Listen to Jack Langan read “Fair Play”.
As a student at the University of Melbourne, 19 per cent of your Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) goes to MU Sport, a semi-autonomous body responsible for professional management of the University’s fitness, sports and recreation facilities. That’s about $58 a year per student. But many students are not aware of how this large portion of SSAF is being spent.
Thankfully, MU Sport is fairly transparent. Although their website isn’t the most accessible or up-to-date, financial documents, board minutes and contact details are available online. An annual report is also open to the public.
“I think our transparency is superior,” says Tim Lee, the director of MU Sport.
“We are able to demonstrate our impact and return on investment pretty well.”
Yet a large proportion of students aren’t aware of the MU Sport facilities and programs that are on offer.
“It never ceases to surprise me how sometimes students will get to second or third year and go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know [MU Sport] was here,’” says Lee.
“So clearly we’re not doing something right.”
There are 41 MU Sport-affiliated clubs, which service around 3,400 students at the University. Of course, not every student will be interested in taking part in sport. But the SSAF is a compulsory fee paid by all students. So is MU Sport doing enough to allow the majority of students to reap the benefits of their SSAF?
Andrew Gillies, the previous student representative on the MU Sport board, thinks that engagement could be improved.
“[Students] have to pay the SSAF regardless,” he says. “At least if they knew where it went and what it was doing… then they’d understand and get their money’s worth.”
Student representation is central to the idea of engagement. Therefore student representation in positions of power should be a high priority, especially for an organisation receiving such a large portion of the SSAF. As it currently stands, there is only one student representative on the board who is not elected by the student body.
Lee says the composition of the board is out of his control.
“Are we a representative body? No. We’re not,” he says. “But that’s not for me to decide whether that’s the right model or not… There are students on committees, there are student team managers, there are students who work in the organisation. We’ve got 400 student volunteers right through the organisation. So we have that commitment in a different way.”
But there may be a disconnection between the clubs, which are mostly student-run, and MU Sport as an administrative body. One 2016 sporting club president told Farrago, “I feel like our club could get more support and funding”.
There are suggestions that MU Sport does not allocate funding evenly, preferencing certain sports. A summary of funding from last year reveals that cricket, rugby union, soccer and volleyball account for almost a third of all funding for the 41 clubs. But these sports only have seven per cent of the clubs’ student members.
Nevertheless, MU Sport has a strict budget and a large portion of their SSAF funding is needed for maintaining facilities and equipment both on and off the Parkville campus.
MU Sport has some significant projects coming up.
“International students are a real focus,” says Lee. “One of the big issues is they want to have that beach experience, which is just full of danger. So if you can’t swim and you don’t understand surf, rips … One of the things for us is, can we provide them with a water safety program that includes learning to swim?”
MU Sport is also looking to upgrade and expand, hoping to provide access to facilities south of Grattan Street. The goal is to diversify the places where activities happen.
“The University is better now at cafes in laneways… But we can also do that for sport and recreation. So you can have outdoor chess sets and basketball hoops – things where people can walk out of their lecture theatre and engage in an activity without getting changed.”
This type of project would help immerse casual students into utilising the MU Sport facilities and making the most of their SSAF contributions.