LTSA’s Ridiculous Spending Priorities

The La Trobe Student Association (LTSA)’s Governing Board has previously rejected my requests to release their financial documents, and now that I’ve finally read their documents, I can’t blame them. Littered between the pages of their spending habits is an undeniable apathy towards young people.

I’d like to preface this article with the explanation that the LTSA is funded by our Student Service and Amenities Fees (SSAF) – y’know, that $300 you pay every year? The University is bound by legislation to use that money for support services, non-academic resources, and student organisations.  At the end of last year, the University announced it would slash the funding it gives to La Trobe Student Union (LTSU) by 88%, and instead direct that amount to a brand-new organisation, the LTSA. For the first few months of the LTSA’s existence, there wasn’t a single elected student representative to have a say in the decisions they made or how student money was spent. Whether out of touch with the needs of students or wilfully ignorant, these Profit and Loss statements tell a grim story: student money is being wasted by the LTSA.

The link to read the financial documents for the 5-month period from January to May 2021 is available here. I’ve tried to summarise the most horrid points as best I could, but I still urge you to see the receipts for yourself.

Each campus is designated a flat amount of $15K in the annual budget, regardless of the number of enrolments at the campus. The exceptions to the rule are City Student Council and International Student Council, which are lumped together, in turn receiving $7.5K each. Why do they get less? I honestly have no idea. It’s not like the budget is allocated proportionally. According to LTU’s 2020 Key Statistics, only 7,696 students were enrolled at regional campuses versus an estimated 26,000 at Bundoora. Despite this, the regions are allocated a total of $60K in comparison to Bundoora’s $15K. If this sounds unfair, it’s because it is.

Of the $15K that was budgeted to each campus, the amount actually spent per student differs greatly. Here’s a handy table:

Campusstudent body (est.)YTD Actual from Jan-May 2021Spending per student

In a 5-month period, the LTSA spent over $56,126.91 on marketing and advertising alone – making it one of the largest expenses in the budget. This amount is nearly six times what was given to Clubs Support Semester Funding (a miserable $10,646). In this category, $464.75 was spent on job advertisements, and monthly payments of $5,104 are made to the Bendigo-based design firm, Arteria Studios. Over $25,000 of student money was also directed towards funding the LTSA’s hideous logo. I’m not kidding. All that postmodern corporate marketing vomit? Student money.

Travel has been another financial focus of the LTSA, with a total of almost $12K. The same value that was spent on Travel for the Mildura campus alone – $1.4K – was spent on Events for the Shepparton campus. Such a high value for travel was initially confusing but begins to make sense when we see how superfluous the Governing Board has been with their own reimbursements. Nearly $4,000 was spent by the Governing Board on flights, and $900 went towards a Limousine company for Student Councillors from Bendigo to Bundoora.  

After the hellfire young people have endured in 2020 and 2021 – bearing the brunt of the global pandemic, facing unprecedented rates of youth unemployment, and the Federal Government’s recent attacks on higher education – you’d expect a self-described ‘student’ organisation to prioritise supporting students’ mental health. Apparently not. The LTSA has invested a grand total of $2,775 on Health and Wellbeing this year (comparatively, the LTSU spent $15K on financial relief spanning several campuses in the past week alone). Metro Student Services have only utilised $3,284 of what was budgeted to them, and none of that went to Health and Wellbeing. The Metro Student Services Department has also not spent a single cent on Events for students; a stark contrast to the $1.5K total that went to Metro staff.

As another large spending area, $27,516 across the LTSA’s entire budget was spent on Staff Development – most of which came from Leading Teams: a multiday interstate training retreat for high-profile companies. Multiple payments have been made to Leading Teams for multiple holidays, in addition to reimbursements for staff accommodation while interstate on the retreat.

$400K went towards staff wages whilst $0.00 went to student honoraria. How generous.

Scant for students; lavish for staff.

Health/Wellbeing isn’t the only underperforming student service in the LTSA; Student Financial Counselling is under budget with just $14,091 of the expected $31K having actually been spent. As of 2020, LTU had a total student body of 37,164 people. This is roughly 40 cents per student. The budgeted amount isn’t much better – still sitting at under $1 per student. Furthermore, an annual share of $70K was given to Student Legal Services Expense, but from what I can tell, the Advocacy Department has spent none of it. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

The stats themselves are pretty damning. However, of all the LTSA’s spending priorities, the crème de la crème is the CEO reimbursing her office pot plant with student money. What The Fuck?!

This single transaction perfectly reflects the attitude the LTSA has towards the student body it claims to represent. They see us purely as a money bank. We pay our SSAF and the University higher-ups give student money to the LTSA for staff to spend it however they please. On all-expenses-paid training resorts, advertising, limousines, anywhere that isn’t directly supporting students. The caveat: when the University axes our education, the LTSA openly supports them.

The spending priorities of the LTSA are nothing short of abhorrent, and it is brutally evident that they do not align with students’ vision of where their SSAF ought to go. If you’re rightly unsatisfied with the current allocation of student money by the LTSA, Join The Fight to Shut Down the LTSA.