The Students’ Union at the University of Alberta is considering a $54 per year fee to address deferred maintenance and sustainability issues with the Students’ Union Building (SUB).
Akanksha Bhatnagar, president of the Students’ Union, updated Students’ Council about the organization’s plan on implementing the proposed new Students’ Union Capital and Sustainability Fund capital plan during their November 19 meeting. The fund will be a student-supported to finance ongoing major capital renewal of SU spaces and sustainability initiatives. Examples of projects include Myer Horowitz Theatre renewal or a solar panel array onto of the Students’ Union Building.
A survey for the fund was circulated for a few weeks which, for Bhatnagar, acted as the “test-run” for the question students would vote upon in the referendum. The survey is now closed.
In the survey, a question asked students how they would feel about a fee of $54 a year, broken into $27 a semester. The fee would need to be renewed in five years by plebiscite. For Bhatnagar, this represents the “middle” figure the Students’ Union is considering running during the referendum.
If tuition rises by seven per cent for domestic students next year, the additional fee will result in an eight per cent increase to tuition for domestic students.
Bhatnagar forgoed a formal presentation to council, electing to have an open discussion about the updates to the proposal which students will vote upon through referendum during the Students’ Union executive elections.
She said after the first presentation, councillors gave “good” and “productive” feedback which helped shape more “specificity” for the potential initiative. According to her, the Students’ Union is already developing communication plans on how to present the project “best” to students.
Bhatnagar added that the new fund will not go through without broad councillor support.
“We are not going to go ahead with this project if there is not support from [Students’ Council] and students on campus,” she said. “We are just pitching the best solution to a problem that is either going to get dealt with this year, the year after, or the year after.”
“Unfortunately, this issue [of deferred maintenance in SUB] will not go away,” she added. “It is just going to get worse.”
Bhatnagar acknowledged the provincial budget has changed the landscape surrounding fiscal discussions, however, she said the responses will guide Students’ Union decision-making moving forward.
“This is probably the… worst time to survey students or worst landscape to survey students in which to pay a fee to update the capital of our building and also invest in our sustainability,” she said.
For Bhatnagar, asking students to pay more to the Students’ Union and the provincial government hiking tuition are two separate issues.
“I understand the optics of what this looks like,” she said. “We still have to renovate.”
“In an environment where we saw the infrastructure maintenance program funding go from $35 million to zero, I don’t want our building to be stuck in the same situation,” Bhatnagar added.
Additionally, Bhatnagar told Council that the Students’ Union has created a capital plan committee to inform decision-making surrounding the proposed student levy. The team includes students-at-large who competed for spots. She said the survey and committee combined will ensure the “mistakes made with the Student Events Initiative and Student Spaces Levy will not happen again.”
Bhatnagar said creating conditions to ensure the passing of the fund through referendum would leave council with a strong legacy.
“We are really hoping that the legacy of our year is to put in place 50 years from now a building that students can look back and think, ‘yay, we did not actually mess it up that bad,'” she said.
— With files from Khadra Ahmed