Membership Fees

30 November 2013

The student union will implement a new voluntary membership model next year, in preparation for the end of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) under the new Abbott government.

The move is yet to be approved by Students’ Council, but would mean that students who want to receive extra student union benefits will now pay a fee on top of their SSAF contributions.

This year every student paid $273 in SSAF, approximately 30% of which goes to the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU).

The current proposal involves a $22 fee that would give members access to a student diary, discounts and presale to UMSU events and other discounts and giveaways.

UMSU President Kara Hadgraft says the plan is to prepare students for post-SSAF levels of funding in the future. “Membership options have been developed as part of a broader strategic plan to ensure UMSU remains financially viable into the future beyond the life of the currently SSAF-based funding agreement with the university,” she said.

“We are acting early to ensure that we have infrastructure in place to support a membership program before such a time as we need to rely on it as a significant income source. It also gives us time to get significant student feedback on what they do and don’t want to see as part of a membership, it gives us time to get the formula right.”

The move isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s latest comments, but has been in planning for most of the year according to Ms Hadgraft. “The conversation about membership started before Pyne’s most recent comments on the SSAF.”

“It is no secret that despite being supported by Vice Chancellors across the country as a fee that funds a wide variety of student support programs, not just student unions, that a repeal would be on the Coalition’s radar. Given Abbott’s rebuff, it is not clear when this will happen but it would be naïve to assume that it is not on their agenda.”

Even before the Coalition victory seemed assured, introductions such as Student Advisory Groups (SAGs), were ways that UMSU was trying to steel itself for more austere times.

Since Tony Abbott became Prime Minister and Christopher Pyne Education Minister, the lifespan of the SSAF is still unclear. Pyne told the Australian Financial Review that the fee would be scrapped before June next year, but Abbott has said that although the government does plan to remove the SSAF, it isn’t a priority. The new government could struggle to get the changes passed in the Senate, even after July, as the Greens and some Nationals members support the fee.

Ms Hadgraft says that students should consider paying the fee next year, despite already paying for SSAF.

“If you love your clubs, our entertainment and events, Oktoberfest, our collectives and representation, if you love Farrago, the Rowdy and Union House Theatre, then you should join because every piece of UMSU needs your support to ensure they all remain viable now and into the future.”

Melbourne University has been one of few universities not to have a membership model since the SSAF was introduced in 2011, RMIT, Monash and La Trobe student unions all have membership programs that range from $10-$40 annually.

The student union will be consulting with students in the coming months to find out what features they want as part of a membership model.

Student services payments have had a colourful history with students campaigning strongly against Howard government changes in 2006 that introduced voluntary student unionism. The Rudd government implemented the SSAF model in 2011, which gave universities the option to charge a fee up to $250 a year, the sharing of which was then negotiated between the university and organisations such as UMSU, the Graduate Students Association (GSA), MU Sport and childcare services.

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