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SUPRA: A complete waste of students’ money?
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SUPRA: A complete waste of students’ money?

Callum Forbes argues that all students at the University of Sydney have reason to be at the very least frustrated with the waste and inefficiency demonstrated by the SUPRA.
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SUPRA: A complete waste of students’ money?

A recent decision by the Postgraduate Students Representative Council (SUPRA) epitomises a culture facilitating the inefficient spending of students’ money. Months after being tasked with coordinating a new website for the organisation, a motion was put forward in November of 2013 to accept a quote sourced by paid Councillors to spend $6,000 for the development of a new website.

This is despite other Councillors having gained support from a local IT company to develop and complete the website project on a pro-bono basis, costing SUPRA absolutely nothing. The logic of an organisation that already has a forecast budget deficit to spend money on items available for free demonstrates a complete lack of economic sense had by members of some student organisations.

Seeing money wasted is frustrating. Seeing your own money wasted can be infuriating. All students at the University of Sydney have reason to be at the very least frustrated with the waste and inefficiency demonstrated by the SUPRA. You’re funding it.

As students of the University of Sydney, we each give the members of the SUPRA council $11.19 to spend on our behalf through our compulsory Student Services Amenities Fee (SSAF). This provides SUPRA with $1 million from our own pockets to spend as they desire.

SUPRA is the postgraduate student organisation of the University and promises a broad and frankly fanciful purview. Apparently, students can “look to SUPRA for assistance with any issues that may confront them – both academically and personally – during the course of their candidature”. It is an on-campus, student-led organisation that seeks to represent all 16,627 postgraduate students.

All operational and administrative costs of SUPRA are financed through the SSAF funding.

So, where does that $11.19 that we’re obliged to give to SURPA go?

$250,000 is shared between ten student councillors. Salaries range from $9,390 for the Queer Officer and the like, to over $53,664 per annum for the President.

In isolation these salaries are not so problematic. It is entirely appropriate for a successful, economically sound organisation (not-for-profits included)to remunerate their directors and staff.  The issue with SUPRA is that its ‘success’ is questionable and its financial position is based on precarious, year-by-year negotiations with the University. This is in turn based on the continued imposition of a SSAF or similar tax on students.

Success (or the lack thereof) becomes apparent when the outcomes of the organisation are assessed. Across a twelve month period, just 1,031 matters were dealt with by SUPRA. On a per matter basis. This means that for every issue SUPRA assisted with, an average cost of $970 was incurred.

The biggest issue that was investigated by SUPRA in the last financial year: university administrative matters.

Without a doubt, many of those matters regarding plagiarism were important. Whether they warrant $970 of students’ funds to be used in providing advice is another question. The amount spent on providing advice on such matters through SUPRA is more than the cost of tuition for many subjects. 

It could be argued that an organisation like SUPRA is not just about providing legal advice on matters related to students’ academic and personal issues. However, it is apparent from the state of the budget that this is not presently a high priority for the Council. Less than 1% of the total annual budget is spent on ‘community development’ – the events, networking and equity group portfolio functions provided by SUPRA for postgraduate students.

Inefficient spending by student organisations such as SUPRA provides a handy exemplar for proponents of voluntary student unionism (VSU) and those against compulsory ‘Student Services’ fees such as the SSAF.

If student groups are to be the recipients of a tax on students there must be more accountability surrounding their spending. Opacity is not a quality we should find in our student representative bodies.

The frustration students have surrounding inefficient spending amongst student-led organisations is appropriately placed. It is up to each of us to take an active part in elections and demand accountability to prevent the frustration of seeing your own money be wasted occurring.

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