Saturday, January 27, 2007

Issue of the Day: Athletics Fees

by Sophia Haque, AMS VP Finance

Currently, students pay $196.98 in student fees towards Intramurals and Athletics--whether they use the program or not. IF they choose to participate, they pay:

  • Approximately $300/year for a gym membership
  • $100 each for a fitness class (yoga, pilates, dance etc)
  • Approximately$65/team for intramural sports
It's not cheap being an active student on this campus. What's worse? UBC students pay more than most other schools across Canada to access fitness facilities.

This past year, Athletics asked the AMS to run a referendum asking for a $40 increase in athletics fees. Where would the fees go?
1) Towards building a bigger SRC and 2) towards lowering user fees by up to 50%.

More room and lower fees? Sounds great, but when the AMS approached Athletics to figure out how the money was currently being spent, Athletics became reluctant to share any information and was particularly wary of the information going public. After many conversations and much detective work, the AMS was able to obtain the numbers it was looking for.

Of the over $6 million dollars collected in student fees, less than $800,000 is dedicated to Intramurals/UBC REC activities. In other words almost 85% of student fees are going towards funding/subsidizing varsity sports--a level of sport that a very small percent of UBC students can ever dream to participate in.

What the AMS has done, and the plan for the future, behind the jump:

What has the AMS done about this?

The AMS took the stance that it would hold a referendum (and thus, give students the opportunity to decide for themselves) under two conditions: Athletics would be more transparent with their budgets, and would decrease user fees.

The second demand was made primarily because Bob Philip, Director of Athletics, commented at AMS Council that one of the main reasons fees couldn't be reduced without a new, larger building was because of the lack of space. Their underlying concern would appear to be lower fees means more people means poor quality of service/facilities. This implies that fees were kept artificially high, potentially preventing lower income students from having access to UBC REC facilities. The AMS argued, that before we ask students to pay more, Athletics should first decrease user fees (conversations with Bob had indicated that there was sufficient funding to do so) and give students the opportunity to access the current facilities.

Where do we stand now?
Bob Philip has agreed to make the athletics budget numbers accessible to the public. Athletics has also budgeted a $50,000 decrease in user fees for 07/08 with Bob citing plans for a 70% decrease in user fees over the next 2 years. However, after a recent conversation with Alnoor Aziz, Associate Director of Finance for Athletics, the chances of seeing the 70% decrease is slim. UBC Athletics, as an ancillary of the university, may be faced with higher overhead charges as part of the university's plan to cover its deficit.

Looking ahead, the referendum question is back on the table for discussion which poses both an opportunity and a threat for the AMS. It's an opportunity because an athletics referendum question can almost guarantee quorum by mobilizing the support of varsity athletics and UBC REC enthusiasts. And, it's a threat, since a fee increase question for athletics decreases the AMS' chances to increase fees (by indexing them to inflation, for example).

So what are your thoughts?