By Preeteesh Peetabh Singh
The Student Association’s (SA) board of directors took 17 minutes to discuss if their office walls should have group photographs or individual shots, but approved a potential $5.98 million student levy in far less time at the Oct. 15 board meeting.
Natraj Ramachandran from the GBC foundation was at the meeting to present the proposed student levy of $25 per year starting in September 2013. Supposedly 75 per cent will be used towards student scholarships and bursaries and 25 per cent will fund capital projects.
The proposed student levy, which was unanimously approved by the board, estimates an annual student contribution of $598,000 totalling $5.98 million over 10 years. According to Julia Mackenzie, the SA’s director of Internal Affairs, the accumulated funds will be invested constantly and gain interest. All funds will be managed by the GBC foundation.
The criteria and qualifications required for getting the scholarships and bursaries, types of awards, amounts and other specific details have not been decided yet. Mohammad Ali Aumeer, director of Education and Equity for the SA, said board members will be working to create a transparent process which is free of marginalization.
An estimated $149,600 coLlected from students every year would be used to support capital projects such as expansion and renovation at the Waterfront, St. James and Casa Loma campuses.
“It will allow for a stronger student voice in the planning stages of facilities expansion and renovations that will allow the SA to advocate for student issues such as increased multi-faith space and women’s only gym time.” said Mackenzie.
However, the powerpoint presentation at the board meeting only mentions that there would be a “Variety of naming recognition opportunities within the Waterfront campus and future expansion projects.”
The new ancillary fee will be in addition to a variety of current fees such as the application fee, material fee, administration fee, student activity fee, Canadian Federation of Students fee and health insurance fee. Note that the existing student activity fee collected goes to capital projects, renovations, photocopying, services, paying staff salaries, organizing events and running campaigns.
Aumeer said, “I do not support any back-door tuition fee hikes through an ancillary fee. But, in terms of positives, It was great opportunity for SA to provide more student support in forms of scholarships, bursaries, equity focused capital projects, and capital investments.”
The GBC foundation already has a $1 million endowment fund and got a $50,000 donation from the SA in past years. The interest accumulated from the fund is used to provide student scholarships and awards each year.
What happens to this donation with the arrival of student levy? While Aumeer said that it would continue, Mackenzie said that it would no longer exist once the levy comes into effect.
“On an average it produced less than two dozen awards of $1000 in a year,” said Aumeer about the current bursaries by the SA. The new levy will see available SA awards increase dramatically. According to Aumeer, opting out of the levy will not mean that those students will not be eligible for scholarships, or they do not get access to the athletic center. They will have the same privilege as the students who participate.
The SA is hoping to create a flexible model that will take into account the potential for a lower than expected participation rate. Similar levies in Canada have seen voluntary participation from students.
The SA will also look to make the registration process very simple and clear. “We do not want students to say later that they did not know they could opt-out.” said Aumeer.
“I think the split was really fair. I believe that we as students have to be a part of the college infrastructure.” said Chris Bourque, the SA’s Liberal Arts And Preparatory Studies education centre representative, “GBC Foundation first came with a 50-50 split, but SA was not in agreement with it, so we settled for 75 per cent of the amount collected going towards scholarships and rest 25 per cent towards capital projects in the college.”
A lot of questions remain still unanswered, which is a concern; it is students’ money that is being levied. The board’s approval of the proposal without seeing any legal document at the meeting was also a bit muddling.
Is the concept of students paying for their own scholarships viable?
Why did a multi-million dollar proposal not go to a referendum?