SFPIRG and WUSC requesting increased student levies in upcoming referendum

Due to inflation and increased costs, the current semesterly levies are no longer financially sustainable

SFPIRG has been located on SFU Burnaby campus since 1981. (Chris Ho / The Peak)

By: Paige Riding, News Writer and Gurpreet Kambo, News Editor

As part of the Simon Fraser Student Society’s 2020 election and referendum, the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) and the SFU chapter of World University Services of Canada (WUSC) are posing a referendum question to SFU students for an increase in their student fees. The Peak reached out to representatives of each organization to understand how the increases will impact students and what both SFPIRG and WUSC will do with their funding in the future.

SFPIRG Member Levy Increase

According to their website, SFPIRG is a “student-funded and student-directed resource centre dedicated to social and environmental justice.” The proposed increase from $3 to $5.50 is for students taking more than 3 credits and from $1.50 to $2.75 for students taking 3 credits or less. 

In an emailed interview with The Peak, SFPIRG Director of Communications Craig Pavelich spoke about the proposed increase. According to Pavelich, inflation and increased costs has had a significant effect on SFPIRG’s ability to provide services to its members, as the value of SFPIRG’s student levy has dropped by 45% since 1994 (when SFPIRG last had a fee increase). 

“In order to maintain and restore our current resources and programming for students, and to expand and grow to meet student demand, SFPIRG needs an increase to the current member levy,” he said. 

When asked about the distribution of potential funds following the referendum, Pavelich emphasized the need for compensating members of its Board of Directors and the need for a new student employee to join SFPIRG to maintain and expand their services and initiatives.

According to Pavelich, a new employee would particularly be helpful with one of SFPIRG’s longest running initiatives, Letters For The Inside (LFTI). This initiative allows persons in prison to request research initiatives from SFU students. He also explained that, by hiring a student worker to assist with research for LFTI, “Not only would this create another employment opportunity for a current SFU student, it would provide greater support for the LFTI program and its volunteers [ . . . ]” 

Beyond work opportunities, Pavelich noted that working for reconciliation is another crucial aspect in their suggested budget. Funds would be set aside specifically for projects that address Indigenous issues.

Pavelich said that the approval of the levy would allow SFPIRG “to create a process through which Indigenous students and communities could apply for funding to support their organizing efforts. This is one small piece of the greater work toward Reconciliation with Indigenous nations.”

When asked for any further comments, he explained that “SFPIRG is here to support ALL SFU students. Every single student resides in a social location where they are impacted in some way by larger systems.”

“The work of SFPIRG is in the interest of everyone, and everyone has a role to play in the work toward a more just, sustainable world. There is strength in numbers, which is why student power is so strong — and why organizations like SFPIRG are so vital to the student experience. We believe students know the value of these organizations.”

WUSC Fee Increase

WUSC is an organization that allows students “who have had their education interrupted by conflict and persecution continue their studies in post-secondary institutions across Canada,” as stated on their website. SFU has been sponsoring student refugees since 1981. WUSC’s SFU chapter currently has a student levy of $2.50 for full-time students and $1.25 for part-time students, which they are proposing to increase to $5 and $2.50 respectively. 

The Peak spoke with WUSC SFU’s Local Committee, who collectively organize the SFU chapter, about the proposed increase. The Committee stated that SFU students should support the increase. 

“It is a definite way of having a say in altering the trajectories of life for individuals and their generations to come, and this is a very beautiful thing.” 

For merely $2.50 or $5 per semester, SFU students will literally change the lives of some potential future classmates, they said.

They also added that the fee will cover the cost of tuition fees, books, and the cost of living for sponsored refugee students. 

“The fee has not been increased since 2012. Since then the living and housing costs have been exponentially increasing and the inflation rate has increased almost eight fold over the past decade in BC,” stated the Local Committee. 

Should the fee increase not pass, there may be dire consequences for WUSC SFU and for students who may be expecting funding in the near future, according to the Committee. 

“The program is at the intersection that we do not have enough funding to cover the needs for coming terms starting summer 2020. If the referendum [is] not successful, the program cannot be maintained as is.” 

The Local Committee added that they would have to decrease the number of students supported if students do not vote to pass the referendum question. 

Voting on these referendum questions will be available through SFU Mail. It will be open March 17–19.