Undergraduate societies collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in student fees, but it’s not always clear where your money goes.
The Ubyssey examined the budgets of the four largest undergraduate student unions to break down what they’re doing with students’ cash.
We examined financial records from the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), the Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS), the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) and the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) to compare the numbers.
How we did it
Generally, most unions are not transparent about their expenditures. The EUS publishes its budget online in real time while the AUS and SUS post previous years’ budgets on their websites.
Both the AUS and the SUS emailed current budgets to The Ubyssey. EUS VP Finance Katherine Westerlund and SUS VP Finance Sean Jeong acknowledged that certain budget lines may be delayed due to delays with AMS transaction systems.
Of the four societies, CUS was the only society that did not have current spending data for 2018/19 available which, according to CUS president Evan Zhou, was because of internal delays in processing data. Data for the CUS is from August 2018 projections posted on its website.
The AUS collects the lowest fee per student at $13.
On the other end of the spectrum is the CUS, which collects $261.80 per student — more than 20 times the amount an arts student pays.
In between, engineering and science students pay $45.09 and $26.16, respectively.
Aggregated, CUS is the undergraduate society with the most cash. They collected the $989,033 in fees last year, greater than the total student fees collected by the AUS ($166,139), EUS ($207,404) and SUS ($209,363) combined.
As of last year, the AUS represents 12,799 students, followed by SUS with 8,074 students. The EUS serves 4,667 students and the CUS represents the smallest faculty of the four with 3,803 students.
The CUS says its high fee is based on a democratic vote.
“This fee … was determined through a referendum,” said CUS VP Finance Ajit Joseph. “So at that time, the Sauder student body did feel that there could be value ... by providing the CUS such a significant fee.
The CUS allocated $197,500, 20 per cent of its entire budget, on the Hari B. Varshney Business Career Centre (BCC). The BCC offers Sauder students career development services to “help students find jobs [and] prepare for interviews” by connecting them to industry professionals and business conferences.
Zhou explained that the significant chunk spent on the BCC supports the CUS’s goal to support Sauder students.
“ … The BCC is one way that we help cultivate the professional success of students,” said Zhou.
The societies supplement their operations with surpluses, room booking fees and event revenue.
The AUS receives locker rental revenue and, like the EUS, earns sales from vending machines. The SUS and EUS also sell merchandise.
A sizeable portion of SUS’s budget goes to the Abdul Ladha Science Student Centre. This year’s mortgage payment was $63,000, or 30 per cent of student fees collected.
The SUS has also spent $2,562 on building upkeep and maintenance.
“I feel like the building's breaking down, because there's issues with the water fountain and piping,” said SUS VP Finance Sean Jeong.
Westerlund said the EUS has similar expenses, but emphasized that replacing things like the sound system in the Engineering Student Centre (ESC) make a “good investment.”
“There are infinite ways, seemingly, that you can expand the services and facilities within our building,” she said. The EUS has spent $5,921 on Engineering Student Centre maintenance so far this year.
The AUS is working on constructing the Arts Student Centre (ASC) and collects $15 per student annually to support the project.
The CUS does not own a building, but budgeted $4000 for maintaining its lounge in the Henry Angus Building.
The AUS has struggled with reaching ticket sales targets, especially with events like stARTup, AUS’s first-year orientation event. In 2017/18, ticket revenue of $18,304 fell well short of its $27,000 goal.
This year, AUS anticipated raising $16,000 but only made $4590.
AUS VP Finance Lucia Liang attributed this to students choosing other events like Jump Start.
“It's the first year that Jump Start has expanded … to commuter students,” she said. “ … Since Jump Start was very similar to stARTup … it was like competition.”
Contrarily, the EUS’s E-Retreat event sold $9,230 worth of tickets this year, and spent $7847 after expenses — even though last year, there were only 884 first-year engineering students compared to 2937 in arts.
According to a UBC report, there were 884 first year engineering students compared to 2937 in arts.
“This year, we have a pretty strong first year class, they all seem super motivated,” said Westerlund.
SUS’s Science RXN didn’t enjoy the same success. The society spent $17,000 on Science RXN after earning only $6,125 from ticket sales.
“I feel like events maybe plan to just use as a lot of the money as possible to benefit the students,” said Jeong. He said that other events like a recent coffeehouse saw great turnout despite having low budgets.
“ … There's a lot of events that don't use any budget and then it could turn out to be great.”
Sauder’s first-year orientation event Spark is run by the faculty, not the CUS, but the society contributed $22,500.
Neither the AUS nor the CUS has published data on this year’s executive retreat, but the AUS budgeted $1,000 and the CUS $1,500.
Zhou says the CUS retreat budget is justified because executives gain valuable knowledge on the trip.
“Our biggest feedback for retreat was that we put too much workshops into it,” he said.
The SUS spent $1383, followed by EUS with $1,350. Jeong justified SUS’s retreat budget, saying that it was less in comparison to “other societies” like the CUS.
“A lot of people complain about internal spending, especially just like retreats and stuff,” he said. “I think where it's at is currently okay.”