We have to suck it up, but VUWSA still has our back
The appearance of a $500 Student Services Levy on student fee invoices has caused a flood of complaints to VUWSA.
The Student Services Levy for 2010, which partially subsidises services such as Student Health, Counselling, the Rec Centre and Student Crèches, is set at $510 for full-time and part-time students. Distance learners pay a discounted rate of $326.
Changes to the levy in 2009 have led to a 93 per cent increase in the levy for full-time students and a greater increase (sometimes 200 per cent) for part-time students this year.
Student services used to be subsidised to some extent by Victoria through university revenue, but this changed in 2009. The university stated in 2009 that if the student levy stayed the same as last year, the quality of student services could have been adversely affected.
The university believed that not raising the levy would have led to fewer or lower quality services, or a ‘user pays’ system may have been introduced, which would then have placed services out of the reach of a large number of students.
When announcing the fee review in 2009, Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh said an increase was “by no means indicative of a trend towards further increases beyond” 2010.
“If the student levy is increased in 2010 it would be wrong to assume that students would automatically face increases in 2011 and 2012, however the university would want to ensure the level of services was maintained,” said Walsh.
VUWSA President Max Hardy says VUWSA vigorously opposed and voted against any increase of the levy through its student representative on the University Council.
“However, the levy was going to be approved despite our opposition and we saw an opportunity to work with the university to ensure increased transparency and student representation,” Hardy says.
Hardy says VUWSA still believes that the university should be paying for student services.
“If the student services are important for academic achievement then they are a part of the university’s role.
“Whilst the move was in part to ensure the long-term viability of the services in a constrained funding environment, it was also effectively a significant increase in the cost of studying at Victoria.
“The increase in the levy has further increased the burden that students face in receiving their education.”
To ensure that any future increases involved student representation, Victoria and VUWSA signed a Memorandum Of Understanding. The Memorandum agrees the university and VUWSA will work in partnership to ensure student services are responsive to students and students have oversight of their delivery.
The Student Services and Amenities Levy Advisory Committee (SSALAC) will make recommendations to the vice-chancellor on any changes to the levy each year. The committee has equal VUW (Director Student Academic Services, Director Campus Services, Director ITS) and student representation (VUWSA President, VUWSA Vice-President (Welfare), VUWSAT Trustee).
Hardy says VUWSA has received complaints about the increase in the levy, particularly from part-time students, and is working to resolve their concerns.
“It is important for all students to let VUWSA know if they wish to make a complaint.
“VUWSA has been advised that the university is reviewing all complaints from students and is in the process of preparing a paper for consideration by SSALAC and university management in order to inform future policy directions.”
Despite these issues VUWSA is very supportive of student oversight over the Student Services Levy and the services it covers.
“Students are now a major contributor and the chief users of the student services and this means that we should have a big say.”
Hardy says VUWSA is concerned that students enrolled in the third trimester only are not automatically given a two-thirds refund. These students must apply for the refund.
“SSALAC, at VUWSA’s request, will be reviewing the structure of the levy and questions like this refund process for 2011, and this will be something we will be trying to change.
“This is a perfect example of the critical need for effective student representation. All students must pay for these services, so all students need to have a say in what the levy pays for.”
The SSALAC has agreed on carry out a research project at the beginning of this year to gauge what students—both users and non-users of the services—think.
“We want to know what students think they should pay for and what sorts of services they want to see.
“A research project like this will give students a chance to have their say in the delivery of these services and we strongly encourage students who have ideas, questions, concerns or complaints to get in touch with VUWSA.”
Q&A with VUWSA President Max Hardy
News Editor Angela Mabey talked to VUWSA president Max Hardy about the levy increases.
Why is the University increasing the levy?
The University provides high quality student services and wants to ensure that this continues and remains accessible to all students even in times of financial pressure. The levy will be used directly to fund student related services.
How much is the new levy?
$510, including GST for full-time and part-time students. Distance learners pay a discounted rate of $326, including GST. Students enrolled in the third trimester only will be able to claim a two-thirds refund.
What about students who are only enrolled in the first or second trimester?
Students enrolled in the first and/or second trimester are eligible to access the services listed below for the year (i.e. February to February)
Can students borrow the levy on the Student Loan?
Yes, because it is a compulsory levy.
Why do part-time students have to pay the same rate as full-time students?
Evidence shows that some part-time students use student support services as much or more than their full-time counterparts. As all students have the same access to services and amenities, the University requires them to pay the same rate.
Will students receive a refund for the levy if they withdraw from study?
If they completely withdraw from all courses within the first two weeks of the trimester your courses commence, they will receive a fees refund and a full refund of the Student Services Levy. If they are only enrolled in third trimester courses, they need to completely withdraw within the first week of your start date.
What does the levy cover?
The levy partially covers the costs of delivering the services listed below. Except in a few cases, such as Early Childhood Education Services, students will not have to pay any additional charges when accessing the services.
- Accommodation Service
- Career Development and Employment including Victoria Plus Award and Victoria CareerHub
- Counselling Service
- Disability Services
- Financial Support and Advice
- Student Health Service (no extra charge when primary health carer)
- Student Learning Support
- Te Putahi Atawhai (Manaaki Pihipihinga mentoring programme, Kaiwawao Maori, Maori & Pacific Support Coordinators)
- New Student Orientation and transition programmes
- Recreation Centre
- Student crèches (student parents pay discounted fees and are able to have more flexible booking arrangements)
- Amenities provided by the Student Union
- ITS services to students including high speed internet for students on campus and IT support staff.
Note: students who choose not to register with Student Health as their primary health carer pay discounted rates.
How can students be sure that the money will be spent on student services?
The University will ring fence the money collected through the levy so that it is only spent on the services to students specified. Each year the University will provide information on how the money was spent and this will be on the website so students can check for themselves. The University will work in partnership with VUWSA, involving them in the annual planning and budget rounds for the services covered by the levy to ensure all services provided are relevant and the services are being managed efficiently.
What if students don’t need all of the services funded through this levy?
The levy can be compared to an ‘insurance policy’, which means if students need vital services such as healthcare or counselling, they will receive them for free or at significantly reduced rates. Without the levy, the services would need to charge market rates which would be out of the reach of a large number of students. Counselling for example would need to charge around $120 per session, rather than offer the free service it currently provides.