Changes are coming to the collection of student society fees from students at post-secondary institutions across British Columbia, as a result of the new Societies Act. The Act will become effective November 28, 2016 (for highlights of the new Societies Act, please see our bulletin of April 24, 2015, New Societies Act Tabled in B.C. Legislature).
Student Society Membership no Longer Mandatory
Generally, students attending educational institutions in British Columbia governed by the University Act and the College and Institute Act are members of a student society associated with the institution. Society bylaws typically make membership mandatory when students enroll in a course of studies at a particular institution, and students remain members for the duration of their studies. The current legislation does not provide for a mechanism to resign from membership outside the bylaws, a situation that has been upheld by the B.C. courts.
On the other hand, s. 69(1)(c) of the new Societies Act will give students the statutory right to resign from membership in a student society. During the consultations for the Societies Act, the adverse impact on the ability of student societies to collect fees and, in turn, on the financial viability of such societies, was brought to the attention of the B.C. government. Among other things, student societies raised concerns that they would no longer be in a position to offer programs or services currently funded by member fees if mandatory memberships were abolished.
Protection of Capital, Program and Service Fees
In response, the Province recently amended the College and Institute Act and the University Act to ensure that certain fees can continue to be collected from students who resign from a student society. The amendments will enter into force on November 28, 2016, the same day the new Societies Act becomes effective.
In the future, students who resign as members of a student society will be required to pay the portions of the student society fees that are “capital fees” or “program and service fees”. The Ministry of Advanced Education is consulting with student societies and post-secondary institutions to determine which program or service fees would be protected. The details will be set out in new regulations, which have not yet been published. Nevertheless, considering the rationale of the legislative changes, it can be expected that fees related to facilities, programs and services, which are accessible to or benefit the student body generally could still be collected from students. Examples could be fees related to the construction and maintenance of student union buildings, food and drink services or extended health plans for students. On the other hand, fees related to the membership, administration and operation of the student society itself would likely not be protected.
Student societies will need to evaluate their fees to determine which fees are within the categories of “capital fees” or “program and service fees”. They will then need to make sure these fees are correctly categorized in their bylaws, with amendments approved by referendum if required.
Post-secondary institutions that collect fees on behalf of their student societies will need to ensure they are collecting the correct categories of fees from those students who are members and from any students who have resigned membership in the society.
If you would like more detailed information on these changes, assistance in preparing for compliance, transitioning under the new Societies Act or how the new legislation may affect your society, please contact the authors.