Separate student amenities fees to return

After much Coalition stalling, the government’s amenities fee legislation passed into law today. However, it is not a restoration of the previous status quo. The key differences are:

* while before 2006 unis could charge what they liked in a separate amenities fee, now it is capped – a maximum of $263 next year, with indexation for future years;

* before 2006, it was an up-front fee, but now it can be deferred through a new income-contingent loan scheme, SA-HELP;

* before 2006, there was no Commonwealth regulation of what they could spend the amenities fee on (though there had been some state legislation), but now there are some restrictions, including on political parties and local, state or federal campaigns;

* before 2006, there was no Commonwealth regulation of universities in their provision of general student and advocacy services, and now there is (same legislation, but not connected to the amenities fee – the trigger is receipt of Commonwealth grants, not the amenities fee).

So overall there is a substantial increase in bureaucratic complexity compared to the pre-2006 situation.

As longtime readers of my blog will know, my position is that both sides to this debate are wrong. A separate amenities fee is a relic of an earlier funding system, in which the Commonwealth paid grants that were specifically for academic matters (some of which they recovered via HECS from 1989), and permitted universities to charge students for non-academic matters.Read More »