What is SSAF, and why are you paying it?
Since 2012, every higher education student in Australia pays a compulsory annual fee to their institution, called the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF). SSAF is used by institutions to fund services and amenities that directly benefit students.
Prior to 2006, most universities collected a compulsory fee from all students, which was passed on to student organisations for them to use for providing services and facilities to their cohorts. In 2006, the Howard government introduced Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU), which meant that students could choose not to pay this fee.
As a result many student associations suffered a serious drop in revenue and weren’t able to continue delivering important services for students. Some universities, including the University of Melbourne, provided alternative financial support for their student organisations, but there were still serious constraints on what student organisations could provide.
In 2011 the Gillard government passed legislation to introduce SSAF, which would give student organisations and higher education institutions the funding necessary to provide services to students again.
In contrast to the fee that students paid prior to 2006, SSAF is paid to institutions. They determine which groups within the institution receive SSAF, and how they are able to use. At the University of Melbourne, as with most public universities, a percentage of SSAF funding is given to independent student organisations.
At the University of Melbourne, Commonwealth-supported coursework students and research students pay their SSAF directly. For all full-fee students, SSAF is included in the total amount charged by the University.
Who gets SSAF at the University of Melbourne?
SSAF funding at the University is given to two main groups: independent student organisations (GSA and UMSU) and University-run services and amenities, including MU Sport, Academic Services and Children’s Services.
Every three years, the organisations that receive SSAF negotiate their funding arrangement with the University. The last funding agreement was negotiated in 2016.
What does GSA use SSAF for?
We use SSAF to fund almost all of the activities we do.
There are a couple of things we don’t use SSAF for: our public campaigns, like Fares Fair PTV, and elections for GSA councillors.
We use non-SSAF funds for these two activities because they fall outside of the categories that we’ve agreed with the University to use our SSAF allocation for. They’re still important parts of GSA’s activity, so we fund them through our other revenue streams.
If you get SSAF, why do I still need to pay for some things?
Most of GSA’s activities and facilities are free for graduate students, but we do charge for some events.
Our reason for that is pretty straightforward: we want to use our SSAF funding responsibly, and provide as broad a range of activities, events and facilities as we can. So for some events we cover the majority of the cost, and ask participants to chip in for the rest.
Does paying SSAF mean I’ve paid for a GSA membership?
No. GSA doesn’t have members in the way that a group like a union or a football club does: instead, every graduate student at the University is able to access GSA services, facilities and activities from the moment they enrol, by virtue of being graduate students.
And as a representative organisation, GSA’s elected councillors have the responsibility to represent all graduate students.
How is GSA held accountable for how we use SSAF?
GSA is audited annually by independent auditors to ensure that we are managing our finances appropriately. You can see our auditor’s report for last year in our 2016 Annual Report.
We also report on our activity to the University’s SSAF Consultative Committee, which is comprised of senior University staff and representatives from GSA, UMSU and UMSU International.
Want to know more?
The Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Act 2011 governs how SSAF is collected, and what it can be used for.
Emily De Rango
Emily De Rango is GSA's Representation Manager.