UBCO students advocate for campus equality as Kelowna campus struggles to keep up with rapid population growth

Sixty-two per cent of students at UBC Okanagan feel that the UBC administration values students at UBC Vancouver more than UBC Okanagan.

This statistic came from a Students' Union Okanagan of UBC (SUO) student experience study that Ali Poostizadeh, SUO President, at the September Board of Governors (BoG) meeting.

“It’s pretty tough for a student to really see the difference in what they’re provided versus on the Vancouver campus and not think that [they are undervalued],” said Poostizadeh.

The presentation to BoG was essential, he said, adding that in the past the SUO and Okanagan students haven’t been as vocal about their concerns.

“We're not advocating for them to stop contributing to the Vancouver campus, we just want more substantial growth of the Okanagan campus to reflect the growth in the actual population on our campus,” said Poostizadeh.

Physical disparities between the campuses

The difference between the campuses can be seen in its physical space, with UBCO students complaining of a lack of study space and recreation facilities.

Over 75 per cent of students at UBCO are commuters and many have concerns with not being able to find places to study on campus. While UBCO has expanded its library, Poostizadeh said this has not fully addressed the concerns of students.

“They’re driving 30–40 minutes, they're coming to campus for their class, and then they have to drive all the way back because they just cannot can't find the space to actually sit down and get their work done,” he said.

The university administration has been working to address these issues by renovating study spaces and have also been discussing tuition surplus allocation, Poostizadeh said.

Recreation space is also a concern. Poostizadeh said the gym was not built for the current size of the student population, but students still pay $158.17 per year in recreation fees and levies without consistent access to the space.

Only 56 per cent of students in SUO’s survey believe that there is adequate space for recreational opportunities, according to the survey.

“There are standards for how much recreation you should have, how much study space you should have,” says Poostizadeh. “When you look at those numbers, the Vancouver campus is in surplus in almost every aspect.”

All of these issues reflect a growing population and infrastructure that hasn’t caught up yet.

“Our library was built for a campus of 3000 people and that hadn't been expanded in a decade. We've been growing our population by a lot but the actual campus growth hasn't really reflected that,” said Poostizadeh.

VP Students Ainsley Carry wrote in a statement that UBCO has seen “rapid growth” since its inception, with the student population expanding from 3,000 in 2005 to 12,000 today.

“Physical space constraints are a known issue that UBCO is working to address,” says Carry, “That said, UBCO has seen significant capital investment over its lifetime with close to $500 million in funding from the province, UBC and donors helping to create 34 new or upgraded buildings and over 1 million additional square feet of academic space since 2005.”

Carry also said that more developments are on the way, with construction of a new building in downtown starting next year, a new $108 million Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Innovation (ICI) building expected in the next five years.

“That project is supported by UBC President Santa Ono specifically to address a lack of academic and informal learning space at UBCO,” said Carry.

Impact on student experience

Ivan Pineda, a third-year civil engineering student, transferred from the Okanagan campus after two years due to the greater program offerings on the Vancouver campus and to be closer to family.

Pineda noticed the differences between study space and recreational opportunities available for students.

“This was starkly noticeable when I transferred to the [Vancouver] campus that had two gyms, an indoor tennis court, multiple outdoor basketball courts and tennis courts, multiple soccer fields, and even a small skate park, compared to UBCO's one gym, basketball court, and a soccer field that seemed to be perpetually used by the varsity team,” Pineda said.

“It felt like the UBC administration did invest more into UBC Vancouver in these areas.”

He noted that he did associate the greater attention paid to the Vancouver campus with the larger student population.

“It would seem though that as UBCO enrollment trends higher and higher that UBC admin is now focusing on closing in on that gap.”

Carry said that staff on both campuses are working continuously to make sure students feel engaged and have a sense of belonging, adding this work is outlined in UBC’s strategic plan, Shaping UBC’s Next Century.

“Informal learning spaces and other academic or recreation buildings haven't kept pace with student growth and we are in active discussions with the Student Union locally about how to best address this over time,” he wrote.

A common misconception, according to Pineda, is that those at UBCO are academically inferior in comparison to the Vancouver campus. Pineda highlighted that students are receiving a quality education, regardless of what campus they are on.

“As long as the administration keeps in mind that more students means more spaces must be built and more recreational opportunities must be created, then I would consider that as equality being achieved.”