Volume 3, Issue 6, (Originally Published on Monday 15th April 2013)
Concern is growing amongst interested members of the student body that the Student Services and Amenities Fee is not being spent on the services for which it is being charged.
The Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), a $273 compulsory payment charged to all full-time tertiary students to support independent student organisations and the provision of student services, is facing criticism that it is not being spent in the interests of law students.
The majority of law student groups that provide key services to law students do not receive funding under the SSAF. These services, including social events, careers advice, education assistance and student support, go to the very heart of why the SSAF fee is being charged to students, and yet are not funded by that same fee.
While money spent on university sports programs, childcare services, and student support and advocacy are freely available for law students, over $100,000 of law student funds allocated to the
Graduate Student Association (GSA) is not directly benefiting the law student population. (Disclosure: De Minimis receives funding from the GSA.)
The GSA provides a breakdown of their funds online at <http://www.gsa.unimelb.edu.au/council/Your_Services_and_Amenities_Fees_SSAF_-_How_GSA_spent_your_fees_in_2012.shtml>, but does not provide a detailed budget.
The Law Students’ Society (LSS) does not receive any funding under the SSAF, and would be eligible only for $2 per student even if they met the GSA’s funding obligations.
“The problem with the allocation seems [to be] that the University is giving primacy to making negotiations on the split as easy as possible, rather than ensuring the best outcome for student life”, LSS President Pat Easton said.
“Last year, Antony Freeman as LSS President approached the Provost regarding a reconsideration of their allocation agreement and we were rebuffed,” Easton continued. “The university made it fairly clear they weren’t interested in hearing from the LSS.”
Andrew Frawley, who is leading the LSS campaign for a reallocation of the funding, stressed that this was not just about the LSS getting more money.
“We understand that the LSS doesn’t have sole claim as a representative organisation in the law school, but we feel that each of those organisations – LSS, GLSA, MLMSA, MCLS, MJIL, MULR – would do a better job of representing the interests of law students than the GSA,” Frawley said.
He pointed out that more funding from the SSAF fund would enable these groups to provide services that were not as tied to the sponsorship obligations of commercial law firms.
GSA councillor Michael Robson, who is also a third-year JD, responded to these concerns, stating that “faculty bodies provide social and complementary educational services, supported by the GSA and UMSU. The broader services these organisations offer require considerable resources, including staff and expertise, that faculty bodies cannot provide.”
“The GSA is a body that represents all graduate students, not just those from a particular faculty,” Robson added. “We represent student interests on university committees and boards and provide expert advocacy services [and provide] funding and support for student clubs and societies.”
The university’s academic registrar Neil Robinson has asked students to submit feedback on the allocation of the funds collected through the SSAF. The SSAF legislation may be repealed by a Coalition government, and the university reportedly wants to know which services to prioritise.