Pocketing the change: the new Student Services and Amenities Fee

STARTING 2012, international students at Australian universities will have up to $263 automatically deducted from their tuition fees to fund “student services and amenities”. But as Tiffany Leong reports, many students are still in the dark about this.

International students are being automatically signed up to their student unions. Photo: Wan Shing Lang

International students are being automatically signed up to their student unions. Photo: Wan Shing Lang

To many international students’ surprise, new legislation was passed by the Australian Parliament last year enabling universities to charge them for non-academic student services, including student union memberships.

The new Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) enables universities and other higher education providers to charge all students up to $263 for “student services and amenities of a non-academic nature” – such as additional funds for clubs and societies, welfare and support services, as well as discounted movie tickets.

But while local students will have to pay an additional charge or have it deferred through HECS, international students have had the SSAF deducted directly from their tuition fees, which has led to a great amount of confusion and heated debate as many were not notified or aware of this.

In fact, 8 out of 10 international students Meld interviewed were unaware they were now paying this fee and, more significantly, of the benefits they now had access to as a result.

University of Melbourne commerce student Janice Leoda was one of these confused students, who was signed up to her student union because of the SSAF.

“I never knew about SSAF, ” she said, “I just assumed that things were the same (and that Student Union memberships are optional)”.

First-year student Wong Shu Cheng was also in the dark about the SSAF.

“Personally I had no clue about the fee increase but I’ve heard others talking about it,” he said

President of Melbourne University Overseas Students Service (MUOSS) Eric Chan told Meld Magazine that Melbourne University had plans to inform students of the changes.

“The University is still trying to settle the invoicing and payment issues before informing students, most likely in April,” he said.

Aside from the lack of notification, students were also unhappy they were being charged for SSAF regardless of whether or not they intended to use their services.

“It is ridiculous,” Nicholas Loo, a third-year Engineering student said.

“I don’t spend enough time in the university to make use of the facilities that I don’t even need in the first place.

“SSAF is almost like an infringement on every student’s freedom and right.”

Another student, who wants to be known only as Sivitra,  has asked for a refund from her university as she is currently on exchange in the United Kingdom.

“I’m overseas and it’s physically impossible for me to use any of the student services,” she said.

The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) did not respond to enquiries about efforts being made to raise awareness about the SSAF before Meld’s deadline.

For more information on the SSAF and what it means for you, click here

So what are your thoughts on the SSAF? Yay or nay?

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