This bulletin is an update to a previous bulletin that now includes information on the new fees regulations for post-secondary students and Student Societies. The new information can be found under “Collection of Capital, Program and Service Fees”.
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 became 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 that are 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 previous legislation did not provide for a mechanism to resign from membership outside the bylaws, a situation that has been upheld by the B.C. courts.
However, the new Societies Act gives 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.
Collection of Capital, Program and Service Fees
In response, the Province recently amended the College and Institute Act and the University Act and passed new regulations to ensure that certain fees can continue to be collected from students who resign from a student society. The amendments came into force on December 19, 2016.
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”. These terms are defined in the following regulations:
In brief, “capital fees” means the fees collected for a capital expenditure of a student society. An example would be fees related to the construction of student union buildings. “Program and service fees” fall into two categories. First, there are fees for a broad list of programs and services, namely:
- Cultural, educational, political, recreational and social activities
- Health and dental care benefit plans
- Transportation programs
- Advocacy activities
- Provision of goods and services
Second, the new rules have prescribed a surprisingly expansive list of so called “program and service fees.” Essentially, all fees for the activities and operations” of a student society can be collected from non-members. By way of example, the regulations list the following types of fees:
- Operating expenditures of a student society
- Support for students, student activities or student organizations
- Support for individuals other than students, non-student activities or non-student organizations
- Financial assistance to individuals or organizations
The upshot of these regulations is that non-member students could be required to contribute to a large proportion of a student society’s expenses; including expenses for those operations or activities that do not directly benefit non-members.
Before the next annual fee notice to their respective post-secondary educational institutions, student societies will need to evaluate their student fees to determine if there are any fee components that do not fall into the categories of “capital fees” or the two broad prongs of “program and service fees”. While non-student members will have to contribute to capital, program and service fees, they will not be required to pay any other student society fees. There does not appear to be any ability on the part of student societies to exclude non-members from these fees.
Any changes to the student society fees continue to require approval by referendum. To the extent that these changes affect capital, program or service fees, non-member students will be entitled to vote in the referendum.
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. Further, to make participating in fee referenda possible for non-member students, post-secondary institutions must provide information about these students to the societies. The use of such information by the student societies is restricted to including non-members in the referenda.
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.