AMS pushes for millions of dollars in Excellence Fund allocation toward student priorities

The AMS is pushing for UBC to allocate millions of dollars from the almost $50 million Excellence Fund to student asks.

In recent months, AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Max Holmes has been working on budget proposals for UBC’s consideration — and he now expects that about $7 million of the AMS asks are on the university’s priority list.

This would include a $2.5 million investment to create 250 new WorkLearn jobs, a $2.5 million contribution to the Blue and Gold campaign for needs-based and leadership scholarships, and $750,000 annually for two years for open educational resources development.

According to Holmes, these asks come back to the overarching goal of the society’s advocacy to make education more affordable and accessible to students.

“It’s not only about being the best university, but it's also about being the best university that's accessible to all and making sure that if you want to come here, you can come here,” Holmes said.

Beside affordability, there would also potentially be $330,000 to staff the Integrated Health Centre currently being built in Orchard Commons. This would be on top of the $3.7 million originally proposed for modular health units that would support student wellness while Brock Commons undergoes renovations, which has already been allocated out of discretionary funding.

“If we're going to strive to be the best university, then we need to make sure that we support the students who are here,” said Holmes.

Those objectives are not the only items on the AMS’s long list of asks.

The society also asked for $150,000 to go towards filling a gap in UBC’s support policy for former youth in care, as it felt that the program should expand its scope to have a more national focus and support all students in the Canadian foster care system.

There’s also $1.1 million to expand Jump Start and make it more affordable as the program continues to grow, as well as a $250,000 per year partnership with LinkedIn Learning to identify “key gaps and opportunities” for UBC and its students.

The AMS is also asking for funding to the Graduate Student Fellowships. They include the Doctoral Recruitment Fellowship and the International Doctoral Fellowship, which both provide students a $30,000 stipend plus tuition for four years.

UBC indicated it was receptive but stopped short of confirming any funding commitment.

“The university has always recognized the importance of student experience,” said David Shorthouse, UBC’s executive director of academic initiatives. “Mental health is something that is near and dear to all of us, and we need to support that and anything to do with providing students with access.”

He added that the next step for UBC is to nail down the final costs associated with the proposals and look at how to allocate available funding efficiently.

As a result, it’s not yet clear how feasible each of the AMS’s asks are, or whether they’ll receive the full amount requested.

“We try to do best to support all the good proposals,” Shorthouse said. “Sometimes that means giving it a bit of a haircut.”

The university will go to the February Board of Governors (BoG) meeting for more consultation and consolidate the community feedback and proposals in March. The final budget would then be voted on at the April BoG meeting.

While both UBC and the society emphasized talks have been positive this year, Holmes had previously stated that student priorities were being ignored in the Excellence Fund’s allocations, which he considered unfair because the fund is sourced from an increase in international student tuition.

Shorthouse responded that timing of work on UBC strategic plan and the budget at the same time made time slip away — but he also promised to better consult the society.

Ultimately, Holmes and AMS President Marium Hamid hope that the budget consultation will become a yearly process for the AMS and will continue to improve in the future.

“We hope that all these priorities are coming back to students in a way that affects the quality of life on campus,” said Hamid. “Students should have a say in how all of these things are affecting them.”