A bill was introduced in BC’s provincial legislature today which potentially allows university and college students in BC to see a portion of their student fees refunded if they resign their membership in a student society.
Bill 41, called the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), 2015, introduces amendments to the University Act, changing the conditions under which a Board of Governors collects fees on behalf of a student society and explicitly addressing the issue of fee collection from students who do not hold membership in a student society.
Here’s the background you need to know: student societies, as the term implies, are incorporated as societies in BC and must abide by legislation called the Society Act. Recently, BC significantly overhauled this legislation and renamed it as the Societies Act. The new Societies Act was given royal assent on May 14, but has not yet been brought into force. (In other words, it has been approved but not yet implemented.)
The old Society Act did not contemplate the issue of how a member of a society ceases to be a member of a society. It left that issue up to each society’s Bylaws. Generally student societies, in their Bylaws, had ways for them to remove members, but no way for members to remove themselves. Students could not resign and were members whether they liked it or not.
That changed with the new Societies Act, which directly addresses the issue of membership termination. It is clear that a member can resign his or her membership from a society at any time. This was identified as a major source of concern for student societies, which had become accustomed to universal membership. During the provincial government’s consultations prior to adopting the Societies Act, student societies identified this as a concern and asked to have this issue addressed.
Bill 41 represents the “fix” to this issue from the Ministry of Advanced Education. Today’s government news release about the Bill describes:
- Amendments to the University Act and the College and Institute Act will ensure that fees continue to be collected from students who resign from the student society. The Ministry of Advanced Education will consult with student societies to determine which program or service fees should be protected under the legislation.
In reality, the fix is only a half measure. On the one hand, some fees will continue to be collected from students who resign. On the other hand, some fees might not.
The mechanism by which Bill 41 does this is first by establishing two new defined terms in the University Act. They lay out two new types of student fees:
- A capital fee, which is left undefined and will be defined in regulation.
- A program or service fee, which is “a fee for a prescribed program or a prescribed service”
The bill then describes that if student resigns his or her membership in a student society, he or she will still be obligated to pay capital fees and program or service fees. The corollary to that, while not explicitly stated, is that that student society fees not fitting into those two categories will not be collected in the case of a resignation.
Due to the vagueness of the definitions, the matter of which fees fall into each category is left open, to be determined by conversations between student societies and the Ministry. A statement from the Ministry of Advanced Education said that “The Ministry of Advanced Education will consult with student societies before determining which program and service fees will be protected under this legislation. Government has the regulatory authority to determine which fees are protected, but development of the regulation will be informed by the consultation process.” Still, the possibility is now open that students unhappy with their student society in BC may soon be able to resign and get some of their fees back in the process.