This year many students in Canada will be asked to vote for more than just the federal election! Spring is the time when many sponsoring groups go to referendum with their student body in order to adopt or raise levies to support the Student Refugee Program. Student levies are an extremely effective way to continually raise funds to sponsor refugee students….and it looks like many of you have already figured this out! The number of sponsoring groups that have passed referendums for SRP has increased from 25% in 1998 to 85% in 2005.
A referendum is a written question that is directed to all students, asking them if they will agree with a compulsory levy to be added to their annual student fees. You can think of the levy operating like a student tax. Just as our government collects taxes, the student government usually collects and administers the SRP student levy. The benefits of a student levy go beyond guaranteeing financial resources every year. It is a model that demonstrates how students can support students. A levy is a tangible way that each student can assist a refugee to continue their studies in safety and security. Furthermore, once a student levy is in place, it is common for local committees to go to referendum again to increase the levy if the needs of the program increase or if they want to sponsor another student.
The amount of your proposed levy will depend on the population of your campus and what other sources of revenue you have. Annual levies across Canada range from $0.50 per student to $12 per student. Obviously, smaller campuses will need to have a higher levy to raise the same amount of support. It is important to consider how part-time students will be involved in the levy as well. - Don’t want to ask for too much – that you won’t be able to spend – or too little, which won’t give you enough funds for sponsorship.
How you ask the referendum question is extremely important. Ideally, all of your outreach and education will be done ahead of time, so at the polls the question should be clear and concise stating the amount of the levy, how it will be used (SRP) and by whom (WUSC). The question you wish to appear on the ballot will also need to be approved by the student government. Also, make sure that your proposed question does not jeopardize your existing SRP levy . Should your referendum campaign fail, you don’t want to undermine any existing support that you have already secured!
Often a referendum will take place in conjunction with the election for student government. This usually happens in the spring before classes end for the term. Hosting the referendum during student elections can save you money from hosting the election and get more students out to vote! What might be the pros or cons of holding your referendum at the same time as the election for student government? When would your referendum question be most likely to pass? What facts would influence its success?
Ask your sponsored student if they would like to participate. We don’t want to pressure sponsored students into becoming engaged, but often they are the most passionate advocates for the program and they want to see the program increase its capacity. They may want to play a high profile role such as speaking at a public information session, or a less public role such as providing some personal statements for a campus article.
The key to winning a referendum campaign is communicating your message, building a support base and ensuring that they come out and vote on Election Day! Since time and energy is limited it is important to identify your potential supporters and connect with them early on. Who is most likely to support these issues? Are there other campus clubs or academic departments to support you?
Some of these can be strictly campaigning, and others can be awareness raising strategies – keep in mind rules about when and where you can campaign! - Set up information booths in strategic locations where there is high traffic of students. - Create a small handbill or card explaining the issue clearly (and briefly) so people can take it with them when they vote.
Class presentations: Focus on faculties that have large populations of students, who you think would be favourable to the referendum; Ask a professor’s permission to speak briefly before a class starts; Distribute handbills in classes. Sponsored student presentations: If your student(s) are comfortable doing this, allow them to describe how SRP has impacted their life.
Be prepared to answer difficult questions! Think through your arguments carefully, and make sure that your campaigners are aware of how to respond.
Planning a Referendum January 6 th , 2010 Michelle Manks and Robyn Plasterer
A referendum is a written question that is directed to all students, asking them if they will agree with a compulsory levy to be added to their annual student fees. You can think of the levy operating like a student tax. Just as our government collects taxes, the student government usually collects and administers the SRP student levy.
Annual levies across Canada range from less that $1 per student to $20 per student.
Things to consider:
What is the population of your campus (part time students vs. full time students)
What types of referendum questions have passed or failed recently on your campus?
What do you want to do with the funds you raise through your student levy? Where does the levy sit in terms of your SRP budget priorities in relation to other funding sources?
A look at levies by Institution Size Size of Institution Average length of sponsorship (years) Percentage who have levies Average Levy amount ($) 0 – 3500 1.4 94% $5.07 3500 – 9,999 1.39 89% 2.59 10,000 – 20,000 1.53 87% $1.58 +20,000 2.2 93.3% 2.21
A look at Levies by Region Region # of students sponsored % of institutions that have levies AVG levy amount ($) West and Prairies 12 93.9% $ 3.14 Atlantic 9 100% $ 3.42 Ontario and Quebec 32 87.5% $ 2.89
“ Do you support the World University Service of Canada (WUSC)'s Student Refugee
Program with a student fee of $1.50 per full-time student per semester and $0.75 per part
time student per semester?”
Sample Questions #2:
“ Do you support increasing the WUSC fee from $1 to $2 per semester?”
Sample Questions #3:
“ Do you agree to support the Student Refugee Program of the World University Service of
Canada with a $0.09 per credit student fee for all Undergraduate Students?”
Sample Questions #4:
“ Do you support the introduction of a $4 per year Graduate Student fee for the Student
Refugee Program of the World University Service of Canada?”
IMPORTANT: The more open the question is, the less likely your Local Committee will find itself in a situation where the referendum hinders its work on the SRP. This might happen in a case where the question stipulated that only a certain number of students could be sponsored or that the levy funds must be spend on-campus, for example.
What is the make-up of your Local Committee? Do you have Graduate student involvement in the SRP?
If you have strong faculty support on campus, consider approaching your university/college faculty association about establishing a faculty levy and/or payroll deductions for the SRP. This option may be most easily achieved by committees that work closely with a faculty advisor who is a strong supporter of the program.
Now is the time to review any agreements you have with your institution and/or student union. These may include:
Memorandums of Agreement
Memorandums of Understanding
Your Club Constitution, etc.
Be sure to read through all of these documents – this may be an ideal time to propose changes or amendments if necessary.
Managing the Funds Before passing the levy, establish an agreement about how the funds will be managed: - Will the LC receive a lump cheque for the money at the beginning of each semester, or will the funds be managed by the administration or student union? Make sure to establish written agreements about this, so that when the money rolls in, you can be accountable and transparent to the student body with regards to how the money is spent.
Try to get other people on board when you’re working on your campaign. Ideas include:
Your Student Union
Your sponsored student or past sponsored students
Candidates running for positions in the student government
Other groups on campus who are also involved in campaigning for levy funds
Know the rules!! There are a lot of rules surrounding referendum campaigning, and it’s really important that you stick to them because you risk having the question taken off the ballot and disqualification. Referendum questions are thrown out regularly and you need to be careful.
Tell people to VOTE! We can’t emphasize it enough. You need a certain amount of people to vote (yes or no) in order for it to go through. So whenever you’re talking to someone emphasize that it’s actually getting out and voting that’s crucial.
Get out there! Talk to as many friends and people as possible.
Determine how you will respond to challenging questions (See Referendum Guide for suggestions!)
“ I don’t want my tuition money to be used for charity”
“ Why can’t I choose to support it and have it be optional?”
“ I donate to charity, why should I be forced to donate to this?”
“ It doesn’t benefit me, why should I pay for it?”
“ Refugees have other opportunities, why should it have to come out of my student fees, I already pay a lot. Isn’t it the government’s responsibility?”
“ I already contribute to all these groups, tuition is expensive and I can’t afford it.”
“ Why should I support someone from another country, there’s enough problems here.”
“ I work really hard and no one helps me. Shouldn’t we use this money for Canadian students, we’re poor too.”
“ There are bigger problems in Africa, should we really be supporting educated people leaving their countries. What about the problem of ‘brain-drain’? ”
Remember to let WUSC know if you are going to referendum. We can help you with resources, media and put you in touch with other campuses that are going to referendum during the same period as you. Good luck to all the schools running a referendum campaign this year!