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    Universities are strapped for cash. Being debt-restricted by recession-paranoid governments, many schools are looking to alternative delivery models to meet the demand for housing stock across the country.

    At the University of Toronto, housing stocks are low, and plans are underway to build a tower of a tower. Thirty-plus stories of student housing. Typically, more beds is met with much rejoice, but this is being met with caution. The plan is to have the tower managed privately, through a Public-Private Partnership, which involves the university relinquishing control over certain aspects of planning, management, and operation.

    UBC faces a similar housing-crunch. While past UBC administrations have fought vehemently against the P3 model, advocating for its own UBC3 model (where the public partner is UBC, and the private partner is UBC), rumour has it that the current admin has been reassessing that stance to meet demands. (Sidenote: There’s great stories of Martha Piper shouting at senior ministerial staffers on this very issue. It worked.)

    In light of numbers assessing the need for more dorms, the Campus Plan states UBC’s goal is to have 50% of its undergraduate population on campus. The Campus Plan does not answer how, and P3’s are the low-hanging fruit.

    The Province will not likely be able to commit the money for the massive expansion. UBC had to exert considerable pressure on them for the debt needed to expand Totem Park by a few hundred beds. Image the The problem: Government doesn’t like having the million-dollar debt-loads on its books, when it won’t be seeing the black for some time, particularly given the recession. A P3 model gets around this problem. The debt isn’t carried by UBC, it’s on the back of hedge funds.

    It’s still too early to see if this is a win for students. Private firms are concerned about one thing, their bottom line, while Universities are concerned about their reputation. Typically, private firms respond to demands because it effects their bottom line, but given the absurdly high the demand for student housing is, the inability for true low-/no-income rental competition in West Point Grey, and the simple appeal and added-value of being a student on campus, there’s plenty of opportunity for gouging.

    And that gouging would fester in the regulation blackout of many campuses, UBC included. Educational institutions are given wide-range to run housing as they see fit, often exempted from the rules of the private market (see: 4b.) This is somewhat appropriate, because the bottom line matters less to Universities, who are more interested in providing a holistic, accommodating experience to their students (it is half of their business, after all.) For private firms, all that comes secondary to more profit, so students would need rent controls and other tenancy rights to protect their interests.

    How these concerns are managed and negotiated at UofT will set the model for the rest of the country. At stake is how public our public institutions ought to be, and the role of universities in providing student life.

    There seems to be a common assumption many students, media, and parents hold. It’s an assumption that’s flat out wrong, and only those who don’t understand how academic institutions work hold it. It runs wild in the media, in parents’ minds, and is abused by many for cheap political gain.

    That assumption: that a grade percent, standing on its own, means something.

    The Vancouver Sun recently posted an article entitled “Want to go to UBC? You’ll need an A average”. In the article, UBC’s associate director of enrolment states “I wouldn’t have got in with my grades 20 years ago, but if 20 years ago the cutoffs had been what they are now, I would’ve worked harder and I would’ve got in.” He’s assuming that higher admission grades means one has to work harder to be admitted.

    Now, I’m not sure if Arida is deliberately giving the Sun what they want to hear here, but he’s not being exactly truthful. Fact of the matter is, your grade percentage is irrelevant. What does matter is where you fall compared to your peers.

    UBC tries to admit the best students it can. The province tells UBC how many domestic students it has to admit. So, UBC takes in as many applications as it can, sorts them from best to worst, and takes as many as they can.*

    That’s it. A cutoff average is just UBC’s estimate to get a desired class size. It’s not some magical metric of difficulty of transferring to UBC from high school. That metric is the percentage of students admitted from the applicant pool. Counter to the picture the Sun paints, the trend in BC has been more students being admitted to university, and less students graduating from high school.

    Our high schools have bumped the curve to the right, while provincial policy has shifted the z-score to the left. Despite students now needing 6 more percentage points, it’s actually easier to get in. That’s the fallacy of absolute grading.

    * This is a simplified model. UBC takes in the applications and modifies them according to broad based admissions, province of origin (Alberta students get a boost), and other considerations. With international enrolment UBC is free to do whatever.

    Just a quick post to let everyone know the 2010 congregation ceremonies are taking place this week. Yesterday, English, Econ and other small arts programs crossed the stage. Today it’s more of the same, including Poli Sci, Law and Education.

    Telestudios airs a live stream of the ceremonies, unfortunately using Microsoft proprietary platforms (.asx and Silverlight). If anyone knows how to get those working on a reasonable platform leave a note in the comments thread. I tried to get a capture stream running in VLC, but failed.

    On a more personal note, I’ll be crossing on Monday at 1:30pm. Tune in for what hopes to be a spectacular student speech by my former boss, Michael Duncan (no pressure), and come meet up with us for photos after the ceremony’s over!

    New SUB Lease Signed

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    Over the course of the next hour, the New SUB Lease agreements will be signed. We’re currently at the AMS Council meeting, trying to figure out the details.

    Of current particular note:

    1. The AMS will retain any space needed to meet its programming needs in the Old SUB. In 8 years after the building’s constructed, this space is forfeited to UBC under the condition that they find similar space for the activities therein.
    2. There are only two permitted liquor primaries in the New SUB. Neither of these bars are to be visible from University Square nor are they to have entrances or exits directly to the outside of the building. This is due to a monopoly deal UBC struck with Mahony and Sons, the private pub located on University Boulevard.

    The signing ceremony will take place at 5:00pm Today (Friday) at the SUB Partyroom.

    Vote results are out, and the three lucky short-listed firms are:

    These three now compete to have the AMS’ New SUB Committee to sign them on over the others. We’re pretty happy about the short-list as it’s a happy medium between the Insiders editors choices.

    It remains unclear what process the Committee will be going through to assess the three firms, and whether or not public input will still be solicited for advisement.

    By Alex MacKinnon, fifth year student in Mining Engineering, and fan of transportation planning. If you would like to pitch us a guest post, get in touch–we’re a well-read forum for you to get your ideas out.

    I’m sure the vast majority of people reading Insiders are pretty familiar with the transportation problems of the Broadway corridor. The viability of the status quo is frequently questioned. People ask why we need to do anything at all, why spend the money? Simply put Broadway will hit a point of diminishing returns on how many buses can be added and how many people can be moved cost effectively with buses. While the 44, 84 and 43 have been designed to partially take the load off the 99 there’s not much hope in those routes staying ahead of demand in the long term without large investments in improved service. Big infrastructure projects in Vancouver like rapid transit to UBC, have been put off for decades, but now it’s crunch time.


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    Most of y’all have heard by last Friday that the Koerner’s Pub liquor license has been suspended by the UBC Treasury/Legal departments. In response, Koerner’s still has its doors open, but the taps are dry.

    According to a memo, the license was suspended because of two incidents this month. The first incident, a drunk underaged youngster fell off a roof overhang and was hospitalized. The second, someone drunk yelled at some cops.


    The RCMP informed the liquor control board, but UBC closed the spigot prior to hearing back.

    This is one small step in what has been a two-year-long skirmish between authorities and the Pub’s management. In 2008, underage service was discovered. In 2009, a similar violation was found. You might have noticed the response of that guy from the external security company and the frankly outrageous bulletins threatening to expel underage/drunk students under non-academic discipline.

    Our thoughts? Given the GSS Executive historically doesn’t seem to care much about liquor, or even its own pub, there’s strong precedent for not acting on this. If anything, this could be further fuel for the GSS to throw their hands in the air, claim the pub is too much of a liability, and use it as grounds to close the place for good. In an email to their council, the new executive seems to be pro-pub, but we’ll have to see how that manifests.

    On the whole, people seem to like Koerners, and the GSS is accountable to students. If you’re mad about how bad that dreamboat on the acoustic guitar was tonight compared to every other night (and trust us; he didn’t get worse), we suggest letting the GSS Executive and Council know.

    Commerce students are before the ballot now. There are some good backgrounders out there. We scrapped ours because frankly, it was too dry. The important lessons coming from the history are:

    1. The rhetoric behind accreditation grew stronger with time. At first it was not being mentioned, then there were short references, now there’s direct citations from documents no one’s seen.

    2. Fun accounting tricks took place. The development was “phased” and then a lot of the project was shifted into Phase 1 slowly in what is most likely an attempt to maximize funds from the first CUS referendum. This includes things that didn’t need to be there, like A/V.

    3. Phase 2, in a sense, has to happen. If only Phase 1 occurs, its costs go up because building code and seismic improvements are in Phase 2. When you’re tearing down walls to upgrade to code, you may as well save money and make those walls pretty. It would be really stupid to not do Phase 2.

    The fact that ‘phasing’ is irrelevant if you have to do both is beside the point. What’s important to note from the history is that there is this financial model that was created by the administration, and they’re relying on the inflexibility they built in to get a desired outcome. It’s like arguing “we shouldn’t stop the train, because I deliberately broke the breaks.”

    This piece goes into the nature of tuition and student fee accounting, what’s wrong with this question, and the bad precedents it is setting.

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    Update 5:34pm: Today’s CUS meeting has been moved to Angus 296 from Angus 310.

    Normally we try not to post snippets, but we feel this one is important enough.

    At tonight’s CUS Board of Directors meeting (6:00pm, Henry Angus 310 296) there will be a vote to have the CUS go to a student referendum to implement a building fee of $500. This fee would only be implemented after the completion of Henry Angus building renovations.

    Those of us who have been around since 2007 will notice this is a repeat of the same question asked then, which was deemed a Dean-initiated plebiscite instead of a proper student society fee, making it a tuition increase under their tuition policy.

    The CUS was approached by Commerce Dean Daniel Muzyka as part of the faculty’s original financing plan to revisit the student fee three years later. The CUS is claiming that this student fee is necessary to secure donor money. Past Board documentation, however, states that the Faculty is seeking at most $18 million from students to simply pay off debt the Faculty was granted after their original financial plan collapsed.

    The CUS has a media debrief tomorrow for media inquiries, which leads us to believe this is already a done deal for the CUS. At our last attempt to observe the CUS Board’s discussions, we were barred entry from their chambers, while the Dean was granted access. Minutes state this was for “a frank discussion of the situation with the current leadership of the CUS so all members are fully informed.”

    More details forthcoming as we dig them up. Interested parties are advised to read through past board documentation (search: “Sauder”) and the Facebook note behind the jump by Dr. Peets in 2007.

    Read more

    This is a little last minute, but if you want to be heard about the future of housing on campus, as well as the future of the heart of campus (the University Boulevard area, as well as McInnis Field and the current bus loop), there are two open houses forthcoming. All you need to do is show up:

    1. Public Open House • UBC Student Housing Demand Study

    Date: Friday, February 5th
    Time: 2:30 pm – 3:30pm
    Local: SUB 211

    A follow-up to this study, which among other things, states that 43% of students living off campus would live on campus if they had the choice. Learn about the study and provide your input regarding the study and next-steps.


    2. Public Open House • University Boulevard Neighbourhood

    Date: Monday, February 8th
    Time: 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
    Local: SUB Concourse

    Long ago, there was a design competition to redo the University Boulevard Neighbourhood (solid line). It’s been about six years since that design competition finished. Since then, the winning architects have disappeared, their replacement also disappeared, an underground bus loop has disappeared, and in the chaos, a 120 million dollar Student Union Building, and an Olympic-sized pit of mud have appeared.

    Despite most of the original plan’s premises disappearing, the model of the neighbourhood remains the same. This open house seems to be a welcome acknowledgment of “ok, crap, what now”. Further, the ‘study area’ includes much much more than the University Boulevard Neighbourhood–going all the way to the current bus loop (where future plans are still undecided). It’ll be very interesting to see what’s on display.

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