Each student gives the AMS hundreds of dollars in fees each year, but they can only touch $45 of it.
That's because those fees are either discretionary — meaning that the AMS can spend them as they see fit — or non-discretionary, meaning the AMS collects the fee, but it's immediately passed into someone else's bank account.
“We can't touch that money,” said AMS VP Finance Louis Retief on non-discretionary funding. “We're collecting a lot, but we literally can't spend any of it because it's meant for such specific purposes.”
The AMS will collect a total of $19,998,330.56 from students this year, along with $638,814 from their businesses and $325,000 from returns on their investments. Of the total amount from those three categories, non-discretionary fees total $18,094,650, while $2,165,335 is available to the union as discretionary funds.
If a student pays every fee, including ones that can be opted out from, like health and dental coverage or the U-Pass, they'll pay $587.62. Of that, $45.19 (the discretionary amount) is available to the AMS to spend how they see fit. Here's how that number breaks down:
General Fee: $39.32
The fee levied from every member of the AMS. Membership is mandatory if you're an undergraduate student at UBC.
Sexual Assault Support Services Fee: $3.47
The Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) supports survivors of sexualized violence by providing crisis support, education, advocacy and more.
“Even though SASC is meant for a very specific purpose, [the fee] runs our entire SASC office — we can at least use that for day-to-day operations,” said Retief.
Lighter Footprint Fee: $2.40
Runs the AMS's sustainability office and environmental initiatives.
Of that $45.19, the largest portion — $13.45, or about 30 per cent — goes towards administrative costs. Included in that budget is administration for the AMS businesses and governance, including full-time staff salaries.
The second-largest portion, executive portfolios — $9.23, or 20 per cent of your $45.19 — goes to the AMS executive committee (that's the president and vice-presidents), including their staff, individual budget and their own salaries. Here's how each AMS exec's portfolio breaks down:
Each executive makes $32,500 annually — if you're curious, that means $5.39 of your yearly student fees go directly to their salaries combined.
Next up is student services: $8.16 — or 18 per cent of the $45.19 — goes toward this budget, which includes things like the Foodbank, Safewalk and Vice. Here's the breakdown of each student service's budget:
Fourteen per cent ($6.14) of the $45.19 goes to costs labelled “student government” — things like the cost of the yearly AMS elections, the Ombuds Office and general Council operations, including the Council speaker's and committee chairs' salaries, the cost of the annual Council retreat, the free food at meetings, etc.
Ten per cent ($4.31) of the discretionary fees you pay go to AMS Events, the union's event-hosting service. Twenty-two per cent of that budget will go to Block Party this year — an event that lost $207,000 last year, but is budgeted more conservatively for 2017.
Nine per cent ($3.90) of that $45.19 is allocated to the AMS communications office, which includes advertising costs and — you guessed it — all costs associated with AMS communications.
Now, here is a detailed list of all the other fees you pay, none of which the AMS actually touches:
Capital Projects Fund Fee: $7.61
Goes toward funding long-term projects that are too massive to be included in a single year's budget, like the Student Life and Sustainability Centre.
Student Aid Bursary Fee: $12.00
Given straight to UBC, which administers bursaries for students from this fee.
Athletics and Intramural Fee: $21.00
Also goes to UBC to help run their athletics and recreation programs.
Ombudsperson Fee: $1.04
Goes to the UBC ombuds office.
SUB Renewal Building Fee: $100.00
“That's an obvious one. You paid for this building,” said Retief.
WUSC Fee: $5.22
Goes to the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) group of UBC, who are responsible for bringing refugee students to UBC.
Resource Groups Fee: $1.60
Goes to AMS resource groups like Pride UBC and Colour Connected.
International Projects Fund Fee: $0.26
This fee funds “worthy causes with an international focus,” as explained in this video.
Bike Kitchen Fee: $1.03
The Bike Kitchen is UBC's full-service, non-profit bike shop.
Clubs Benefit Fee: $1.60
Goes to the AMS's Clubs Benefit Fund — a pool of money that clubs can apply for to fund events, projects or other expenses.
“There's a lot of money in there. I always tell clubs, ‘Please apply,’” said Retief.
Childcare Bursary Levy Fee: $1.07
UBC administrates this fee to students in need of childcare bursaries.
CiTR Fee: $5.34
Funds CiTR, the campus radio station.
Student Legal Fund Fee: $1.00
Goes to the Student Legal Fund Society, which provides legal workshops and subsidies, and litigates on students' behalf.
Arts & Culture Fee: $1.50
Funds the Film Society, Blank Vinyl Project, Debate Society, Jazz Cafe, Musical Theatre Troupe, Players Club and Slam Poetry Club.
Health and Dental Fee: $224.16
Read more about the AMS's health and dental plan here. Students can opt out if they're already covered by a different extended health plan.
U-Pass: $158.00 per term
Very cheap Vancouver transit for UBC students, which is assessed at $39.50 per month. U-Pass was approved to continue by students this past March, when the referendum resulted in 96% of votes in favour.
Issues with restrictive funds
Much of the money the AMS collects from students go straight to specific funds. Many of the funds were established by past student referenda, but since the wording was often restrictive, the fees are only used for very specific purposes, or in some cases, collected and left alone. Here are their current balances, as of September 8, 2016:
- AMS Extended Health and Dental Plan: $3,106,880.79
- AMS Endowment Fund: $2,124,585.46
- CPAC (Capital Projects Acquisition and Construction) Reserve: $1,929,489.89
- Student Aid Bursary Fund Reserve: $908,103.02
- AMS Special Bursary/Emergency: $808,731.91
- SUB Repairs and Replacement Reserve: $496,554.99
- Resource Group Reserve: $236,889.58
- Child Care Fund: $198,247.10
- SUB Management Reserve: $191,969.25
- Clubs Benefits Fund: $181,339.72
- Sexual Assault Support Services Fund: $131,249.37
- Lighter Footprint Reserve: $126,603.31
- CiTR Reserve Fund: $117,042.68
- Competitive Athletics Fund: $110,532.79
- Innovative Projects Fund (IPF): $87,299.50
- Refugee Student Reserve (WUSC): $70,351.70
- Approved IPF Projects: $55,116.85
- Ombudsperson: $48,727.31
- Student Initiatives Fund: $40,721.42
- Impact Grant Fund: $39,813.80
- Constituency Aid Fund: $31,719.26
- International Student Reserve: $14,981.35
- Food Bank: $14,855.55
- Federal Elections Fund: $9,625
- Municipal Elections Fund: $6,970.60
- Art Gallery Reserve: $5,769.55
- Provincial Elections Fund: $3,454.44
- External Lobbying Reserve: $2,726.43
- Student Services Fund: $0.31
- Athletics & Intramurals Reserve: -$ 7,603.68
- SUB Renewal Fund: -$16,738.16
- Sexual Assault Initiatives Fund: -$33,340.59
Right now, the AMS has almost $15 million of non-discretionary funding that they're only allowed to touch in very specific cases.
“That's our biggest problem — we have all this money, we just can't spend it. It's awful. It's not fair to students that we're collecting all this money from them and it's just going to go sit in a fund,” said Retief.
The money in these funds is able to be invested by the AMS in safe AAA bonds, but Retief is frustrated by their overall inflexibility.
“Students' needs are changing constantly and we don't have any flexibility to adjust to student needs. We're always playing reactive instead of proactive,” he said.
Correction: this article previously stated that students can opt out of the AMS extended health plan "if they're already covered by a different MSP." In fact, students can opt out of the extended health plan if they're already covered by a different extended health plan.