A funding agreement between the University and the Monash Student Association (MSA) has still not been reached following the introduction of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) at the beginning of this year. The SSAF, an amendment to the Higher Education Support Act which was passed by the Senate in late 2011, allows universities to charge students a fee of up to $263 for the provision of student services. All domestic students at Monash will be charged this year, and the MSA has been in negotiations with the University since December about how the revenue will be distributed. Eight months down the track students are still unsure of where their money is going, which begs the question: why hasn’t this issue been resolved yet?
Esther Hood, President of the MSA, says that the MSA is currently happy with the negotiation process with the University, stating that the parties have agreed on “a clear set of things that we have accepted”. This set includes an increase in funding to the MSA, and the provision of further funds for projects such as renovating MSA spaces and shared staffing ventures. The specific details of the proposal are still confidential, but according to President Hood will be made publicly available soon.
For the majority of the year to date, there has been contention as to the amount of funding that the MSA would receive from the SSAF, with the MSA maintaining that the University’s funding proposal was inadequate and damaging to the vitality of the MSA and the student services it provides. President Hood says that the nature of the negotiations has now changed, with discussions centering on the wording and the sentiment of the funding agreement drafted by the University rather than on financial objectives.
According to President Hood, a Supplementary Interim Funding Agreement recently proposed by the University contained sentiment which “didn’t meet the sentiments of council [Monash Student Council]… it didn’t have a pro union approach to funding, and seemed like an attempt to silence us as opposed to work with us into the future.” The Agreement was rejected by the Monash Student Council (MSC) on these grounds, as well as the Agreement’s failure to include CPI increases. A new agreement has been proposed by the University, but due to the inclusion of sentiment similar to that of the rejected agreement it is unlikely to be accepted.
Whilst negotiations continue as to the wording and sentiment of the agreement, the campaign for further funding looks to have reached an end. “Council has democratically voted to accept the proposal,” says President Hood, and whilst she admits that the levels of funding achieved through negotiations and the SSAF campaign run earlier in the year is “not a huge win”, she is “satisfied in that I can look at the University, and the University feels that they haven’t achieved as much as they want in the same way I don’t believe we’ve achieved as much as we wanted”. She adds that in her opinion the MSA “did everything we could,” and that the magnitude of the MSA’s achievement is still large considering the duration of the campaign and the actions taken. The University refused to comment on the negotiations.
The extenuated SSAF campaign saw an advertisement lobbying against the University placed in the mX newspaper, and a number of speak-outs held on campus. Despite the MSA having successfully gained additional funding through these tactics, there are some who believe that the action taken was not enough. A number of members of the Monash Student Council have persistently argued that the MSA’s tactics to secure funding should have been bolder, and that more could have been achieved from the campaign had it been better organised with clear, well publicized objectives from the start.
There remains a lot of confusion amongst the student body about what the SSAF is and how it will benefit students. Had more students been aware of and engaged in the campaign it is likely that further pressure could have been put on the University, potentially achieving a different outcome. That one of the biggest funding issues of our times remains largely misunderstood is a sad indication of the struggles of the Student Association to engage students and prove its relevance to the community it sets out to serve.