SSAF Review and this will be reflected in a revised SSAF allocation model to be introduced in 2017
Does paying the SSAF means that I have paid a Union Membership Fee?
No it does not. UMSU does not operate a membership model and all students have access to services provided by UMSU.
What does UMSU do with the money it receives?
The Union has a long list of achievements, both on a University level and a larger scale. We’ve lobbied for a common lunch hour, for recorded lectures, concession cards for international and graduate students, a reinstatement of the Gender Studies Major and for smaller tutorial sizes.
Is UMSU only for undergrads?
The University of Melbourne recognises UMSU as a student representative body for all students.
All UMSU events are accessible to both graduate and undergraduate students, and we have many clubs that are run by and for graduate students.
All UMSU representative positions are open to undergraduate and graduate students, including PhD candidates, and a significant number of student representatives are graduate students.
There are many services and programs that can be accessed by graduate students that are only provided by UMSU.
UMSU believes that being students at the University of Melbourne is what gives us a shared experience and shared interests. While being a graduate student or an undergraduate student may impact your day-to-day University life, enrolment status should not be something that is used to keep students apart or limit our capacity to interact.
Is UMSU financially accountable?
UMSU is audited yearly by an external organisation, and the results and financial report of the organisation are available to interested students at the Annual General Meeting or from the General Secretary.
UMSU has a Funding Agreement with the University and is required to comply with this agreement (and state and federal laws ) at all times.
How can I have a say in what UMSU does?
All UMSU Student Council meetings and Committee meetings are open to student attendance and all students are entitled to:
- Move motions allocating funds to events, activities or programmes
- Participate in discussion
- Apply for funding for events or activities
- Run for election to the committees, offices and Student Council
- Participate in an UMSU Student Advisory Group – these groups are open to all students and are a great way of providing feedback and suggestions about the ways in which UMSU can improve its provision of services to students.
In 2016 UMSU will be running a major survey to engage with students about the things we do and don’t do; make sure you take part!
If you have suggestions or ideas for activities that UMSU should be undertaking, or could be interested in, then we would love to speak with you! Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Do I have to pay all the money upfront? How much is it?
Most students are eligible to defer payment. Some students will be required to make payment up-front.
Some students are exempt from payment – like international students and full-fee paying students as an amount equivalent to the SSAF will be taken from other fees already paid to the University.
For more information on whether you are required to pay the SSAF, whether you can defer payment and the process for doing this please see the information provided by the University here.
Why do we even have the SSAF? Has there always been a fee like this?
Historically universities have levied fees from students in order to fund a range of student services and amenities. In 2006 the Howard Government passed amendments to legislation that prevented universities from collecting these fees. Usually referred to as Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) these amendments were aimed at reducing the funding made available to student representative organisations like UMSU.
At no stage did UMSU directly collect a compulsory fee from students or require students to be members of the organisation.
It is true that by 2006 some universities had increased the rate of their compulsory non-academic fee (each university had its own name, at the University of Melbourne it was the Amenities and Services Fee) to the point that it represented a significant financial burden for students. At the time upfront payment of these fees was a condition of enrolment, and students who did not pay on time were often subject to further financial penalties and late fees.
For many Student Unions the introduction of VSU meant drastic cuts in funding. At some universities this meant a significant reduction in the quality of campus life and student experience. The University of Melbourne decided to continue to partially fund student representation and services by redirecting some funds from faculty teaching and learning budgets. For UMSU the introduction of VSU meant a reduction in University funding of more than 30%.
While there was a range of views around the reintroduction of a universal student services and amenities fee, universities, student organisations and campus service providers have consistently argued for some mechanism to ensure that student experience is supported through the provision of services, programmes and activities. There is a significant body of research that indicates that a strong campus culture assists in enhancing student engagement – a critical component of students’ academic success.
The SSAF was introduced to recognise the importance of campus life and activity to students’ University experience. This reflects the importance of offering advocacy and legal services, childcare and other support services; but also the importance of big events, clubs and societies, bands, orientation weeks and everything else in between!
Significantly the introduction of the SSAF addressed some of the issues associated with previous compulsory non-academic fees by removing the capacity of institutions to set the level of the fee and by allowing students to defer payment.
All of this gives students the chance to get involved and make friends, learn new skills, participate in student theatre, and many, many other activities; to make going to University a memorable and enduring experience.
Does UMSU do things for students who aren’t at the Parkville campus?
The Union has Departments based at the VCA Campus (the Victorian College of the Arts Department; email@example.com), and Burnley (the Burnley Student Association Department; firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you have any other suggestions for services and activities that UMSU could be offering at the outer campuses, we’d love to hear them. Please contact us here!
We also offer grants to off-campus groups for activities or initiatives. For more information or to apply, please email us here.
The University has allocated a proportion of SSAF funds for programs, services and infrastructure at non-Parkville campuses. If you have an idea about how the University should spend this money then we can help you in developing a proposal and navigating the process of the University’s administration.