AMS votes to join UCRU as Class A member, escalating federal lobbying efforts

The AMS will take on a greater role in lobbying the federal government for student-friendly policies after voting to join UCRU as a Class A member.

The Undergraduates of Canadian Research Intensive Universities (UCRU) is an alliance of 15 student societies from Canadian research universities. It lobbies the federal government for policies that benefit students, such as expanded financial support for students during the COVID-19 pandemic and improved international student support.

With this vote, the AMS elevated itself to the organization’s Class A tier, alongside its counterparts from McGill University and the University of Toronto, among others. This decision means that the AMS will have a full vote on UCRU affairs and a place on the organization’s board of directors.

“We’re super excited that we’re a full class member now,” said AMS VP External Saad Shoaib. “[AMS] Council’s decision to approve the [memorandum of understanding] between the AMS and UCRU is going to prove to be really, really important in terms of AMS’s federal advocacy.”

Shoaib himself will serve as vice-chair of the organization for the coming year, putting the AMS in a good position to see its recommendations adopted.

Each year, UCRU adopts a list of recommendations for which it lobbies the government.

According to outgoing Chair MacKenzy Metcalfe, the organization played a role in ensuring that government initiatives such as the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) and several work placement programs received funding.

“A bunch of the things we had advocated for had money allocated to them in the budgets. We’re really, really excited about that,” said Metcalfe.

The new UCRU team will be responsible for selecting a set of recommendations to pursue for 2021-22. Shoaib says that the AMS intends to advocate for more youth employment funding and the removal of federal student loan interest rates.

“We want to make sure that every student has the ability to get the experience that they need and also provide them with employment opportunities for income assistance,” said Shoaib.

However, Shoaib acknowledged that there is one hole in the AMS’s UCRU representation: grad students.

The AMS represents both UBC’s undergraduate and graduate students, while UCRU is an organization strictly for undergrads, preventing grad students from being included in lobbying efforts.

“A lot of times general student advocacy does not help grad students,” said AMS Graduate Student Representative Jackson Schumacher. “If you look at the Canada Student Grants ... those grants were doubled recently, which is great, but grad students aren’t eligible for those grants.”

Shoaib admitted that this is a shortcoming, but believes that it can be bridged by continued work with UBC’s Graduate Students Society (GSS). A memorandum of understanding was presented at a recent GSS Council meeting, promising that grad students would be represented by external advocacy work.

Schumacher agrees that further collaboration between the AMS and GSS is necessary to ensure representation, but also feels that collaboration with emerging federal grad student advocacy groups could be possible.

“Those are all grad student-only societies, so I’m not sure if it would make sense for the AMS to join one of those,” said Schumacher. “[But] I think it’s an interesting area to explore.”