Where do those student fees go?

With UMSU about to experience a changeover of executives following the recent election, the current executives are busy drafting the budget for 2011-12.

UMSU vice-president (internal) Aisyah Abdkahar explained that the UMSU budget for the upcoming year must be completed prior to the beginning of new executives’ term, and much of this is done during the winter semester.

This means that incoming executives are not necessarily involved in drafting the budget, through UMSU council new executives in office can make amendments as needed.

“One major benefit to this system is that it provides some consistency year-to-year. In our system, the outgoing executive, finance committee and UMSU council — whose members all have at least a year’s worth of experience at this point — can set the general direction for next year’s executives, finance committee and UMSU council,” said Abdkahar.

Abdkahar stated that the current executives have been in communication with the incoming executives on what their priorities are for next year. The incoming executives are also invited to attend finance committee meetings and UMSU council meetings, where the budget will be approved for next year.

According to the 2010-11 budget, UMSU collects $905,000 in student fees. $259,500 of this is allocated to be spent on discretionary expenses for student groups, campaigns and event programming.

However, Abdkahar said she thought “the idea that only a small proportion of membership dues benefits students is untrue. As a non-profit organization, every dollar we collect is used to fund activities and services that benefit our members.”

“None of it is siphoned off to pay shareholders. While it is true that only a quarter-million of it is spent on discretionary spending, [ . . . ] the remainder still directly and indirectly benefits our membership,” she continued.

In the UMSU budget for the 2010-11 year, only $50,000 was reserved for student service group funding, where as in the 2009-2010 year the funding was $72,000.
Abdkahar stated that this was a shift in funding, rather then a cut.

“The service groups are now funded by both the UMSU operating budget and the UMSU endowment fund. In 2009-10, a portion of the funding for the service groups was shifted to the endowment fund, resulting in what looks like a cut in funding in the budget,” explained Abdkahar.

In addition to the shift, UMSU council also increased the net funding for service groups by a few thousand dollars, in an amendment on December 9, 2010.

The Womyn’s Centre, Rainbow Pride Mosaic, and Aboriginal Students Association receive $10,000 each from the UMSU endowment fund. Respectively, $15,500, $17,00 and $17,500 is given to each group from the UMSU operating budget.

The 2010-2011 budget allocated $81,000 towards external relations.

Abdkahar explained that this portion of the budget funds joint-management costs of University Centre because UMSU is responsible for half of the security costs for the building under the University Centre Management Agreement.

From the $81,000, $13,000 is set aside for Canadian Federation of Students general meetings.
UMSU attends two of these meetings each year, and Abdkahar said that the $13,000 covers travel costs, delegate fees and the implementation of the travel funding policy, which requires that UMSU subsidize the cost of child care and similar expense for UMSU delegates.

Abdkahar said that UMSU regularly sends seven or more people to these general meetings, and that these meetings are beneficial because they provide training and education to attendees. In addition, Abdkahar said that UMSU had been spending less then budgeted on meetings through conservative budgeting.

According to Abdkahar, the remainder of the money pays for the wages and benefits of the salaried UMSU employees, costs of running an office and running elections. In addition, the rest pays to subsidize student service groups. Of this, $170 000 was spent on the salaries for UMSU executives in the 2010-2011 budget.

“While students may not always see the benefits of this spending directly, UMSU could not function without these expenses. Every visible, public action of UMSU is supported by hours of behind-the-scene work,” said Abdkahar.

Every year when drafting a new budget, UMSU distributes a survey asking students what they would like to see money spent on and includes a section for comments. The survey is available in both online and paper form.

Abdkahar said that UMSU received nearly 500 responses to this year’s the survey and that the turnout was higher then previous years. The survey was distributed through e-mail and via handouts around campus. Abdkahar also said that students were approached at random and invited to complete the survey.

UMSU also consults the Rainbow Pride Mosaic, the Aboriginal Students Association and the Womyn’s Centre about funding directives. Abdkahar also said that the UMSU executives “are available to meet with students who want to express any suggestion for, or criticism of, the UMSU budget.”

emphasized textEric Wasylenko, a fourth-year arts student, said that he wasn’t too worried about the specifics of how his student fees are spent and that he hasn’t seen a UMSU budget survey.
Wasylenko attends UMSU events like Celebration Week, which are funded by his fees, and feels UMSU does enough to make information available to those that want it.

“I don’t think you need to push it on everyone; if people want to know they will go find it,” said Wasylenko.

Ryan Fics, a U of M student in the faculty of arts, said that he would like to see more student engagement and awareness about how UMSU budgets its money and said he has never seen one of the budget surveys.

“They should be putting up posters all over the place, and I think before any decisions are made there should be a general consensus throughout the student body. The students should be the ones in power making the decisions, rather then a hierarchical bureaucracy in a sense,” said Fics.

Fics explained that he would like something “more like an open forum, where a consensus can be achieved through knowledge and understanding.

Cady Goodbrandson, a student from the faculty of arts, said that she had seen the budget survey before and was somewhat aware of the money she pays towards student fees.

“I think more can be done. I don’t really pay that much attention, but I see what happens with my tuition statements, but that’s really all I know about it,” said Goodbrandson, talking about awareness of student fees.

Goodbrandson would like students fees go towards the school and students itself, in the form of more student-run programs.