By Katie Hobday
A referendum question on academic travel could see students paying less. The academic travel levy, according to the description given by the Students’ Union, “[helps] fund clubs and individual students attend conferences and other events of an academic nature.” Individuals can be granted a maximum of $200, while groups can get up to $1,000.
Currently, the levy is $1.00 a semester for full-time students and $0.50 for part-time students. The referendum proposes to either cut the levy in half or eliminate it all together in the case of part-time students.
“[The money collected specifically for academic travel purposes] just sits in the travel budget and can’t be touched,” said Gavin Preston, campaign manager for the “yes” campaign to reduce the levy. “It can be put in the total budget and spent on students in a different way.”
While academic travel is financed by the levy, non-academic travel has a place in the SU’s operations budget. If the levy were to be eliminated, then the non-academic travel budget would be increased to include academic travel as well.
“Basically the SU will be picking up the tab,” said Preston, who introduced the question as VP Operations and Finance. “It will just be travel and we won’t worry about whether it’s academic or non-academic.”
The elimination of the fee is a cause for concern for others.
“I don’t think a reduction or elimination of the fee is beneficial,” said SU VP Academic Demetrios Nicolaides. “We have these funds set aside for these students to go to academic conferences.”
Scott Piet, president of the U of C’s Model UN, said the club appreciates the financial assistance provided by the levy.
“The SU grant helps us a great deal,” said Piet. “The money received from the SU does not usually come close to covering our costs, but it is a welcome relief to the students who do attend conferences.”
There are concerns it could be difficult to make room for academic travel in each year’s budget without the levy. While Preston admits some work will be needed to cover it in the budget, the outcome will be worthwhile.
Piet sums up the position of most students who use the levy.
“As long as academic travel is still funded to the same degree as it is currently, I see no problem with the budgetary re-arrangement,” said Piet. “However, if it means [fewer] dollars will go into funding academic trips, then I certainly would not approve of the plan.”