With SRC elections approaching, discussions about how the SRC advocates for students are becoming more and more prominent. The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and the New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) are two advocacy groups interested in advocating for post-secondary students on a federal level. UNBSJ students pay approximately 18,000 dollars annually in membership fees and in the current student elections, students can vote on a referendum to pay those fees separately from SRC fees. The big question is: what are we paying for?
The CASA describes itself as the nationwide advocacy group for post-secondary students at the undergrad and graduate level. Non-partisan and non-for-profit, CASA advertises as a voice for university students in Canada, communicating with the federal government and lobbying for changes and innovations in education policy. The SRC is one of the twenty-one student unions that are a part of the CASA.
Kjeld Conyers, current VP External for the SRC and a CASA board member, explains that the CASA was created because, no matter what school you attend in Canada, “we [all] benefit from the federal government, which is stationed in Ottawa. As members of the CASA, we’re trying to [find] a common, [unified] ground when it comes to advocacy.”
Student governments are expected to pay fees to be a part of CASA, and Conyers says that the CASA is distinguished from other student advocacy groups because “[it is] researched based. That’s one of the reasons why we pay fees to CASA.”
But why do student organizations need to lobby to the federal government? On top of advocating for international students and LGBT rights in universities, Conyers explains that, “post-secondary education is a provincial government jurisdiction, and the federal government is heavily involved. They have a lot of funds, and when you look at funding directly for students, 60% of it comes from the federal government. Whether that’s loans, grants, or research. The federal government is the number one supplier for research [funding] across the board.”
As to what tangible and immediate things CASA works on for students, Conyers cites the CASA’s continual involvement with textbook issues in Canada. He explains that “[students know] how much money goes into paying for textbooks. [The CASA] is trying to find an affordable way for people to buy the materials needed to be successful [in university]. So far, copyright laws have shifted so that professors are [sometimes] able to print off a chapter or something like that, and that came from lobbying. Now publishers want to renege that, so CASA is working full force [to stop them].”
Each year, CASA members attend multiple conferences that are focused on the different stages of student advocacy. These conferences focus on understanding advocacy, deciding on policies, and feature a week of meetings with politicians to create awareness for university issues and inspire change.
Conyers sums up CASA and the significance of UNBSJ’s involvement by saying that “it’s important for UNBSJ and other relatively small schools like it to be a part of the CASA, to voice the opinions of the minorities and to voice the opinions of the individuals who don’t normally get a say.”
The New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) is the student advocacy group that operates on a provincial level for New Brunswick university students. While both CASA and NBSA are important, Conyers says that it’s critical to remember that “the provincial government is responsible for providing post-secondary education to its citizens. It\s very important to have a say and to try to voice policy change when it comes to post-secondary issues in New Brunswick.”
NBSA exists specifically to focus on New Brunswick schools and issues in an effort to make sure that each of the relevant student unions are heard and given equal weight so that important issues for students are brought forward. Conyers feels that the NBSA is extremely important for UNBSJ to be a part of. Including health insurance for international students, adding gender-neutral bathrooms, or increasing the mental health budget, the NBSA lobbies for issues that are relevant to New Brunswick’s post-secondary students.