Free student services including legal counselling, meditation and career mentoring have been slated for the scrap heap after the federal government flagged plans to axe compulsory fees worth $4.5 million to the University of Wollongong.
The UOW students’ union and its administration are united in condemning the move, part of a higher education overhaul that will also include scrapping Labor’s target for participation among disadvantaged students, and – possibly, following a review – reintroducing caps on university places to safeguard quality.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne outlined the plans to Fairfax Media this week.
UOW Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings said the university would oppose abolishing the fees, which were capped this year at $273 per student and generated about $4.5million.
‘‘UOW will be making it quite clear that the current student services and amenities fee [SAF] in operation at our university is being used wisely for the benefit of all students across a range of areas including health, legal and sporting services,’’ Professor Wellings said.
‘‘It will be extremely difficult to sustain these services without this fee.’’
Unlike the former system of compulsory student unionism, where the student union determined how fees were spent, SAF spending is at the discretion of university administration.
At UOW, fees pay for an administration worker within the students’ union to run services including a daily breakfast club and a book exchange program.
The money supports university clubs and societies and pays for a peer-led academic writing program, a free safety app – SafeZone – introduced on campus earlier this year, and a student media hub. President of UOW’s student association Samantha Dixon condemned the proposed fee cuts, but said even without student contributions the university should fund important services like legal and financial counselling, the union administration position and faculty-based careers advisers, who advise students on life after university and keep them abreast of job application processes.
‘‘The university records a large surplus each year,’’ Ms Dixon said. ‘‘Most universities across Australia provide free legal and financial services [regardless of student fee contributions] so I think it’s something that needs to be provided by this uni.’’
Unlike Prof Wellings, who supports the current ‘‘demand driven system’’ introduced under Labor, Ms Dixon is in favour of reinstating a cap on student numbers.
‘‘It devalues education to push as many students through as possible, like a business,’’ she said.