The Australian government is trying to ban universities from collecting student service fees. Universities could face a loss of federal funding if they failed to comply.
The government has introduced voluntary student union legislation to the House of Representatives which, if passed, would prohibit universities from imposing fees on students on behalf of unions at a cost of millions a year.
Federal education minister David Kemp said students should not be compelled to join organisations they did not wish to be part of and that the amendments to the Higher Education Funding Act should be adopted.
Universities would face penalties if they continued to require students to pay union or service fees in the form of deductions from their operating grant.
Federal grants would depend on universities not obliging students to "be or become a member of an association". Universities would be barred from collecting money that had to be paid "as a condition of enrolment for educational courses" and was "not directly related to the course".
Vice-chancellors, academics, students and university councils condemned the proposed ban, claiming it would seriously undermine the capacity of unions to provide services to students. Even the government's own backbenchers expressed serious reservations.