University clubs, societies and associations have claimed more than $350,000 in club grants funded by the student-paid Student Levy (or the Compulsory Student Services Fee), but very few have publicly disclosed how that money was spent.
Figures obtained by Craccum under the Official Informations Act showed that as of August 11th, 153 clubs at the university have claimed $358,730.27 worth of club grants for 2020.
The Canoe Club received the most grants with $15,150.50 over three rounds, followed by the Snowsports Club, who got $15,000 at the start of the year, while the Football Club took in $10,323. On top of this, Craccum understands that many clubs collected registration fees from its student members.
Despite the large amounts of student-paid money changing hands, there is very little regulation of student club finances and information relating to it was not easily accessible by the student body.
All enrolled students are required to pay $7.86 per point of the Student Levy in addition to their tuition fees to fund university-provided student support services, such as Health and Counselling, advocacy, and childcare.
On average, an Auckland University undergraduate student will pay $943.20 of the Levy for taking eight papers in 2020. This figure is the highest in the country, compared to students at Canterbury, Victoria, and AUT universities, who pay $870, $849.60, and $836 respectively for student services and other building and student assistance levies.
Out of the $24 million that the University collects through the Student Levy each year, $400,000 are allocated by the Club Support Committee annually to help clubs “create a vibrant and engaging campus community”.
This is split into Major Grants and Small Grants.
Major grants, offered twice a year, are used to support large events and activities, or campaigns centred on student issues, concerns and causes. Up to $1,000 of Small Grants are offered each month to clubs to spend on marketing materials, as well as small on-campus events and activities.
But these funds could not be used on travelling expenses, printing, websites, settling payments of a person, or purchasing alcohol.
Clubs that want to apply for a grant would need to submit a proposal on how the grant would be used, prove their membership is made up of 70 percent current students or alumni up to three years, and provide a budget and previous year’s receipts to demonstrate their financial capability.
While treasurers are required to present a financial statement at Annual General Meetings to report to club members on the financial transactions over the previous year, there are no requirements for this to be made public, despite receiving money that is funded by the entire student body.
Craccum contacted 94 out of the 153 clubs that received a club grant to enquire how – and whether – they regulated their finances, or how non-members can access their financial statements.
Almost all declined to comment or never provided a response.
Out of the few clubs that replied, most of their grant went towards purchasing equipment or hosting events.
Canoe Club President Maurycy Prystupa told Craccum the $15,150 the club received went towards gear and equipment maintenance, while Snowsports Club President Charlotte Wills said their $15,000 grant was used to renovate their ski lodge and cover costs for their beginners’ weekend.
Meldon Woo of the Singapore Students’ Association said the club has used their $3,342 grant to subsidize activities including movie nights and ice-skating.
The Motorsport Club claimed the $1,100 funding was used to “reduce the high barriers of entry” to social motorsport, but did not respond to further queries on what items the money was spent to achieve this.
Most responding clubs said their treasurers reviewed their finances once every year, but otherwise did not have any form of regulation in place.
Both Prystupa and Wills said their clubs’ financial statements are available on the Charities Register, as they are registered charities, with the former adding the Canoe Club hires external accountants to perform an audit “every few years”.
Craccum was unable to find the financial statements on the two club’s respective websites. We were also unable to find anything on the websites which explicitly stated that the club’s financial statements could be found on the Charities Register.
Others, including the Underwater Club and the Hockey Club, said their financial statements can be viewed on the Incorporated Societies register. Meanwhile, Tramping Club Captain Andrew Battley told Craccum their treasurer report is published in their annual magazine, which is available on the club’s website.
But for the clubs that received student-funded grants but were not publicly registered, their financial information was only kept to club members and away from the public eye.
Lucas Gao, the President of the Web Development and Consulting Club, said students were welcome to join the club’s Annual General Meeting if they want to know about their financial situation.
The Squash Club, which got $5,200 of grants, said their financial statements are uploaded on the university’s Engage platform after their Annual General Meeting. As of this story’s deadline it is yet to be made available.
Craccum spoke with Campus Life, the group in charge of handing out grants, to understand whether they regulated how these clubs manage their finances.
A spokesperson said other than requiring student clubs to submit receipts for how they have spent their money, they were largely left to their own devices because clubs are independent to the university.
The responsibility for clubs’ financial regulation is “largely for the executive to determine”, but there were “no specific penalties or punishments” for students caught spending money inappropriately.
Instead, Campus Life prefers to “focus on support and structures”, by providing “Accounting Fundamentals workshops”.
The spokesperson also said Campus Life does not think there needs to be more financial regulations, as any complaints could be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and members can call a special meeting to raise any concerns.
Not all students share similar views.
One former club member told Craccum that although they personally don’t want too much university involvement, more needs to be done to make sure students are not not taking the money for themselves.
Arts student Alex said he thought the university had someone keeping track of club finances and thinks it is “crazy” to think that no one is doing it.
“I love students, and I love steins, but on paper it’s pretty dumb to be giving student clubs all this money and just say ‘there you go, do what you want with it’.”
“I didn’t realise that was how it works.”
Another business student agreed that more regulations are needed to make sure student-funded money is used responsibly.
“It’s all of our money. I think we should know how that money is being used.”
“I’m a student, I’m broke; I don’t want to give someone ten dollars in fees just for them to go and spend it on themselves.”
“I know most clubs would never steal anyone’s money – most of the people doing it are good guys. But even if just one in ten clubs are taking money, that’s too much.”
But the view over more regulation varied between different club executives.
Battley, who was also the Tramping Club’s Treasurer in 2019 and whose mother was a previous club treasurer, said the best people to manage the finances of a club are the members itself, rather than applying an overarching regulatory system.
“If you look at any organisation, you’ll recognise that centralisation of management and addition of extra external regulation typically leads to delays in implementation.”
“How would you apply a single regulation across a political club, a food club, a religious club, and a sports club?”
“By the time you’ve created enough degrees of freedom in the system to allow it to fit all of the different clubs, your regulatory system is basically as big and unwieldy as the clubs themselves, and has lost any benefit.”
He believed that more training and advice for a newly established to build its own financial regulation system would be more beneficial to all clubs instead.
Meanwhile, the Canoe Club’s Maurycy Prystupa said she would be happy to see stricter regulations from the university because it could retain students’ confidence on how clubs are managed.
“As a club, we felt like we owed it to our members and to the University to continue to meet and exceed these historic requirements.”
“If this would improve the general student cohorts faith in the way the money is being spent, then we can see the value in introducing further regulation.”
But, Jackie Wei of the Asian Board Games Society told Craccum he personally thinks current rules on clubs should be rolled back.
“The basis of university clubs is mainly to let students run and organise their own affairs.”
“As functional adults, we believe that by loosening some of the regulations, like grant applications, the clubs are able to provide more diverse activities on campus, which in turn benefits students and staff alike in the university.”
A full list of the club that received grants in 2020 with the corresponding amounts can be viewed here.
Note from editors: Craccum emailed all 94 clubs that received $1,000 or more of grants to find out their plans for the funding or whether they had any mechanisms to keep their finances in check. Some clubs replied, and some of their comments are featured in this article. Many did not. These are the 77 who did not respond or refused to comment.