RMIT students lining up for free food on-campus, provided by RUSU and funded by the SSAF. (Photo: RUSU Facebook)
LaTrobe University has cut the cost of student services and amenities fees in half this semester, after completely scrapping the fee for the first half of the year.
Of the top five ranked universities in Melbourne, LaTrobe and Monash universities are the only ones to reduce the student services and amenities fee (SSAF) in light of Covid-19.
LaTrobe University Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Students Professor Jessica Vanderlelie said the university recognised the significant financial pressure students are experiencing, which is why it has reduced the SSAF for full time students from $154 to $77 this semester ($115 to $57 for part time students).
“Our decision put money directly back in the pockets of our students when they needed it most,” Professor Vanderlelie said.
“We have chosen a 50% reduction to support our students but at the same time ensure we can continue to provide our essential SSAF funded services which have all continued to operate online since we began remote learning,” Professor Vanderlelie told The Swanston Gazette.
Essential SSAF funded services LaTrobe has continued during the course of online learning include student counselling services and learning support.
Monash University, which usually allocates 20% of SSAF “for facilities and amenities expenditure of a direct benefit to students at each campus”, has also reduced SSAF to a maximum of $110 per student for the entire year.
But despite cancelling on-campus learning and offering similar SSAF funded online services, the cost of SSAF at Melbourne, RMIT and Victoria universities remains unchanged at a maximum of $308 for both semesters one and two.
According to the RMIT University website, “RMIT collects more than $14 million in Student Service and Amenities fees each year to support the delivery of student services, programs, activities and events for RMIT students”.
RMIT students at RUSU’s Bundoora Welcome Carnival 2020. (Photo: RUSU Facebook)
Some of these services include providing food and drink to students on RMIT campuses and supporting events like the welcome bash, orientation parties, club events and outdoors cinemas across all campuses.
But the pausing of face-to-face learning during the Covid-19 pandemic has caused RMIT to cancel on-campus services and reallocate SSAF to other areas, like counselling and welfare support.
“These SSAF-funded networks are continuing to support students on an ongoing and remote basis, with increased resources now deployed to areas of greatest needs,” RMIT’s website stated.
“These remotely delivered services are critically important for our student community.”
Similarly, Victoria University has pledged to continue delivering services funded by SSAF this year, including VU sport, student life and leadership activities, and student wellbeing services.
“We are providing all services as usual to students regardless of our shift to digitally supported remote learning,” the VU website stated.
At The University of Melbourne, SSAF funded services are being reevaluated for online learning.
“Many SSAF funded services are being redesigned for our virtual campus, with a stronger focus on student wellbeing and a sense of belonging and connectedness across our student community,” the university website stated.
RMIT clubs and RMIT Sport posted this announcement across social media in March. (Image: RMIT Student Life)
But the cost of SSAF remains unchanged, even though Melbourne students are unable to participate in on-campus university sport, concerts, barbecues and other events funded by the fee.
Despite all five universities pausing face-to-face learning, cancelling campus activities and offering similar counselling and learning support services, LaTrobe remains the only university to have cancelled SSAF for semester one.
“Many students have lost their jobs and are struggling to afford basic necessities like food, rent and computers and a number are also reporting housing insecurity,” Professor Vanderlelie said.
“The level of hardship is truly heartbreaking,” she said. “Trying to study when you're stressed about finances can be extremely challenging.”
Although eligible students can apply to defer payment of SSAF through SA-HELP loans, the fee will need to be paid eventually whether students use the services during online learning or not.
The deadline for paying the student amenities fee without a loan is fast approaching for most students, with RMIT’s semester two census date falling on August 31.
To find out more about how your SSAF is spent head to your university website. This student website page outlines how your SSAF is spent at RMIT.