A while back the John Howard led Federal Liberal Government did away with Cumpolsory Student Union fees right across all Australian Universities. At the time, 80% of students surveyed said they disagreed with this decision and it was very unpopular both with University management and students alike. Still, Howard did not listen and went ahead with it anyhow. The result was clear, as I have previously noted, and University support services were savaged and student associations collapsed. Now the Federal Labour Government has gone part of the way to fix this mistake.
According to this story from ABC.net.au (reproduced below), all University students will be asked to pay up to $250 per year to fund student services.
This is good and bad.
The good is that those services that were lost under VSU should be able to be restored to how they used to be. Child care services, legal advice, employment and housing services, discounts on text books, free lunches and so on should return which students in any modern university need to be properly able to study without having extra stresses in their lives. It is also a very good thing that payment of this new fee will be able to be deferred and be a part of HECS payments, like general University fees are.
The bad part of the news is likewise two-fold;
First, the amount students will have to pay is considerably more than under the previous scheme. For example, Deakin University used to (back in 2005) charge a General Service Fee of $140/year and 72% of that money went to the Student Association. The $250 is nearly double the old amount with no guarantees how much of that money will go to actual services and not administration or other areas of University.
Second is that the Universities themselves will be administering the money raised by the fees, which can often lead to a conflict of interest. Why would a University fund, for example, a student appeal service which is set up so that students can seek free legal advice in relation to academic results or perceived unfairness from the University itself?
So while the return of Compulsory Service Fees (or whatever name you wish to label them with) is welcome and will help to undo a lot of the damage that the Howard Government did, it still has considerable problems which need to be fixed.
Student services in universities will be boosted by a Federal Government plan to impose a compulsory fee on students.
Under the plan universities will be able to charge each student up to $250 per year to fund a range of services from July next year.
But Federal Youth Minister Kate Ellis says there will be no role for student organisations or unions in providing the services.
The plan will allow universities to raise a possible annual net income of $250 million, roughly $80 million more than the amount taken away in 2005.
The changes come three years after the Howard government’s voluntary student unionism laws banned compulsory union fees, devastating student unions.
Confirming that student organisations or unions would not be included in the new funding model, Ms Ellis said university administrations were better placed to manage services like health, childcare, counselling and club funding.
“We’ve been unapologetic about [the fact] we’re not returning to the arrangements of the past and we’re moving forward,” she said.
“I think what we also need to be mindful of is when talking about student organisations, many universities don’t have student organisations any more.
“We’ve seen student organisations collapse right across the country.”
National Union of Students president Angus Macfarland says the extra money is badly needed.
“It will go towards probably filling a bit of the gap and doing a bit of recovery work to deal with the damage,” he said.
But the union says safeguards need to be put in place to ensure the money goes beyond university coffers and reaches the cash-strapped organisations.
Ms Ellis says there will be safeguards to ensure money raised by the fees is spent only on student services.
“We’ll have very strong guidelines in place as to what any fees that are collected can be spent on and that’s something we will negotiate with the universities and with the students themselves,” she said.
“But what we’re being very clear, from today is that we’re also going to be clear on what the money cannot be spent on, and it cannot be spent on broader political campaigns.”
The peak body representing Australian universities has backed the plan.
Universities Australia chief executive Dr Glenn Withers says services have been suffering since the Howard government scrapped compulsory student union fees three years ago.
He says he is hopeful that trend can be reversed.
“About $180 million worth of services were lost,” he said.
“[There were] significant job losses in the process, and the quality of campus life for many students deteriorated substantially.
“We in the universities made up for some of that by moving funding across from other areas, but that means it comes at the expense of teaching and research, so the restoration of a funding source for these services is very welcome.”