USC says 'no' to Student Refugee Program levy

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Last Wednesday, the University Students’ Council decided Western’s Student Refugee Program won’t receive funding via a student levy.

The SRP is a student-driven initiative which sponsors refugee students’ post-secondary education at Canadian institutions.

“We make it financially possible for them to come " we take care of tuition, books, plane tickets,” said Western’s SRP director Kay Lam. “We commit to the support of the student to help them resettle in a new community and orient them to London.”

Lam said 85 per cent of SRP’s across Canada are supported by student levies. The SRP hoped holding a referendum at Western would help it receive funding via a student levy. Levies are mandatory fees included in students’ annual fees.

To table a motion at Western’s council to hold a referendum, the SRP had to collect 10 per cent of the student population’s signatures. The group collected over 2,700 signatures.

“The motion didn’t pass, so now the students will never even hear about the referendum,” Lam said. “Other universities have managed to steer clear of any legal liability problems.”

The program, which began at Western in 2004, has received funding through fundraising initiatives and financial support through partnerships with Western. Sponsorship costs approximately $20,000 per year.

“Tuition is covered through a bursary, and Western’s [Department of Housing and Ancillary Services] agreed to cover residence fees and provide the student with a meal plan,” Lam said.

Due to funding cuts at the federal level, however, fees for future sponsored students will be increased. Many other factors account for the need for more funding for the SRP, Lam added.

“In our past experience we’ve found it’s just not enough,” Lam said. “We can’t just make ends meet...We want to ensure things are secure financially before the student comes so we don’t create a false sense of expectation.”

At Huron University College, $8 is allotted to Huron’s SRP. A motion also recently passed for Huron students to go to referendum for a levy increase to $12, said David Singh, Huron University Students’ Council president.

Singh was one of few students at the USC meeting speaking for the motion in favour of the SRP levy.

USC President Fab Dolan said he voted against the motion because of the financial and legal implications of a referendum.

“The crux of the issue is really the legal liabilities involved,” he said. “If we took part in this and collected the fee from students, we could be considered a partner to this agreement and we could be held liable for any actions taken by a refugee under this program.”

While the motion for a referendum didn’t pass, a plebiscite may be another option, Lam added.

“[A plebiscite] is a non-binding referendum to put it out there and gauge student reaction and support,” she said. “The councillors can at least make a better, more informed decision from wishes of their constituents.”

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette