Everything You Always Wanted To Know About The Fee Referendum*

*But weren’t told by the people who stand to gain from it.

There is no unbiased source of information about the ongoing fee referendum currently in existence. AMS Elections, which is supposed to exist as a neutral source of information about the content of the referendum, has been ineffective in this regard. The biggest oversight was the fact that the referendum questions were not posted by AMS Elections in advance of polling. As a result, the only place students were able to read the questions they were voting on was by going to the AMS’s “VOTE YES” website. Now tens of thousands of dollars deep into their “VOTE YES” campaign, the AMS has only been discussing certain aspects of how the fee structure changes will affect students rather than giving a full picture of what the new structure entails.

Ordinarily, The Ubyssey could be counted on to give high quality information about the referendum. However, they are participating in the fee referendum, resulting in a deep, unacknowledged conflict of interest. This might not be an issue if the editorial pieces and news pieces regarding the referendum were clearly demarcated and the news pieces remained high quality. Unfortunately, as much as the Ubyssey is generally a good publication, this has not occurred. The news pieces have simply regurgitated the incomplete story the AMS is putting forward. The full-page, front-cover editorial in favour of the fee referendum in yesterday’s paper was particularly unprofessional and, in my view, highly unethical.

It then falls to the independent media, which have nothing to lose or gain from the referendum, to provide meaningful coverage. While this blog thrives on having opinions and taking positions, the one and only goal of this article is to provide factual, unbiased background information about the full implications of the current fee referendum.

All coverage of the fee referendum so far has focused almost exclusively on the amounts of the fees only and the $5 increase that the “typical” student will see. Arguably, that $5 increase is one of the more minor aspects of the fee referendum. There are actually six distinct types of changes being made to the fee structure, all with varying implications. For clarity, the referendum fee table is reproduced below; anywhere the proposed fee structure differs from the current fee structure, the changes have been highlighted in bold red. (Changes in the amounts of fees have not been highlighted since that is already laid out clearly.)

Fee Old Fees New Fees Difference Pro-rated Opt-Out Provision 3% Subsidy Index
AMS Membership $12.50 $21.00 $8.50 N N Y Y
Student Spaces Fund $15.00 $15.75 $0.75 N N Y Y
Resource Groups $1.50 $1.50 $0.00 N Y N Y
External and University Lobbying and Advocacy $3.50 $4.00 $0.50 N N Y Y
AMS Refugee Student Fund $2.50 $2.50 $0.00 N N Y Y
Sexual Assault Support Services Fund $3.00 $3.25 $0.25 N N Y Y
Student Services $5.00 $7.00 $2.00 N N Y Y
CiTR $4.00 $5.00 $1.00 N Y N Y
Sustainability Projects Fund $0.00 $2.25 $2.25 N N Y Y
International Projects Fund $0.00 $0.25 $0.25 N N Y Y
Student Clubs Benefit Fund $0.00 $1.50 $1.50 N N Y Y
Childcare Bursary Fund $0.00 $1.00 $1.00 N N Y Y
Student Legal Fund $1.00 $1.00 $0.00 N N Y N
AMS Financial Assistance Fund $12.00 $12.00 $0.00 N N Y N
Ubyssey Publication Society $5.00 $6.00 $1.00 N Y N Y
AMS Athletics and Intramurals Benefit $21.00 $21.00 $0.00 N N Y N
AMS Health and Dental Plan Fund $228.37 $214.37 -$14.00 N Y N Y
Total $314.37 $319.37 $5.00

There’s quite a bit of red up there. There is more going on than a simple $5 fee increase. The six types of fee changes:

1. Changes in the amounts of existing fees

This is self-explanatory. An increase of $19 to various fees and a reduction of $14 to the health and dental plan. If you are part of the health and dental plan, your net increase only will be $5 but if you are one of the ~25% of students who opt out of the health and dental plan, your net increase will be the full $19.

2. New fees

Also fairly self-explanatory. The International Projects Fund and the Childcare Bursary Fund go towards existing UBC initiatives. The Student Clubs Benefit Fund creates a dedicated pool of money for clubs to draw on, something which had previously been funded to a lesser degree from the AMS’s general fee. The Sustainability Projects Fund is for exactly what the name indicates, funding undetermined future sustainability projects. For example, worms in the SUB.

3. Changes to pro-ratedness

Currently, some AMS fees are pro-rated (they are charged on a per credit basis) for part-time students (those taking fewer than 18 credits from Sept-Apr). Under the new fee proposal, none of the fees will be prorated.

For example, a part-time student enrolled in 12 credits per year would see an increase of $11.72 simply as a result of the elimination of pro-rating. Once the additional $5 is added on, it’s $16.72. If this student also happens to opt out of the health plan, their fees will be increasing over $30/year as a result of this referendum.

While part-time students are a minority, they’re a large minority. According to UBC Planning and Institutional Research, there are over 12,000 part-time undergraduates at UBC Vancouver, or just under one third of the undergraduate population. All of these students will see fee increases well above $5 if the referendum passes, a fact that has not been made clear to part-time students.

4. Changes to opt-outs

Currently, students can opt-out of paying certain student fees if they want to save a few bucks, or object on principle to their money going towards certain activities. Under the changes, one fee which used to be mandatory, the Resource Groups fee will now be opt-out eligible, but four others will have opt-out provisions removed and become mandatory. Opt-out provisions for CiTR, the Ubyssey and Health and Dental fees remain unchanged.

Excluding Health and Dental (because its opt-out provision carries additional requirements), it’s currently possible to opt out of $30 of fees each year. Under the proposed changes that amount will be reduced to $12.50.

5. Introduction of fee subsidies

As an alternative to opt-outs, a fee subsidy is being introduced instead. If you look closely at the table, the opt-out column and the 3% subsidy column are interdependent. If there is a “Y” in one column, there is an “N” in the other. Instead of offering opt-outs, the AMS will put aside money equivalent to 3% of the fee in order to reimburse fees for students with financial need.

For certain fees which are passed onto other organizations, it will actually result in lost revenues. The Student Legal Fund Society and Athletics and Intramural fees will see a 3% decrease in revenue as a result of the subsidy. Neither fee will be indexed either (see below). The SLFS and UBC Athletics both say they were not consulted about possible changes to their fees.

6. CPI Indexing

Almost no student fees are currently tied to inflation, causing them to lose value in “real dollars” each year. The proposed changes make it so that almost all of the fees are subject to automatic increases every year at the rate of inflation.

Over the long term, this is the most important change for the AMS because guaranteed fee increases year after year represent long-term financial sustainability, much more so than a one-time increase. On the other side of the coin, over the long term, it’s the change that will result in the largest fee increases to students, far greater than the $5 increase that is everyone’s current, narrow focus.

So how should you vote?


Most students would say the fee referendum question is simply about a $5 increase to fees. That’s just one small part of the referendum. Students who opt-out of the health plan will see a $19 increase. The one third of undergraduates who are part-time students will also see more significant increases. Future students for decades to come will see the largest increases of all.

Do you support an increase in fees and the creation of new fees? Do you get value for the fees you pay and will you get value in the future?

Should all students pay the same amount of fees, regardless of whether they are part-time or full-time?

Should most fees have opt-out provisions or is the 3% subsidy a better model? Or is neither good?

Do you support annual inflationary increases to fees?

We’re trying to lay out the facts and are encouraging you to think about it so that you can make an informed decision rather than heeding the mindless cries of “VOTE YES” or “VOTE NO”. Unlike proponents of either side of the referendum, we think you’re all smart people and, given all the facts, are perfectly capable of thinking for yourselves and coming to a decision.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. Thanks for this breakdown, insiders. Its much better reading it from a source that is less biased than the ubyssey (which has a lot to gain from) or the AMS (which has been incompetent since the days of MIke Duncan.

    Posted by Timmy Wong | March 8, 2011, 11:04 am
  2. Great article. Thanks for taking the time to lay everything out so clearly, and in such an unbiased manner. It’s great to see some real journalism in a campus publication.

    Posted by Hans Seidemann | March 8, 2011, 11:11 am

    Posted by Alex Lougheed | March 8, 2011, 11:57 am

    Posted by Michael Haack | March 8, 2011, 12:44 pm
  5. Thank you! This is really informative, and very clear and easy to follow. I had seen what they were intending to do but didn’t understand what had changed, or what it meant.

    Posted by Jo | March 8, 2011, 7:20 pm
  6. Fantastic article, I will pass this along to everyone I know.

    It won’t be long until the referendum is over, but I was wondering if there will be a piece on the bylaw changes?

    Posted by Lionel | March 8, 2011, 9:19 pm
  7. I’m not an economist, although I do play one on the internet. But it seems to me that tying a fee to inflation absolutely does not mean it will “result in the largest fee increases to students.” It’s inflation; it rises with the rest of the economy. NOT tying it to inflation effectively results in a decrease in the fee, which is our entire problem in the first place.

    Posted by Brian Platt | March 9, 2011, 12:07 am
  8. Haha, exactly what Michael said.

    Also, don’t forget that 3/4 of the Insider’s team used to sit on AMS Council. And that 2/4 having been actual Execs (no names).

    You used to be “the man” Alex, don’t be so quick to forget that ;)

    (Note: I am not implying that the article is biased. Far from it. I’m just pointing out the obvious.)

    Posted by Peter | March 9, 2011, 7:55 am
  9. @Haack

    It’s true, though our annual expenses are around $100 for servers, domains, and special projects. The winnings from VFM go into our pockets as an incentive to keep it up. We’re not ‘reliant’ on the income. I project we could raise at least our VFM winnings annually from donation drives (but we’d rather focus efforts on content, rather than business, because that’s not the point.)

    Used to be and being are very different things.

    Oh, also, it was a joke. Hence the FOXTROTian allcaps.

    Posted by Alex Lougheed | March 9, 2011, 10:26 am
  10. Thank you for the unbiased, clean read.

    Posted by Dominic Tong | March 9, 2011, 4:11 pm
  11. @Lionel, well, I wrote almost of 2,000 words about a half-sentence in the proposed bylaw changes that isn’t even in the version going to referendum anymore.

    The changes generally do what they say on the box. Records restrictions do go a little beyond the existing policy but aren’t nearly as bad when they were first drafted, quorum lowering has both benefits and drawbacks (Also, they say they couldn’t pay for a ~1,000 person AGM because it could only be in the Chan, but there are at least 3 other, cheaper places it could potentially be held.) The no-removing-executives alteration just reinforces what’s already there. The part about executive remuneration crosses out a portion mandating paying execs an archaic amount no sane person would do the job for ($200) and actually closes a funny little loophole that might require paying, say, an MBA student’s entire yearly tuition if s/he were to be elected to exec.

    Posted by Laura Rodgers | March 9, 2011, 5:22 pm
  12. As a first year who hasn’t been told anything about the fee restructuring, this article really helped me to understand it. Thanks!

    Posted by Hunter Cochrane | March 9, 2011, 6:25 pm
  13. This article doesn’t discuss one thing that I think is very important, which is what the impact of the -$14.00 decrease to the health and dental plan will be.

    What is the cost of this change? What are we losing for it? What is the motivation behind this decision?

    Posted by Jacob Bayless | March 10, 2011, 12:11 pm
  14. Jacob, I should have said more about the AMS’s current financial situation for background. Laura dealt with that better here: http://ubcinsiders.ca/2011/03/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-endorse-the-fee-referendum/

    As for the health plan, the AMS recently switched providers and managed to negotiate a better price for the same coverage. Therefore, no coverage is being immediately lost as a result of the $14.00 decrease. In a sense, it’s the AMS trying to pass on the savings to students (while clawing back those savings at the same time).

    However, whether it results in cuts to coverage or reduced flexibility in the future remains to be seen. The AMS re-negotiates their health plan annually. If there were to be a large increase in claims in coming years, it’s possible the insurance companies would raise the price for the coverage we currently receive beyond what the AMS can afford on the reduced fee. In that case, cuts might have to be made to the health plan to meet the price point of the fee. It might happen or it might not. There’s absolutely no way to predict it on a 5 or 10-year horizon.

    Posted by Neal Yonson | March 10, 2011, 2:02 pm
  15. So, no matter what you vote, the savings on the health plan will still be passed on to student services, right?

    Posted by Paul | March 10, 2011, 6:37 pm
  16. Hey Paul,

    Unfortunately our hands are tied when it comes to reallocating funding.

    The savings from our Health Plan will not be passed on to students if this referendum doesn’t pass. It will go into our reserve fund (which already has over a million dollars).

    The proposed fees are a result of months of consultations with students groups and councilors. The current fees are a mess, and have no rationale when it comes to por-ratedness, opt-outs, etc. The proposed system will fix all of this.

    Posted by Elin | March 10, 2011, 9:07 pm
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