Warning: unashamed ranting about class privilege and selfish people.
Last year the government decided that it would allow universities to charge a student services and amenities fee, which came into action at the beginning of this year. Since the invoices were sent out, I’ve seen a number of posts on university-related Facebook groups I frequent and a statement from UQ’s union on how the fees should be dropped, pronto.
The arguments I’ve heard against this fee range from “our union already provides all these services without charging students for them” (which is bullshit, because every year more and more services are being cut), to “why should we have to pay if we’re not using these services?” Actually, those are pretty much the two arguments. Here’s a quote from a Facebook petition group against the fee (based around UQ students):
This fee is “for student services and amenities of a non-academic nature, such as sporting and recreational activities, employment and career advice, child care, financial advice and food services” which not every student uses and therefore should not be expected to pay for while many are already in a precarious financial position. (Source)
So you don’t want to pay for access to free childcare for students who are also parents? You don’t want to pay for there to be free legal advice or counselling services for students who need it? You don’t want to pay for subsidised food outlets on campus that benefit everyone? What’s next? Should we all stop paying taxes, because not all of us use the medicare system, or the public education system, or Brisbane’s public transport network? You’d deny everyone else the right to these services just because you don’t want to use them personally? The reasoning behind this argument is ridiculous and downright selfish. And it reeks of unexamined class privilege.
The bit about most students already being in a precarious “financial position” irks me as well. I am well aware that many students only manage to get through uni on government allowances or by working, because their parents don’t earn enough money (or they simply don’t want) to support them. I am one of those students. I pay my own rent, my own groceries, my own textbooks from Centrelink payments and a crappy part time job which just allow me to get by. But you know, that’s not what the overall picture of students at my university looks like.
A student services staff member asked me the other day how many people at my university I thought were on government pensions. 50? I guessed. 60? The answer shocked me: only 17%. Of course you have to add to that the people whose parents just won’t support them, or narrowly miss qualifying as low-income. I don’t know what the stats on that are: but I really don’t think it’s likely that it would boost the percentage up over 40%. Which means that about 60% of students come from incredibly privileged socio-economic backgrounds. They might not need free services on campus because they’re well able to fork out for childcare facilities or a private psychologist. But if they seriously think it’s ethical to weasel their way out of a measly $130 a semester which make those invaluable services available fee to less privileged students? They need to bloody well shut up and check their privilege.
Personally, I think the fee is a great idea, provided that the money is actually used for improving student services and not lost in admin and bureaucracy. Of course, I think that students shouldn’t have to pay as many fees as they do full stop – tuition, expensive textbooks, etc. In an ideal world education would be completely free. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen in the current political climate. So in the absence of an educational utopia, I am well-willing to fork out $130 a semester to see student services and amenities improved, even though I know that I will never use some of them. But everyone needs to have access to these services, regardless of their socio-economic background, class and income.
So everyone who wants to see the fee abolished because they’re not benefitting directly? Shut the hell up and quit being so damn selfish.