Parkville Station

UMSU passes 2017 budget

The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) has passed its 2017 operating budget, following a marathon meeting of Students’ Council held Wednesday 7 December. The budget is big on increased spending, buoyed by an increase of almost $1mln in its Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) funding from the University.

Despite the governing political faction More!’s commitment during the election to “boost transparency and budget processes”, so far the external process has been very similar to last year: the President, General Secretary and senior staff at UMSU have developed the budget and then presented it to the Students’s Council with, we understand, 44 hours notice. While some Councillors complained about the short period of time available to review the budget, the room was told that as Council had set its meeting date with full knowledge of when the budget would be ready, it had only itself to blame.

Unlike in prior years, the final budget memorandum does include formal submissions from all of UMSU’s departments and staff-run divisions.

The budget has been kept under wraps: everyone in the room, except members of the Students’ Council, were prohibited from getting a copy of the budget until the public version was released yesterday. This included Parkville Station.

The key headline figure is UMSU’s income, and it’s a doozey, with UMSU’s total operating budget to rise from $5.8 million in 2016 to $7.2 million for the 2017 year. This increase is mostly associated with an increase in the amount of funding the organisation receives from the University under the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF). With such a drastic expansion in the budget, the incoming team should be well positioned to implement its raft of election promises and commitments.

The substantial increase in SSAF funding is due to the University changing how it allocates SSAF to organisations such as UMSU: previously, UMSU had been receiving an increase each year at the inflation rate, but now the yearly SSAF allocation is linked more closely to student numbers (which, for the University of Melbourne, have been growing much faster than inflation).

The new money is soaked up through a number of key changes.

  • The money allocated to Students’ Council’s various discretionary funds has risen sharply, to approximately $175,000 in 2017 (compared to about $30 000 in 2016). This include drastically increasing the Whole of Union fund (to $90,000, $10,000 of which is quarantined for events off campus), and introducing a new Student Unionism Campaign Support line and bringing back Student Initiative Grants.
  • Officebearers’ honoraria will increase sightly, rising to $22,500. This is perhaps rising slightly faster than inflation (but in line with the increasing costs tracked by Parkville Station’s Coffee Price Index).
  • The Media Department has seen a big increase, getting an extra $40,000 (for a total of $140,000). This includes an allocation of two $3,000 honoraria for technical managers for Radio Fodder and their website.
  • Grants to departments have generally increased, and for the first time in living memory, each department is receiving a different amount of money. (We understand this to have been done on the basis of budget submissions made by Officebearers.) Most departments are receiving about $30,000 for 2017 (up from $20,000 in 2016).
  • The Communications Division will get a new staff member, responsible for managing sponsorship.
  • The budget alludes to reviews for the Rowden White Library and Entertainment, as well as the budget itself (the latter in July).

A big loser is the National Union of Students, which will see the affiliation fee that UMSU pays to the NUS slashed from $75,000 to $30,000. The amount that UMSU pays to the NUS, which is the peak representative body for undergraduate University students in Australia, has been a point of contention for many years. Predictably, much of the time that Students’ Council spent discussing the budget was soaked up by a discussion on how much should be given to the NUS, but in the end, the Council held the line at the $30,000 figure originally proposed.

UMSU has not responded to our requests for comment about the budget.

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