Gains unusual dual membership in provincial student lobbying groups.
By Samantha Thompson
On Dec. 4, the Kwantlen Student Association council passed a motion to apply for membership in the Alliance of B.C. Students, and have since become members. The organization is still in its beginning stages, but it has already gained seven student organizations as members, representing 140,000 students across the province.
“It’s a member-driven organization,” says Colúm Connolly, chairperson of the ABCS.
It came out of a campaign called Where’s the Funding!?, which began in May 2011 and included the student associations of UBC, the University of the Fraser Valley, the University of Victoria, and Capilano University. In February 2013 the coalition expanded and they adopted their current name of the ABCS, with the goal of advocating for more accessible post-secondary education. This accessibility covers things like public transit, childcare, and creating a debt-free province for students.
“The value for students is there, and there is no obligation to pay the fees as well so it’s a bit of a win-win situation,” says Richard Hosein, director of external affairs for the KSA. He describes the ABCS as a group that is focused on government lobbying.
“We still want to continue advocating for students outside the [Canadian Federation of Students],” he says.
The ABCS does not require its members to pay any fees in order to join the organization. In their original constitution it explicitly stated that membership fees would not be collected, but the organization is now seeking official society status as it is a provision not permitted in a society’s constitution. Connolly says that becoming an official society will give it more credibility.
Although the KSA already pays membership fees to another provincial organization, the Canadian Federation of Students-BC, Hosein says that the CFS-BC is “ineffective for students,” whereas the KSA’s relationship and experience with the ABCS so far has been positive.
According to Hosein, the KSA has been able to participate in campaigns that sought out meetings with MLAs to talk about the future of post-secondary education—and this was before they were even officially members.
Students at Kwantlen have been collecting signatures to petition to leave the CFS-BC. Until the outcome of the petition is known, Kwantlen students will remain members of both organizations. Hosein says, there has been “some animosity” between the KSA and the CFS in the past, and it “seems [the KSA] is neglected on a lot of issues.”
The ABCS is different from other provincial lobbying organizations in many ways. According to Connolly, when the student groups came together to create the ABCS, they pulled ideas that they saw working in other organizations, as well as setting out provisions to ensure things they didn’t see as effective wouldn’t repeat themselves in the new organization.
As the ABCS represents students from undergraduate, graduate, and trades schools,they are considering implementing caucuses for the different categories of students so that they can discuss what their group needs and raise it with the rest of the group.
One thing the ABCS prides themselves on is what Connolly refers to as an “easy-in, easy-out model,” where it is simple process to join the ABCS, and to leave. The student association just has to follow their own organization’s rules in regards to joining a new group, and write a letter to the board of the ABCS. For the KSA, all it took was a vote at council, as the ABCS currently does not require specific membership fees from each student in order for an organization to be a member. It is the same to leave, so long as the association provides 30 days notice.
One of the biggest conversations the ABCS is still having is in regards to funding. Currently, they are using a costs-shared model, where student groups decide how much they want to contribute, but it is uncertain if this is the model that will be continued. Connolly points out that there will be a minimum amount of money needed each year to ensure the running of the ABCS, to cover insurance and similar expenses.
The ABCS will be having an annual general meeting in May, where they will likely hammer out some of the finer details of the organization. The main idea, says Connolly, “is to be completely transparent.”
In the meantime, they are looking forward to a February campaign called “Trek to the Leg,” where student representatives travel to the B.C. Legislature in Victoria to meet with MLAs. They’ll be bringing a solutions-based approach, as Connolly emphasizes that it is important to express “what students need in a digestible way, to the government.”