Breaking down the 2020/21 AMS preliminary budget

Budgeting during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a longer and more complex process for most institutions — the AMS included.

The student society is planning for a decreased fee revenue, given the May announcement that most courses will be offered online for the fall 2020 session.

As a result, AMS VP Finance Lucia Liang and her team have created three versions of the 2020/21 budget based on different circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

One, two, three possible budgets

While investment income of $375,000 is something all three budgets share, budget one estimates an enrolment of 55,000 students and over $219,000 in business contributions. Liang’s presentation at the AMS Council meeting on June 24 indicated that while the expenditures for this model will be over $2.6 million, the total revenue will be brought down by 18 per cent. This version of the budget will provide the AMS with a surplus of $178,000.

With budget two, enrolment will decrease by 10 per cent to 49,500 and a 10 to 15 per cent reduction in all areas except for student services is expected. The AMS expects $197,164 in business contributions. However, this plan will likely result in a deficit of $269,250, which Liang said at the meeting will take “two years to pay off.”

Finally, with budget three, although enrolment sits near 44,000 with this version, total expenditures are estimated to hit nearly $2.4 million and a deficit of $606,082 is expected. This version aims for a 15 per cent reduction in all expenses while preserving as many student services as possible.

Compared to the 2019/20 fiscal year, the new budget includes a $112,248 increase in student services spending, an $80,000 increase for student government staff based on the first budget and $400,000 allocated to minimum wage increases, due to BC’s minimum wage uptick from $13.85 to $14.60 on June 1.

In a written statement to The Ubyssey, Liang stated that the most recent enrolment estimate from the university is about 52,250 students, making it likely that the final surplus and deficit numbers will land somewhere between budgets one and two.

Notable figures

Whether the final budget ends up looking more like budget one or budget two, a few line items stand out. These figures are based on budget one.

Under the VP administration portfolio, over $51,000 has been assigned to “Clubs and Societies Systems,” to which $22,800 was allocated in the previous fiscal year. Liang explained that this includes allocations for software systems used by AMS clubs and the upcoming CampusBase platform, which will replace Clubhouse.

“By implementing a new, more efficient cloud-based platform for club activities, students are able to complete club administrative activities remotely and communicate with the AMS administration and finance teams,” Liang said in an interview with The Ubyssey.

Despite the pandemic, the All Presidents Dinner — an event the AMS hosts to bring together student leaders of all student groups — is allocated $12,000, unchanged from last year. Liang is hopeful that a change in conditions will allow for an All Presidents Dinner this year. However, this line item will be cancelled if the pandemic continues into 2021.

Notably, the line item for contingencies has been left blank. Liang has said that given the possibility of running a deficit this year, money should not be allocated to arbitrary contingencies. Instead, Liang said that “every penny of the budget should be spent directly on students.”

This year, the AMS has placed priority on team building. Team building and development within AMS Council is normally assigned $750 and now stands at $2,000.

Team building within the executive was assigned $1,000 last year, and has been quintupled to $5,000 this year. The allocation for this line item has returned to previous levels after funding was allocated to other executive areas last year. In the budget, Liang notes that this led to a decrease in “executive morale” and led to “major team issues.”

“Last year’s executive saw detrimental effects of a lack of emphasis on team building due to this decision, so we’re returning this to previous levels and making reductions elsewhere,” Liang said.

Prioritizing the student experience

Although a cut of over $100,000 is expected for AMS Events within all three budget models — from $473,241 last year to $359,709 this year — Liang has emphasized that “student experience is a top priority.” She stated that the majority of the cuts are due to the uncertainty of an in-person Welcome Back BBQ and acknowledged that the AMS Events team is working to ensure students “receive the best UBC experience that they can.”

While major cuts are being made to events, all three of the potential budgets allocate for strong student services. The AMS has invested $25,000 to “maintain and improve student engagement.” Investments have been made to club support resources to make extracurriculars readily accessible online.

“Despite an overall reduction in revenue, we increased our student services department budget by 11 per cent and student government by 6 per cent in comparison to the year before,” Liang said. “We have also expanded our student-facing departments to ensure information is accurately and efficiently delivered to all students.”