Campuses slow to share amenities fees

Student organisations at several universities are still in negotiations with management over the allocation of money raised under the Student Services Amenities Fee, with some groups concerned they will receive no money at all.
NUS president Donherra Walmsley said Swinburne University of Technology, the University of Wollongong and Monash University were all still in negotiations with student groups about the use of the fee, which was introduced last year by the federal government as a way for universities to recoup some of the funding for campus activities and facilities that was lost after the introduction of voluntary student unionism. Macquarie University and the University of Western Sydney’s student groups may also receive no money, the NSW branch of NUS reports. 
There is no requirement under the legislation for universities to share the money with student organisations, although many are choosing to do so. “I think there has been a cultural shift since the introduction of VSU and a lot of universities don’t see the value of student organisations, which is very disappointing from our perspective,” Walmsley said. “We feel that student-run organisations are the best placed to have an understanding of what students want and need.”
She said that universities were worried that student groups would spend the money on things like political activities, which are prohibited under the legislation, while student groups were concerned that universities would just use it to replace current funding, rather than expanding services. That negotiations were taking so long at some institutions was also a problem, she said. “Most student organisations have one-year terms for their elected representatives, so it does make it difficult for student organisations to plan for the year if it is halfway through March and they don’t have a budget,” Walmsley said.
Swinburne Student Union president Mark Briers, speaking to Campus Review shortly after a meeting with the university on Friday, said he had been given no indication as to when there would be a decision on the allocation of the fee.“The negotiations are progressing in good faith, but we’re concerned that Swinburne is yet to publish a time-line … or any priorities for where the money will be spent,” he said.
Briers said his group hoped to receive 30 per cent of the fee revenue, although the university had already indicated this was unlikely to happen, he said. But to receive no money would probably spell the end of the union. “It would be very hard for us to operate, we’d be insolvent within a year,” he said.
He said students should be in control of student affairs, and the Swinburne Student Services Amenities Association, set up by the university to provide services, was only a consultative body with some student representatives, rather than a student-run one. It lacked the ability to provide the things students wanted, he said, such as events.
Swinburne Student Amenities Association CEO and director of student services Andrew McFarland said the university had been consulting with students since last year on the delivery of services and amenities. He said it had identified five priority areas for the expenditure of the money: health and welfare, employment, financial advice, accommodation, and sports and recreation.
“Swinburne will make a final decision on allocations, including any allocation to the Swinburne Student Union, as soon as the current process of consultation has concluded,” he said. 

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