This past Wednesday marked the National Day of Action (NDA) against higher education cuts, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS). It also marked one of the rare moments of collaboration between the SRC and the University of Sydney Union (USU), with a clubs carnival being organised before the rally. The USU and SRC came together because both organisations rely on and believe in the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), which is a fee levied on all students each semester.
Many of you who read this paper regularly will be familiar with SSAF and the controversy surrounding it, particularly the division between student organisations. It should be noted that despite the difficulties we have at USyd, we have been the consistent winner of NUS’ surveys regarding student life and SSAF implementation, and compared with other universities who are reluctant to give students control of their money Sydney is doing well.
However, as Sydney is the national standard we should seek to show other universities how SSAF can be best utilised and to do that we should redress current problems. For instance, much of SSAF remains tied up in inaccessible or prohibitively expensive ventures such as scholarships and gyms. The implementation of SSAF is also a very nebulous process. Aside from colourful Excel pie graphs on the university’s website, it is difficult to find out how the money is actually being used. The SRC rectifies this by voting on the budget annually; any student is able to attend the budget council meeting and learn about how their money is being used. Further, at the last council meeting the SRC passed a motion with regards to how it believes the SSAF should be used. It argued that the SSAF should be accessible, accountable, and with a core focus on student welfare.
As this year’s Union Board elections approach, I hope we hear more regarding the Union and its use of SSAF. As first years will soon discover, a typical union board campaign is awash with impossible promises and quickly becomes focused on the number of new bars each candidate proposes, or on which new exciting frozen dessert store might open a shop on campus. Rather than false promises, I hope this year we see elections that are not solely focused on food and drink, but on how we can make our student organisations more accessible.
As we reflect on the NDA, further actions and upcoming elections, I hope we can engage in more discussion around how we see SSAF being used now, in the future, and how we can make sure student money is controlled by students.