2017 Academic Experience Survey reports mixed reviews for UBC and the AMS

At the June 28 AMS Council Meeting, VP Academic Daniel Lam unveiled his “big super mystery secret” — the 2017 Academic Experience Survey (AES).

Like past AES’s, it was conducted by the market research company Insights West. The results for the 2017 survey have been compiled but not yet officially released — however, the AMS has given us a copy of the results, which you can download here.

Some notable results in the latest survey include a rising amount of students who claim that they have been discriminated against on campus, a decreasing sense of trust in the AMS’s handling of finances and a continued sense of satisfaction among students in regards to their overall university experience.

This is also the first year that graduate students were reintegrated into the AES after the Graduate Student Society conducted its own survey in 2015.

The sample group

2,047 undergraduate students participated in this year’s survey — an increase from 2016’s number of 1,564 students but not as high as 2015’s number of 2,855 students. This year, 437 graduate students are also included, bringing the total sample size of the survey to 2,855 students.

Of these respondents, 41 per cent were men, 57 per cent were women and two per cent identified as a gender other than male or female. 82 per cent of respondents identified as heterosexual, while bisexual, queer, homosexual and pansexual respondents made up five, one, four and one per cent respectively.

2017 statistics are denoted by blue bars.
2017 statistics are denoted by blue bars. Insights West

58 percent of the participants were 20-25 years old, 27 per cent were below the age of 20 and 14 per cent were 26 or older.

The amount of white students in the survey increased from 37 to 45 per cent in comparison to last year’s survey, while the amount of Asian respondents decreased from 53 to 43 per cent. 83 per cent of respondents were domestic students and 13 percent were international students.

Discrimination on campus appears to be rising

65 per cent of undergraduate students reported experiencing at least one form of discrimination on campus at least once — a number that’s up eight per cent from last year.

In particular, discrimination based on gender has increased by seven per cent, and 54 per cent of female respondents claim to have experienced gender-based discrimination at least once.

“That, to me, is pretty huge,” said Lam, who said he was “shocked” by these new numbers.

Discrimination on the bases of race, age and sexual orientation also appear to be high. 58 per cent of undergraduate Chinese respondents reported being racially discriminated against at least once, while 52 per cent of LGBTQP respondents have experienced discrimination in regards to their sexuality.

23 percent of undergraduate students over the age of 30 report being frequently discriminated against on the basis of their age, while 66 per cent say they have experienced it at least once.

Insights West

In contrast, the amount of students who reported feeling safe on campus at night has increased from 56 per cent to 63 per cent. This statistic appears to be stratified along gendered and racialized lines, with male students and caucasian students being more likely to feel safe around campus at night.

Meanwhile, the amount of students who claim that they don’t feel a sense of belonging on campus has increased from 16 per cent to 21 per cent.

In response to these numbers, Lam said that the AMS will be presenting this data on discrimination to UBC Equity and Inclusion, Access and Diversity and the Sexual Assault Support Centre to decide how they want to move forward with reducing discrimination on campus.

Mixed reviews for the AMS

Overall, 46 per cent of undergraduate students gave the AMS a “good” or “excellent” score of 7 or higher, while 44 per cent gave it a “poor” score of 6 or lower.

However, students are more critical towards the AMS’s financial handling.

Compared to 27 per cent from last year, 38 per cent of undergraduates now said that they don’t trust the AMS to spend students’ money wisely. 31 per cent don’t think that the AMS does a good job of representing students’ financial interests to the university.

Insights West

Lam admitted that the AMS has had “a couple of blunders” in terms of their finances.

“Last year when we lost [over two hundred thousand dollars] from Block Party, that was a huge blunder to our financial image,” he said. “As well with what happened with the Arts Undergraduate Society — what happened there is also connected to us as well because the AUS is a constituency of the AMS. So I have a feeling that this is what has caused the decrease.”

Students also don’t seem to have a very good grasp on what their AMS student fees are being used for. When students are asked about the 15 AMS student fees, only the U-Pass fee and the Athletics & Recreation fee have more than 50 per cent of students answering that they adequately understood what the fee was for. It’s important to note that students not only pay these fees but also approve them in referendums.

To improve next year, Lam said that the AMS needs to listen further to students’ concerns. Likewise, he also thinks that the AMS needs to do a better job of communicating their services and financial achievements better.

“Last year when we did the Nest refinancing, we effectively saved students $62 million over thirty years. How can this not be a good thing?”

A lot of financial stress

Students are satisfied with their time at UBC — 69 per cent of undergraduate students and 78 per cent of graduate students said that they are, overall, satisfied with their university experience.

However, the reaction is mixed when it comes to tuition costs. Only 46 per cent of undergraduates agreed that they’re receiving good value for their tuition, while 58 per cent disagreed that the university cares about what students think about the cost of education.

59 per cent of undergraduates agreed that they could manage their finances, but other statistics show a common sense of financial anxiety among students. 43 per cent of undergraduates regularly worry about how to pay tuition and other expenses, and 36 per cent experience hardship related to these finances.

19 per cent of undergraduate and graduate students said that they might need to abandon their studies at UBC for financial reasons — a number that has increased by seven per cent over the past two years.

Insights West

Another constant source of financial stress for students is textbooks, as two out of five students worry about how to pay for them. Almost half of all undergraduates said they spent $500 or more on textbooks last year, with the average annual textbook costs for students sitting at $814. Large majorities of students also reported buying a textbook for a class but rarely or never using it. Others avoided buying a textbook because it either cost too much or did not seem important to the class.

Lam said that high textbook costs are one of the main affordability issues that the AMS is trying to tackle. In particular, Lam will be running the annual #textbookbrokeBC campaign and encouraging professors to use open textbook resources by informing them about the high annual average textbook costs.

“This is the number ($814 per year on textbooks) that we’re really going to sell hard to students to encourage them to encourage their professors to switch to open textbooks,” he said. “The best way to get professors to use open textbooks is to simply making them aware there’s a correlation between professors who are aware and those who use it or are thinking of using it.”

Never-ending housing woes

As Vancouver continues to be one of the most expensive places to live in Canada, students are facing constant housing woes. More notably, this survey found that just under one in five undergraduates and one in ten graduate students said that they have lacked a fixed, reliable night-time residence at some point in their time at UBC.

“This is definitely an alarming statistic for us,” said Lam.

Blue is for undergraduates and purple is for graduates.
Blue is for undergraduates and purple is for graduates. Insights West

In a written statement sent to The Ubyssey, Lam explained that the AMS has had a number of conversations on the issue of privatized student housing and is now exploring methods to expand student housing in an affordable manner for students.

“There are advantages in the sense that housing can be built very quickly, but the AMS has raised concerns surrounding the possible lack of student representation on boards that make decisions surrounding privatized housing (we ideally want student representation on these boards), the residential tenancy act and its exceptions that it creates (we still want this housing to be for students only), and also the affordability of the housing provided (even though privatized housing can refinance existing internal loans at a lower interest rate, we want the money saved to go towards making student housing affordable).”

VP Students Louise Cowin said that “UBC is not exploring the privatization or outsourcing of student housing,” in an emailed response on July 7.

“Over the past 10 years, UBC has been exploring a number of options to borrow for student housing and other university priorities. To date, these discussions have been exploratory and almost all of the options have not been practical,” read the statement, which also touched upon the high demand for student housing and the restriction on the university’s ability to borrow due to “constrained government debt capacity.”

“The university will renew discussions with the incoming provincial government and, with them, explore borrowing options. Any external borrowing for student housing would need approval from the UBC Board of Governors and the provincial government.”

Five Years is (still) the new four years

86 per cent of undergraduates are enrolled in a four-year degree program, but 62 per cent of them said that it will take them more than four years to complete their degree — a statistic that has risen by two points in the past two years. The most common reasons for this extension were “other experience that extended my degree,” “reduced course load for personal reasons” and “not in a hurry to complete [degree].”

Lam said that extending one’s degree can be a good thing for an undergraduate hoping to build their credentials.

“This is going to help students in the future when they’re seeking employment,” he said. “They have adequate opportunities to build their professional careers at UBC.”

Likewise, he acknowledged that there are some alarming reasons why students are taking more than four years. In particular, he expressed concern about the 22 per cent of students extending their degree who list “unable to take required courses when I needed to” as a reason for doing so.

“I’ll be working across the university to sort of see how we can address this,” he said. “We’re going to have a new provost starting tomorrow, so when we do talk with him we want to bring these statistics up.”

Other noteworthy statistics

A very large majority of students are aware of UBC counselling services, but only 13 per cent of undergraduates and 12 per cent of grad students claim they have been helped by it. UBC’s mental health services have also been strongly criticized in the past their for long waitlist time, with 34 per cent of students reported feeling “passed around” in last year’s survey.

45 per cent of undergraduate and 34 per cent of graduate students have worried that they could run out of food before they had adequate funds to buy groceries at some point in the past year. Meanwhile, the number of students who are aware of the AMS Foodbank has gone down from 65 per cent last year to 54 per cent this year.

Lastly, only 17 per cent of respondents felt connected to the UBC Thunderbirds. This is only a two per cent increase from last year’s survey.

This article has been updated to clarify the involvement of graduate students in the AES and the response from UBC VP Students Louise Cowin about student housing.