By: Aaron Richardson

The SFU Graduate Student Society (GSS) is advancing a referendum question regarding a possible change to student membership fees in tandem with the election for student society executive positions this semester.

The society membership will vote on a proposed increase of part-time student fees to match the amount already collected from full-time graduate students. For the GSS, the primary motivation behind the change in fee scheduling is to equalize contributions across the society membership.

“Currently, all graduate students are entitled to the same benefits at the GSS regardless of [their] status and the majority of our benefits are accessible off campus,” explained finance director Heather Baroody.

The GSS collects fees from both the full-time and part-time graduate students, though the fees are scheduled differently. A full-time graduate student pays $51.65 per semester, while a part-time graduate student pays only $25.83 per semester. The proposed change to the fee schedule would make the cost for both part-time and full-time graduate students $51.65 for every semester they are enrolled.

The referendum must receive at least a five per cent voter turnout in order for the results to be valid, as per the society bylaws. The society is required under provincial law to put the proposed fee changes to a vote by the entire membership.

Although part-time graduate students currently pay around half of what full-time students pay, their presence on campus does not impact the level of services they receive, according to executive director Pierre Cenerelli. While leveling the field is the main motivation for the change, the society is also looking to boost its services with the added income.

“We are looking at long-term sustainability of the GSS,” said Baroody. “We had to cut a few programs this year just to keep our budget balanced. We are hoping with that extra money we can bring back some of those programs and expand more programs to more graduate students.”

The money levied from students goes towards society services such as financial support programs and room booking.

This equalization of fees across the student body is common in post-secondary institutions. Jeanette Ordóñez — the GSS administrator — stated that the “GSS is one of the only student societies that has differentiated fees between part-time and full-time.”

The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) which represents undergraduate students at the university does levy different fees depending on the student course load. Full-time undergraduate students pay a fee of $42.74 while part-time students pay $21.38 in addition to other levies — including those for the stadium and the food bank program — proportionate to the student’s course load.

While the University of British Columbia has equalized its undergraduate and graduate student fees regardless of course load, the University of Victoria undergraduate student society collects different fees from full-time and part-time students and the graduate student society collects a flat fee unless students are taking a co-op work semester or distance education.

The GSS referendum will take place during the election period from November 27 to December 4. If the referendum is to pass, a majority must vote in favour of the change, at which point the society intends to begin collecting fees at the new rate in the fall 2018 semester.