Inside the Universities Accord Final Report: What does it have to say about SSAF? 

On the 21st of February, the long awaited and hotly debated Universities Accord Final Report was released. The report consists of 29 general findings, 47 recommendations, and over 400 pages of details and information. If you are really keen to know more about what the Panel found, you can read the 34 page summary or, if you are a masochist, the 408-page complete report. 

The Panel received over 185 submissions from a broad range of stakeholders, and the final report covers a wide range of issues that affect students, from mandatory unpaid placements to funding university research. One of these issues is the Student Services and Amenities Fee.  

Most students don’t realise that while SSAF payments are regulated by the Australian Government Department of Education, it is not mandatory for universities to charge this fee and there is no rule forcing them to pass any of this funding to student unions (except in WA). There is a range that universities can charge students, and as long as they stick to the list of items the revenue can be spent on, they can pretty much do with it as they like.  

Since the abolishment of mandatory student unionism in 2006, SSAF has become a major source of funding for many student unions. This has resulted in student unions and guilds around the country receiving drastically varying amounts of funding. Some receive over 50% of the total students pay to the uni, while others receive almost none. 

The National Union of Students submission recommended to change SSAF legislation to replace “higher education provider”, in most parts, with “democratically elected independent student body”. A change of this magnitude would have meant that most (if not all) SSAF would have been paid directly to student unions or other student-run organisations.  

So, what did the report recommend? 

In an unsurprising move, the report does not make any specific or concrete suggestions about how much SSAF should be passed on to student unions. Instead, it provides vague recommendations. 

Recommendation 19 states: “That to ensure the sustainability of student-led organisations, such as associations, unions and guilds, the Australian Government ensure that a proportion of the Student Services and Amenities Fee received by each higher education provider be directed to these organisations to deliver agreed services and amenities.” 

Meanwhile, the report acknowledges how much student unions rely on this money, and that the freedom universities have in deciding how much to pass on to them means they are vulnerable to fluctuations in funding. This directly impacts these organisations’ ability to plan ahead and allow them to offer consistent services to students.  

The report even goes so far to say that “the Review recognises student unions’ important contribution and has considered whether they should be guaranteed a minimum percentage of the SSAF” and that “a set proportion of SSAF funding should be guaranteed to these organisations”. But they do not recommend an amount.  

Student Guild President Aaron Bui said he is disappointed in the lack of concrete recommendations but feels the Panel has done a phenomenal job in leading the review. 

“It is fantastic to read that the Government and the Minister is committed to making access to higher education more equitable to marginalised groups like students living with disabilities and students from low-income households, rural areas or indigenous communities.  

“It is also encouraging that the experts in the field of higher education concluded that student unions are a vital and essential part of the university experience, and they deserve a proportion of the Student Services and Amenities Fees. I hope over time we will receive more information on the percentage of that proportion.”  

Student Guild Education Officer Calissa Leyden said that it’s exciting to see the Minister for Education and the Panel’s ideas for increasing the quality of education but there are still improvements to be made.  

“The University Accords has given the Australian Government and Tertiary Institutes an excellent starting point for improving higher education in Australia. However, the lack of explicit and clear recommendations was disappointing, as it still leaves a lot of confusion for students.” 

In a statement released on the National Union of Students Facebook page, National President Ngaire Bogemann said that it’s important for students to be involved in processes like these and urges the Federal Government to listen to the voices of students. 

“After years of being excluded from the conversations about the tertiary sector, we are relieved that the Report includes some elements of the key reforms students and the NUS have been crying out for.” 

“The NUS will continue to hold the Federal Government to account and fight for the full implementation of these recommendations, because students need action, not more government platitudes.” 

Celeste Muller
Celeste Muller

Celeste (she/her) is a Meanjin/Brisbane based writer and Editor at Glass Media. She has a Bachelor's degree in Design (Interior Design) and is currently studying Journalism and Economics at QUT.

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