Residence Services will no longer collect Residence Association fees, starting May 2016. Residence Associations next year will have to collect fees with a manual opt-in method, which will likely result in a membership decrease, Students’ Union Vice-President (Student Life) Vivian Kwan said.
Residence Associations at the University of Alberta are concerned they will no longer receive consistent funding, as associations will have to table for their memberships.
Residence Services’ decreased involvement in fee collection will increase Residence Association autonomy and the change in collection method will likely not affect membership rates, Assistant Dean of Students and Residence Advisory Committee (RAC) Chair Sarah Wolgemuth said.
Residence Services is the branch of university administration, and is responsible for rent and maintenance. Residence Associations are student-run groups, such as the former Lister Hall Students’ Association and the East Campus Students’ Association, which provide programming and events for their respective residents. As per the SU Operating Policy, which states that the SU shall “liaise with the University of collect all fees on behalf of Student Representative Associations,” Residence Associations cannot collect fees themselves and must do so through the university. Residence Services, Residence Associations and the Graduate Students’ Association meet in RAC to discuss issues in residence.
The decision to discontinue fee collection was announced by Residence Services in last Wednesday’s RAC meeting. All major changes discussed in RAC go through the U of A’s Board Finance and Property Committee, which evaluates major financial decisions for the university’s Board of Governors. The decision to no longer collect fees was a one-line policy change, and therefore did not need to go through a higher administration pathway, Kwan said. Meanwhile, a major change such as transferring collection of fees to the Office of the Registrar would take that pathway.
Talks in RAC about changing fee collection have gone on since 2012, Wolgemuth said.
“(Residence Associations) will now have the autonomy that they’ve asked for and will fall in line with other groups at the U of A,” Wolgemuth said.
Support for space, training and events could be to Residence Associations by Residence Services, Wolgemuth said. If the associations want help with promoting their fees, Residence Services could help as well, she added.
“When I announced the change, I said, ‘I know you’re looking for increased autonomy, but (Residence Services) is really are here to support you,’” she said. “We don’t want (Residence Associations) to disappear.”
The SU and Residence Associations want to work out a fee collection method with the Office of the Registrar (RO), Kwan said. The Office of the Registrar currently collects students’ SU fees, and Kwan said the office told the SU that it’s possible to collect Residence Association fees as well.
Until this year, students in residence paid a mandatory Residence Association fee, which went towards their respective residences’ initiatives, which include programming and advocacy for students in residence. These include organizing events such as Campus Saint-Jean’s Bal D’Hiver (Winter Ball) and running groups such as the English Conversation Club in HUB.
While the past model of having a mandatory fee provided predictable funding for Residence Associations, concerns from Residence Services and Residence Associations have arose in several areas, primarily autonomy and accountability.
Students shouldn’t be “double dipping” for advocacy, as residents in the past have paid for advocacy with their SU fees and with their Residence Association fees, Wolgemuth said, and added that advocacy should be paid for once.
The U of A’s Residence Associations represent their constituents as residents, which is important because they are not protected by the Alberta’s Residential Tenancies Act, Kwan said. The act states under section 2.2(e), that the Act does not apply to a tenancy agreement between an educational institution as landlord and a student of that institution. Associations advocate for resident students in disputes such as when entry notices aren’t given 24 hours in advance and security deposit disputes. Kwan said.
Residence Services proposed three models of fee collection near the end of November 2015 to the RAC. The first would remove Residence Services from the fee collection process entirely. The second would collect fees in a similar way, but Residence Services would distribute them with more controlled guidelines. In the third proposal, Residence Services would collect a mandatory fee and provide a programming fund to Residence Associations, which “could be equal to the current budgets,” the proposal said.
The SU rejected all three proposals, as Kwan said each proposal would reduce Residence Association autonomy.
“We didn’t say we never wanted (Residence Services’) help,” Kwan said. “But they make it (so), either they have full control or nothing.”
Residence Association fees are decided at their residence’s respective Annual General Meetings in a majority vote. Each residence has its own fee breakdown, but all are collected in the same manner. Association fees are paid with rent, then they’re collected by Residence Services as a mandatory fee during move-in.
Cheques are procced by Residence Services to the respective Residence Associations as long as they have satisfied a set of financial guidelines. If Residence Services doesn’t receive Residence Association budgets at the beginning of the term, it uses predictive funding to provide 90 per cent of the funding in September and the remainder in January, Wolgemuth said.
Residence Services’ role in approving the budgets are advisory — they exist to provide guidance to Residence Associations and make sure university policies are being adhered to, Wolgemuth said. Ideally, budgets are presented to Residence Services at the beginning of the academic year.
Withholding association payments by Residence Services is possible if they don’t agree with the budget, Kwan said. If residents pass their budgets by vote, then students through their Residence Associations, should be able to receive their funding, she added.
Wolgemuth said Residence Services has had problems with certain Residence Associations not having their budgets approved until as late as January.
“By that time money has been spent out of pocket from associations, which makes us uncomfortable,” she said. “Because students don’t have thousands of extra dollars to be planning events. While they would always get that money back, it’s obviously not ideal.”
The SU hopes to find an alternative to the decision by May 1, 2016 so Residene Associations won’t have to deal with the “side effects” of Residence Services no longer collecting fees, Kwan said. The next RAC meeting will likely be at the end of the February.
“The relationship between Residence Associations and Residence Services is like a boss and employee,” Kwan said. “What we wanted to clarify is that Residence Services can continue to collect a fee, just being the middle person. But don’t interfere with the accountability part, because that’s strictly up to students.”