Student society budgets: Where do your fees go?

A small portion of UBC students’ tuition instalment goes towards undergraduate societies who spend these fees on various events and services for their constituents. But where exactly does all this money go?

For the third year in a row, we looked into the budgets of the four largest undergraduate societies — Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS), Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) and Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) — to determine how each one spends their student fees.

The data we used

The EUS and SUS sent their budgets for the 2020/21 year, and the CUS sent its Q4 budget report. The AUS sent an incomplete budget, which their 2020/21 VP Finance was unable to complete from “complications and difficulties due to the pandemic and online communication” according to current AUS VP Finance Linda Zheng.

Student fees

Student fees for the AUS, CUS, EUS and SUS were $13, $275.34, $106.50 and $27.27 respectively, according to the 2020/21 academic calendar.

A portion of the EUS and SUS student fees goes towards repaying a mortgage on their student centres, amounting to $50 and $9 per student respectively. For students in the AUS or CUS, the 2020/21 calendar listed a separate $26.29 Arts Student Centre Building Fee and $570.35 Commerce Student Building Fee.

First-year spending

With the 2020/21 year being entirely online, events such as first-year orientations had much smaller budgets and incurred expenses much less than what was originally budgeted. SUS’s Science RXN was the most expensive first-year orientation, costing $4,270.17.

While the actuals for EUS’s Week E^0 were listed to be $38,250, the line item simply represented an amount allocated towards the 2021/22 Week E^0. In reality, the event was “mostly on Zoom without spending anything,” said current EUS VP Finance Danie Benetton.

Likewise, AUS’s KickstART cost $878.42 and CUS’s Spark cost nothing. For comparison, in 2019/20, Spark, Science RXN, Week E^0 and KickstART each cost $22,500, $19,237, $10,329 and $5,278 respectively.

Money unspent

The cheaper cost of online events has resulted in larger amounts of student fees to go unspent.

The EUS had projected a $56,190.90 surplus, but instead netted $33,350.21. The smaller surplus was the result of spending around $125,000 more than what was budgeted toward repaying the ESC mortgage and the allocation of an unspent $38,250 towards the 2021/22 Week E0 instead of to the general account.

Meanwhile, the SUS netted a $495.22 surplus after projecting a $58,485.85 deficit. This came about even after allocating $23,246.82 on a course material subsidy for students. The surplus will be used on an AV system in the Abdul Ladha Science Student Centre, according to the budget.

The CUS had the largest margins, with a $182,131.50 surplus against a projected $174,221.84 deficit. According to its Q4 budget report, the surplus was resulted from “a conservative mentality and desire to be fiscally responsible.”

The difference between the AUS’s projected and actual spending is unclear due to its incomplete budget.

Fees and COVID-19: Moving forward

In June, the AMS passed a code amendment allowing constituencies to reduce their student fees for students enrolled during the COVID-19 disruption.

While the CUS decided to decrease its fees from $271.84 to $199 given its large 2020/21 surplus and the uncertainties surrounding term one initiatives, the other three constituencies were firm in maintaining their student fees.

The AUS pointed out that it already had one of the lowest fees at $13 per student despite being the largest faculty. In case of any surplus, Zheng hopes to put it towards a “scholarship and bursary” fund for all arts students. The EUS and SUS echoed similar sentiments, anticipating that the return to in-person events and new initiatives will result in more student fees spent.

Each constituency also has plans to ensure that student money is still being spent if surpluses remain. While student centre mortgages were mentioned as a way to easily spend massive surpluses, it was acknowledged that loan repayments were not the most optimal way to spend student fees.

“We are hoping to put out a subsidy for AMS and UBC Rec events as well as a miniature version of our 2020/21 course subsidy,” said SUS VP Finance Caris Tin.

“Although we spent all the surplus in the past on mortgage payments, we hope to spend any future surpluses to benefit the students who the fees come from rather than students 12 years in the future.”