Race, gender, age top reasons for discrimination, 2020 AMS Academic Experience Survey shows

The AMS has released results of its 2020 Academic Experience Survey (AES), giving insight to university demographics, student financial struggles, textbook affordability and discrimination.

Conducted with research firm Insights West, this year’s survey saw a significant decrease in the number of participants. In total, 2,170 students participated in the survey — 34 per cent fewer than in 2019.

According to the AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Georgia Yee, the decline in respondents was inevitable amid the pandemic, but she believes the survey still has a decent level of student representation.

“[A] larger number will be more representative of the student body. However, we strongly feel that at a little over 2,000 respondents is still statistically significant,” she said.

Compared to last year’s report, students continue to have a lack of trust in the AMS’s financial decisions, but the majority of students still held a positive view of the society.

Overall, although more than half of respondents said they had a pleasant university experience at UBC, student dissatisfaction with high tuition fees has slightly increased from last year. Only 49 per cent of graduate students agree that their tuition was well spent, and only 22 per cent of undergraduate students think UBC cares about their thoughts on the cost of education.

Who makes up the student body?

The AES began including non-binary and two-spirit gender options in 2019.

Since then, the numbers have not significantly changed. Two per cent of students identified as non-binary or genderqueer. Students who identified as two-spirit, transgender and “other” each made up of less than one per cent of the demographic. Fifty-four per cent of survey respondents identified as women.

Courtesy AMS

Yee said gender and other demographic data was valuable to the AMS. “It helps us to paint a better picture of the diversity of our student population,” she said.

This year’s survey shows more diversity in sexuality with 15 per cent of respondents identifying as a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Notably, the number of bisexual respondents has increased from six per cent to nine per cent over the past year. Three quarters of students surveyed identified as heterosexual.

Similar to last year, the mean student age was 22, and 84 per cent of students were under the age of 25.

White students were the most common ethnic group on campus at 39 per cent followed by Chinese students at 31 per cent. Indigenous and Black students each made up around two per cent of the campus population.

Awareness of Centre for Accessibility up, despite registration barriers

From 2019 onward, the AMS has included an option for students to declare their disabilities on the survey. A year after the change, data shows an increase in students with disabilities from 22 per cent to 26 per cent.

Mental illness stands out as the most common disability among students, making up 19 per cent of respondents who reported having one or more disabilities.

Courtesy AMS

After a decrease in 2019, undergraduate students’ awareness of the Centre for Accessibility returned to 2018 levels with 88 per cent of undergrads saying they knew of the service. The figure was 79 per cent for graduate students.

However, only one third of students with disabilities said they registered with the centre. Thirty per cent of students reported that they “don’t know what this service offers” or “don’t know how to register.” The inconvenience of the Centre for Accessibility also marks the reason for 31 per cent of students with disabilities not registered with this service.

Yee said the AMS is aware of the barriers to accessing mental health and well-being services. She mentioned that the AMS is going to create more “culturally appropriate” approaches, including multi-language help for international students who don't feel comfortable receiving help in English.

Three in five students have experienced discrimination

Discrimination remains an issue on campus. Around 59 per cent of undergraduate and 60 per cent of graduate students reported experiencing some form of discrimination. A further 10 per cent of undergraduates responded that they had experienced discrimination “frequently.”

Race, gender and age were the three most common reasons students were discriminated against.

International students were more likely to face discrimination than domestic students — 49 per cent of internationals reported experiencing discrimination at least once and 7 per cent said they experienced it often.

Students with South Asian ethnic backgrounds were most likely to experience discrimination, followed by Chinese and other Asian students.

This year’s survey also showed growth in discrimination against gender-diverse students from last year. Around 74 per cent of non-binary and two-spirit students had experienced it at least once.

Members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community were three times more likely to experience discrimination than people who identified as heterosexual. Women were also more likely to experience gender-based discrimination than men. Only 65 per cent of women compared to 85 per cent of male students feel safe on campus at night.

Courtesy AMS

“It is very notable that women and non-binary people feel less safe than men on campus,” said Yee. “This is something that we need to pinpoint in terms of collaborating with campus security to improve the delivery of the operation. We’re also working on the AMS equity plan creating an inclusive space from the get-go as well.”

Yee said the question remains of how to shift the culture around sexual assault on campus.

“How do we create a culture of consent? How do we create a culture on [the] UBC campus that believes survivors of sexual violence? How do we also create a culture of trust as well?” she said.

Awareness of on-campus sexual assault helping service remains stable: around four of five students are aware of the UBC Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office and the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre.

Textbook costs on the rise

Students spend $884 for textbooks on average each year. This marks a $55 increase from last year’s mean of $829, and a $134 increase from the 2018 mean of $750.

Undergraduate students tend to spend more on textbooks and other materials than graduate students. The median amount of money an undergrad student spends on their textbooks was $415, which is slightly higher than in 2019. One third of students reported spending more than $600 on textbooks.

Courtesy AMS

Although course materials are a burden for many students, they are not the main source of financial hardship. Housing and tuition expenses remain the top two financial challenges students face. More than half of students indicate that their financial situation is manageable, but one in five students said they may not continue their studies at UBC due to financial reasons.

Yee said that the AMS hopes to pass a policy on textbook costs and digital learning materials in partnership with the student Senate caucus.

Studying at UBC comes at an especially large cost for many families and individuals. Three quarters of undergrads said they receive support from parents or other family members, and half of students rely on savings and employment income. Over one third have student loans and 39 per cent of students expect having personal debt by the time of graduation.

COVID-19 has worsened the problem as many students face precarious financial challenges. In response, Yee said that the AMS will be advocating bursary increases and financial aid packages.

“There’s a whole picture of affordability, whether it’s course materials or it is housing and food affordability as well.”