Student Services and Amenities Fees spending amid COVID-19

Student Services and Amenities Fees are designed to fund non-academic services, but how are they being used while no one can study on campus? (Image source: J. Kelly Brito/Unsplash)

By Mallory Bradley | @malbradley_

The University of South Australia (UniSA) expects to collect $5 million in Student Services and Amenities Fees (SSAF) this year.

Every student enrolled in university or other higher education programs has been required to pay the SSAF if the institution has introduced the charge since legislation passed in 2011.

SSAF is designed to support services and amenities of a non-academic nature, such as childcare, university activities, events and employment assistance.

SSAF is divided between different areas, the main ones being UniSA Activities (including the Student Engagement Unit), Careers Strategy and the student association, USASA.

The contribution amount for each enrolled student differs according to whether they are an Australian citizen, how many units they are enrolled in, what type of program they are undertaking and whether they are enrolled in face-to-face or online classes.

For domestic students taking courses internally in 2019, this was a maximum of $303; but given that many of the services SSAF funds are based on campus, Australian external and online students only pay half of this.

This is because most of these services are designed for face-to-face delivery; but what happens with the SSAF charge amounts now that the COVID-19 pandemic has moved internal students online?

Despite all students now studying externally, the fee was not altered and neither was its due date on March 31, to avoid damages to the services it funds.

USASA President Noah Beckmann says all programs run by the student association will continue to run at least at the same capacity as before the pandemic.

“SSAF pays for almost all of USASA’s programs and service delivery and as such, a reduction in SSAF would be detrimental in our administering those services,” he said.

“USASA staff have been working very hard over the past fortnight to move all of our services online, as well as creating a number of new programs specifically for this online environment.”

USASA’s financial counselling has also received a cash injection from the university to support the increased demand during this time and the program is looking at hiring an additional staff member.

Mr Beckmann also said that while there has been an increased demand for many programs, there has currently been no need to largely dip into the association’s events budget, which is nearly $450,000.

Instead, USASA is planning to reschedule events supposed to run during this time to a later date, rather than cancelling; and use the budget to “kick start” campus life when it is safe to resume on campus classes.

Mr Beckmann suggested that rather than looking at a SSAF reduction, students should note that “the only fee that may be worthwhile reducing to provide relief is tuition fees, as these are the only services that have been adjusted as a result of online study”.

USASA is investigating and has raised fee reduction with the university – and will continue to do so if students continue to raise the issue with the association.

UniSA has made no announcement as of yet that this will be occurring.

UniSA Associate Director of News and Communication Michèle Nardelli said that the university is providing direct support to students throughout this difficult time.

“UniSA is continually reviewing all aspects of its teaching and learning, in light of the challenges COVID-19 related restrictions are presenting for universities here and around Australia,” she said.

“We will continue to look at all aspects of our teaching and learning engagement with students as the COVID-19 situation unfolds and we are working in close consultation with USASA as we navigate what is new territory for us all.”

The university has however established a $10 million Student Hardship Fund to aid those struggling financially amid this pandemic.

The additional grace period from census date to May 1 has been put in place to allow students extra time to make decisions about their education without financial or academic penalty.

In other areas that receive funding from SSAFs, the UniSA crisis line hours have been extended to run 24/7 and Student Support Services are being offered by phone or virtual appointment only, until further notice.

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