This Wednesday and Thursday the Arts and Science Students’ Union will be holding a referendum for a $2 per student per term increase in their student levy.
As of now, the levy sits at $7.50 per term. The increase to $9.50 would, according to ASSU President Gavin Nowlan, increase it from “one of the lowest levies on campus” to “one of maybe the bottom three levies on campus of all student societies.”
Unlike the University of Toronto Students’ Union, ASSU has no automatic “cost of living” fee increase which rises with inflation. “We have nothing,” says Nowlan, “so the fee that we had in 2004–2005, when we last raised our fee, is the same fee that we have today. So no check for inflation, no change in it whatsoever.”
This 5–6 year cycle reflects ASSU’s policy that fees should increase as little as possible over the course of a degree. The fee structure operates such that in the first two years of the 5–6 year cycle, ASSU takes in more money than it spends; the third year, it should roughly break even, and the remainder of the time it will run a deficit budget on paper. This year, that deficit is equivalent to $8,234.
That is to say, the initial levy increase should be large enough that ASSU can save money in the first two years, and spend it when they run a budget deficit in the last two years, such that the typical undergrad will not see a fee increase in their time at the university.
“It was developed by ASSU as an egalitarian policy so that everyone pays into the pot with as limited fee increases as possible,” said Nowlan.
The current $2 increase is apparently a function of tradition.
Nowlan suggested that an increase is necessary for flexibility in their budget. “$2 multiplied by 26, 000 students is enough money to add funding for the next five years — and also $2 is not too onerous per term. That’s something it seems like students are willing to accept, that level of increase at one time. It would take us so much longer to change our process to have that $2 spread over five years. It’s just what’s made sense in the past and makes sense now.”
With regard to why an increased levy is necessary, Nowlan cited inflationary pressures as well as the recent proliferation of programs of study, and consequently course unions.
“There are way more individual units,” said Nowlan. “Used to be there was History, and now we have History, the Centre for Medieval Studies, the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, and International Relations. Peace and Conflict Studies came out of Political Science, and every group of students that get split up by the faculty want to be their own course union, so out of English came Book and Media Studies, so now Book and Media Studies has a course union.”
Critical to this is that ASSU’s constitution guarantees a baseline of equal funding to every course union, regardless of their size, such that a department of 150 students will receive the same as one of several thousand.
Nowlan claimed that this has “not really been a problem in the past, because there are ways to get around that in our funding structure. To give, let’s say, more money to the bigger course unions depending on the size of their events.”
Still, the baseline guarantee combined with this increase in numbers represents a significant change in expenditure. Nowlan estimates that in the past five years, some 15 new student unions have required funding.
Nowlan stated clearly that the union “is not adding any new services, we’re making sure we can actually fund the services we have and deal with the increased demand students have for their course unions and for the services we provide.”
“To plan creative events and to do that sort of stuff, it takes money […] and we want to provide them with that money,” said Nowlan, claiming that insufficient funding of the course unions has been “a big complaint for a number of years.”