AUT is proposing a dramatic increase to the compulsory student services fee – the largest increase in records dating back to 2013.
In a hazy Facebook livestream hosted by AUTSA and streamed by approximately 18 live viewers, senior AUT staff announced the proposed 17 percent increase to the fee alongside a plan to increase domestic fees by two percent and international fees by as much as three percent.
The compulsory student services fee is charged alongside university fees and is used to fund various non-academic activities and support programs.
Increases to the student services fee in previous years have been closer to $20-$30, but the increase proposed for 2020 is $114 per full time student.
AUT Director of Student Services, Joanna Scarbrough, told Debate the drive to push up the student levy came from increased student demand.
“We are now managing far more complex issues. To the point that we are employing social workers and staff that are equipped with the expertise and skills to provide that support,” she said.
“In years gone by, a student may have come to us with just a financial hardship issue. Now they are coming to us with a financial hardship issue, due to a family circumstance, coupled with mental health issues.”
Scarbrough said although AUT was New Zealand’s second largest university, it had the second lowest student levy. The $114 increase would raise it just above the sector average.
Despite this, Scarbrough denied the suggestion that services have been underfunded in previous years, instead reiterating that student needs have changed.
“The university is growing, the need is changing, students are actively seeking support – which is a good thing,” she said.
Scarbrough would not provide Debate with a specific breakdown of how the funds would be spent but said that more money will go towards medical services, disability assistance and “holistic” mental health support, although not into the AUT counselling service itself.
An increase in funding has also been promised to AUTSA in 2020, however a source told Debate this is likely to be only a small share of the new money raised. New funding for AUTSA will be focused partly on advocacy services and on the initiation of a class representative system.
Adding together the $114 increase in the student services fee, with the $5 building levy and the two percent increase in fees, full time domestic students are going to be paying approximately $240 extra per year. New international students will be paying closer to $800 more than before.
University fee increases are regulated by the Ministry of Education, which sets a maximum amount that fees can be increased each year. The proposed maximum increase for 2020 is two percent to match inflation, but AUT’s Chief Financial Officer, Lyle Williams, said this limit doesn’t reflect the higher cost of operating in a big city.
“The increase is set at two percent, that is actually not our inflation, that’s the government inflation, but in Auckland our inflation is at a higher rate,” he said.
“If we could increase our fees by more, based on the levels of costs, we would want to do that.”
AUT Vice Chancellor, Derek McCormack, said education sector wages have grown by three percent and general costs between one and two percent.
“The actual buying power of what students are paying is about the same as it was last year,” he said.
While domestic increases are limited at two percent, international fees are not. This is why AUT is able to increase international fees by around three percent.
Williams said the three percent increase reflects that there are higher costs associated with having international students over domestic students.
Increases will vary for specific programs: the cost of the engineering program is being raised by four percent, while the business program will remain unchanged.
The building services levy, which is increasing, is helping to raise funds to build a new facility on the corner of Mayoral Drive and Wakefield Street and the university aims to have this open by 2021.
Williams said the levy has raised around $10 million since 2009, however this is only a small fraction of what the building is going to cost.
“The $12 million we will have by the time the rec centre opens - which is part of a $170 million development – is not quite going to cover it,” he said.
Proposed changes to fees are expected to come into effect next year.