On 11 October 2011, the Australian Parliament passed legislation allowing universities and other higher education providers to charge a fee for student services and amenities of a non-academic nature. The fee may be spent by higher education providers on items such as sporting and recreational activities, employment and career advice, child care, financial advice and food services.
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The then Minister for Education made guidelines setting out special requirements for providers with Commonwealth supported students. These are the Student Services, Amenities, Representation and Advocacy Guidelines ('the Representation Guidelines').
The Administration Guidelines have been amended to include the administrative arrangements for the student services and amenities fee.
Guidelines made under the Act are legislative instruments and must be tabled in Parliament.
More information is provided in the Questions and Answers as follows.
Charging and paying the fee
What is the student services and amenities fee?
It is a fee that higher education providers can charge their students 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.
Do providers have to charge a services and amenities fee?
No. It is up to each provider to decide if, and when, it will introduce the fee.
Who can be charged a student services and amenities fee?
Any person who is enrolled or seeking to enrol with a higher education provider can be charged a student services and amenities fee.
However, only those students who meet the eligibility criteria can access Government assistance and defer the fee through SA-HELP.
Can international students be charged a fee?
There is nothing in the Education Services for Overseas Students Act (ESOS Act) that prohibits a higher education provider from charging international students who are enrolled, or seeking to enrol with the provider, a student services and amenities fee under section 19-37(5) of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA).
How much can providers charge in 2020?
Higher education providers will be able to charge students a fee of up to $308 per student in 2020. This maximum will be indexed each year. Students studying on a part-time basis cannot be charged more than 75% of the maximum amount that students studying on a full time basis are charged.
Can the student services and amenities fee be charged at the unit of study level?
It is up to each provider to decide how they wish to charge the fee. However, a provider should only charge a student up to the maximum amount for a calendar year.
Is a student services and amenities fee required to be a whole dollar amount, or can it include cents?
A student services and amenities fee is not required to be a whole dollar amount.
Are all students charged the same amount?
A provider may charge different amounts for particular categories of students, including a zero amount.
Categories of students can be determined on any basis, including: mode of attendance (i.e. external and internal), type of course (i.e. undergraduate and postgraduate) or equity status (i.e. low SES and indigenous).
Students studying on a part-time basis cannot be charged more than 75 % of the maximum amount that students studying on a full-time basis are charged.
Is GST included in the fee?
The Australian Tax Office (ATO) provides advice on whether GST is payable on student services and amenities fees. If higher education providers are unsure whether GST should be included in their fee, they should obtain their own advice from the ATO. For more information on how to apply for a private ruling, visit the ATO website and conduct a search for 'private rulings'.
Are students required to pay the fee even if they do not intend to use any of the services and amenities?
A provider can charge a student a student services and amenities fee regardless of whether the student intends to use any of the service and amenities provided.
When do students need to pay the fee?
Providers determine a date payable for the student services and amenities fee. This date cannot be earlier than the last day on which a student is able to enrol in a course of study with the provider. This ensures eligible students are able to access a SA-HELP loan.
Providers may set an earlier administrative date for payment of the fee and submission of SA-HELP assistance forms.
Requirement that the date payable be no earlier than the last day that a student can enrol with the provider
The requirement that the date payable for the student services and amenities fee be no earlier than the last day that a student is able to enrol with the provider relates to a course of study rather than units of study.
The date payable must be no earlier than the last day (not including late enrolment periods) that a new student would be able to enrol in, for example, a Bachelor of Business or Bachelor of Law for the period to which the fee relates.
The requirement is in place to ensure students are able to access SA-HELP as a student must be enrolled in a course of study to be eligible for SA-HELP.
What if a student cannot afford to pay the fee upfront?
Eligible students who are unable to pay the fee upfront can request assistance from the Commonwealth and defer the fee through the element of the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) known as SA-HELP.
Eligible students may choose to pay some of the fee upfront and obtain a SA-HELP loan for the remainder or obtain a loan for the full amount of the fee.
The amount of the loan will be added to the student's accumulated HELP debt. An eligible student will be able to take out a SA-HELP loan even if they do not wish to take out any other HELP loan.
Who is eligible for SA-HELP?
To be eligible for a SA-HELP loan, students must be an Australian citizen, hold a permanent humanitarian visa, or be a New Zealand Special Category Visa holder who meets the long-term residency requirements, and be enrolled in a course of study or bridging course for overseas-trained professionals.
For more information about the SA-HELP eligibility requirements (including what the residency requirements are for Australian citizens and permanent humanitarian visa holders), please see the StudyAssist website.
When do students need to lodge their Request for SA-HELP assistance form?
Students who wish to access Government assistance to defer a student services and amenities fee through SA-HELP will need to complete, sign and return the SA-HELP assistance form to their provider on or before the payment due date.
Providers may set an earlier administrative date for the submission of the form but must advise students of this date.
Can a Request for SA-HELP assistance form apply to fees that are due before the form is submitted?
No. If a student submits a Request for SA-HELP assistance form, it only applies to fees payable on or after the day the form is submitted.
A student must complete, sign and give to their provider a Request for SA-HELP assistance form on or before the payment due date.
Do students need to re-apply for SA-HELP each year?
A student is only required to apply for SA-HELP assistance once for a course of study at a provider.
If a student changes courses or changes providers, the student will need to re-apply for SA-HELP.
Does a student's SA-HELP debt appear as a separate amount on their Commonwealth Assistance Notice (CAN)?
Yes. A student's CAN sets out the amount of the student services and amenities fee, the day the fee was payable and the amount of the SA-HELP debt in relation to that fee.
Does a student's SA-HELP debt appear as a separate amount on their annual HELP information statement from the ATO?
No. A student's SA-HELP debt becomes part of their accumulated HELP debt which appears as a single amount on their annual HELP information statement.
If a student is enrolled in more than one course of study will they be charged a student services and amenities fee for each course of study?
This depends on whether a student is enrolled in multiple courses of study at the same time with the same provider or whether the student is enrolled with different providers.
A student can only be charged a services and amenities fee by a provider to the maximum in that year. If a student is enrolled in more than one course of study at the same time with the same provider, they can only be charged up to the maximum amount.
However, if a student is enrolled in units of study with more than one provider in the same calendar year, they may be charged a services and amenities fee by each provider. For example, a student who is enrolled in a course of study with one provider (the home provider) but undertaking a unit of study with another provider (the host provider) as a part of that course may be charged a fee by each provider.
To be eligible for SA-HELP a student must be enrolled in a course of study with the provider who is charging the fee. If a student is enrolled in two courses of study with two providers then they are eligible to receive SA-HELP for each fee. However, if the student is enrolled in a course of study with one provider but undertaking units of study with another provider on a cross-institutional or non-award basis then they are only eligible to receive SA-HELP for the provider with which they are enrolled in a course of study.
Providers are responsible for developing their own policies in relation to charging a student services and amenities fee to students undertaking cross-institutional studies.
If a student enrols at one higher education provider but then moves to another can the student be required to pay another student services and amenities fee?
Yes. There is nothing in the Bill or the Guidelines made under section 238-10 of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 that prohibits a provider from charging each student who enrols with the provider a student services and amenities fee. The fee applies regardless of whether that person has paid a fee to another provider for the same period.
An eligible student can access SA-HELP loans for as many fees as the student incurs. There is no limit on the number of SA-HELP loans for eligible students.
Can a student obtain a refund of the fee?
Universities are expected to develop their own policies in relation to the refund of student services and amenities fees.
Providers are not permitted to remit SA-HELP debts incurred by students. Universities are expected to advise students that if they receive a refund due to special circumstances, and it is after the date payable for the SA-HELP loan, the student will have recorded a debt with the ATO.
Spending revenue from the fee
Can fee revenue be used to support a political party?
No. Providers must not allow fee revenue to be used to support political parties, or to support the election of a person to a Commonwealth or State or Territory Parliament or local Government body.
What can providers spend fee revenue on?
A provider that charges a student services and amenities fee will only be able to spend the fee on the provision of the following services:
- providing food or drink to students on a campus of the higher education provider;
- supporting a sporting or other recreational activity by students;
- supporting the administration of a club most of whose members are students;
- caring for children of students;
- providing legal services to students;
- promoting the health or welfare of students;
- helping students secure accommodation;
- helping students obtain employment or advice on careers;
- helping students with their financial affairs;
- helping students obtain insurance against personal accidents;
- supporting debating by students;
- providing libraries and reading rooms (other than those provided for academic purposes) for students;
- supporting an artistic activity by students;
- supporting the production and dissemination to students of media whose content is provided by students;
- helping students develop skills for study, by means other than undertaking courses of study in which they are enrolled;
- advising on matters arising under the higher education provider's rules (however described);
- advocating students' interests in matters arising under the higher education provider's rules (however described);
- giving students information to help them in their orientation; and
- helping meet the specific needs of overseas students relating to their welfare, accommodation and employment.
Providers can choose to deliver the services and amenities themselves or contract a third party to deliver the services and amenities on the providers' behalf.
Do students have a say in how fee revenue is spent?
Yes. Under the Student Services, Amenities, Representation and Advocacy Guidelines (Representation Guidelines), universities are required to have a formal process of consultation with democratically elected student representatives and representatives from major student organisations at the university regarding the specific uses of proceeds from any compulsory student services and amenities fee.
These consultations must include:
- publishing identified priorities for proposed fee expenditure and allowing opportunities to comment on those priorities by students and student associations and organisations; and
- meeting with democratically elected student representatives and representatives from major student organisations at the university to consider the priorities for use of fee revenue.
How does the Government monitor expenditure of fee revenue?
Providers are required to certify, on an annual basis, that they charged student services and amenities fees strictly in accordance with the Higher Education Support Act 2003 and the Administration Guidelines made under the Act.
Providers also need to confirm that the revenue from the fee was spent strictly in accordance with the Act and the Representation Guidelines made under the Act, and only on allowable services and amenities.
The Department of Education and Training will investigate any allegations of non-compliance.
What if a provider breaches a provision of the Higher Education Support Act 2003?
There are penalties that may apply to universities for breaches of the requirements.
Do providers need to publish a schedule of their student services and amenities fees?
Yes. Providers will need to publish a schedule of fees by 1 April if they are charging a fee in the second half of the year and 1 October if they are charging a fee in the first half of the following year.
Can a university carry forward unspent SSAF revenue to forward years?
Yes. Provided that requisite student consultation has taken place and that SSAF revenue is only used for allowable items under the Higher Education Support Act 2003, decisions on the expenditure of SSAF revenue, including the timing of expenditure, are at the discretion of the higher education provider.
What is the process for making a complaint?
Any queries, complaints or concerns should be directed to the SSAF Program Manager by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If a student has incurred a SA fee charge and fully paid the fee, should their record be included in the SA file?
No, providers are only required to report those students who have incurred a SA-HELP debt.
The Student Services Amenities fee applies to a student. Why is a course code included on the SA-HELP file?
The information provided through the SA-HELP file will be used to inform the ATO about the SA-HELP debt that has been incurred by a student(s). To be eligible for SA-HELP a student must:
- be an Australian citizen or a permanent humanitarian visa holder resident in Australia;
- be enrolled in a course of study (including bridging study for overseas-trained professionals) with a higher education provider;
- meet the Tax File Number (TFN) requirements; and
- complete and sign a Request for SA-HELP assistance form.
As it is part of the eligibility requirements it is therefore essential that a course of study is specified in reference to SA-HELP.
When will the SA-HELP file submission be due?
SA-HELP submissions will be due on 31 March (for second half of preceding calendar year) and 31 August (for first half of that calendar year).
The timing matrix on HEIMSHELP reflects the reporting requirements.