The Graduate Student Association – University of Waterloo (GSA-UW) continues to strive towards our Mission of enhancing the academic and social experiences of graduate students at the University of Waterloo. Through the work of the GSA-UW Council, Board, Executive and Staff; the GSA-UW has had many accomplishments over the 2016-2017 year. The GSA-UW is pleased to share highlights of our successes for the 2016-2017 executive year in the Annual Report. We encourage all graduate students to take a moment to read through the report and explore the work that we have done this year.
Internal Activity Highlights
- New: A call for the University to create a multi-stakeholder committee including the GSA to oversee high-level risk management at the University (See more: Multi-Stakeholder Oversight Committee).
- New: A call for the University to involve the GSA collaboratively, early on, and throughout the development and oversight of the implementation of short- and long-term plans for the development of the University’s facilities, services, and programs (See more: Enhancing Strategic Collaboration Between the University and the Association).
- New: A call for the University, the Province, and the Federal Government to redouble their efforts to make higher education financially accessible to all (See more: Financial Accessibility of Education and Academic Employment).
- The GSA persuaded the Graduate Student Support Advisory Committee, which advises the University on changes in the TA budget, to increase the TA budget by 1.58% in line with the University’s average cost of living projection for graduate students. The University rejected this advice and increased the TA budget by 1.5% in line with the increase for faculty and staff.
- The GSA raised concerns with the University about the $7 million increase in the project budget for the SLC/PAC Expansion Project. Although the University has said that it will contribute the additional funds, the GSA expressed concern that the added cost would indirectly affect graduate students in the future.
- Graduate students were not consulted on increases in tuition, contrary to the Memorandum of Agreement between the GSA and the University. The GSA is investigating why this did not happen.
- The GSA-UW raised concerns at the Student Services Advisory Committee (SSAC) that several positions were hired without consultation and were unfunded last year. GSA-UW recommended changes to the SSAC and the University Administration decision-making process.
- Substantial revisions of Policies 5 and 7.
- New: A member-driven and evidence-based approach to advocacy (Policy 12).
- New: A more inclusive and advocacy-based process for developing the annual budget (Policy 13).
- New: Improved transparency and accountability in provincial and federal lobbying efforts (Policy 16).
- New: A commitment to promoting an equitable and inclusive society (Policy 17).
- An Equity Certificate, modelled off the Certificate in University Teaching, is under development.
- New: Processes for the recruitment and supervision of the President and the Vice-President of the GSA (Policies 18 and 19).
- New: A commitment to greater empowerment and engagement of student associations at the faculty, department, and program levels (Policy 22).
- New: The GSA Council will appoint its Chair through a new process outlined in Policy 7, in contrast to the recent practice of the Board of Directors appointing the Chair of the Council.
- New: The GSA Board of Directors will monitor and address issues related to human resources, finances, and risk management through new committees.
- Revisions of Bylaws 4, 5, 6, and 7.
- Reduced the number of officers from six to two.
- New: Six support positions focused on research, analysis, and policy development, governance support, outreach and community organizing, social programming, and equity and wellness (hiring begins in May 2017).
- New: Detailed job descriptions with specific accountabilities and reporting structure
- New: Replacement of the Departmental Funding program (~$7000) with the Graduate Student Initiatives program ($15,000) for social and academic initiatives by graduate students. Since September 2016, this popular program has received 25 applications and has funded 21 initiatives, averaging ~$333.00, across many departments and all six faculties.
- New: Councillors and directors were recognized for their service to enhancing the social and academic experiences of graduate students with termly gift certificates to the Graduate House.
- New: An orientation for new councillors was held for the first time. It covered GSA governance, University governance, campus services, the role of the GSA Council and the role of councillors, parliamentary procedure, and organizing and advocacy resources.
- New: The GSA designed and conducted a comprehensive study of social and academic issues affecting graduate students. 22% of graduate students participated in the survey. The data are being analyzed and will direct the GSA’s advocacy efforts for years to come. Follow-up investigations, such as focus groups and town halls, may be organized as needed in 2017/2018.
UW Policy 42 (Sexual Violence)
The GSA-UW and its Council were actively involved in the development of Policy 42. We worked to ensure that graduate students were represented in the development of this policy and that their voices and concerns were heard.
UW Policy 33 (Ethical Behaviour)
- The GSA-UW continues to actively participate in the Policy #33 Review Committee. Policy 33 affects all members of the Waterloo community and relates to policies affecting students: Policy 70, Policy 71, and Policy 72.
University & GSA-UW Memorandum of Agreement
- The GSA-UW is working with the University to agree to an addendum to the current Memorandum of Agreement. The addendum to address how graduate students are appointed to University-wide committees that make decisions which affect them.This addendum will ensure that graduate students who sit on committees are selected by the students that they are representing.
External Activity Highlights
Canadian Alliance of Student Associations
The GSA is a member of CASA, providing member representation at the federal level. Annual Advocacy Week.
Advocacy Week 2016 was an enormous success! We had 56 student leaders from across the country meet with 163 federal decision-makers to discuss issues in Canadian post-secondary [education].
- The Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP) threshold was increased from $20,000 to $25,000, meaning that students do not have to pay back their student loans until they make more than that amount.
- Changes to the Express Entry system makes it easier for international students to stay in Canada after graduating.
- Amendments to Canada Elections Act through Bill C-33 will eliminate barriers that are known to discourage students from voting.
- Canada Student Loans Program is changing the way they decide how many student loans and grants you're eligible for. I.e. you will no longer be disadvantaged for having a spouse with an income, for working part-time, etc.
- Budget 2017!
- Committee on Finance's recommendations included specific CASA requests.
- Committee on the Status of Women's report cited CASA on its presentation to reduce violence against women, specifically on PSE campuses.
- The GSA-UW represented Waterloo graduate students at OGSA by holding two OGSA Officer positions: OGSA President and OGSA Treasurer. OGSA has been given proper financial guidance to develop and garner political strength to represent the graduate students of the University of Waterloo, and a graduate student population in Ontario of roughly 55,000.
- OGSA hired a part-time Executive Director to assist in the advocacy efforts at the provincial level.
- GSA-UW has appealed to create a stronger bond between provincial alliances and CASA to be more effective when discussing student issues with policy makers. CASA will allow the OGSA to partake in any meetings throughout Advocacy Week that it would like to access.
- A decent number of our recommendations regarding OSAP reform have been included in the proposals being submitted to Cabinet. Most notably this includes increased funding and support for the PSSSP program and most especially the commitment by the provincial government to rework the formula for mature student OSAP applicants to allow for a more favourable assessment of pre-study income contributions.
- The 10-Hour Rule has been changed slightly after lobbying efforts by the OGSA. OGSSA presented a proposal to the OCGS and one of the recommendations to change the wording in the rule. The OCGS has expressed an interest in re-visiting this rule.
- At the end of April OGSA will begin lobbying efforts in advance of the upcoming Provincial election. Meetings with MPP's in K-W have been arranged afterwhcih OGSA will reach out to MPP's representing our other member schools. OGSA is working to include graduate student priorities into their election platforms and these discussions will be made with all three provincial parties. Two issues that cut across party lines are graduate student funding and mental health/wellness.
TOWN & GOWN
- The GSA is a member of this City of Waterloo and University of Waterloo committee. The Town & Gown committee is reviewing student housing in the community.
Social Activity Highlights
- The GSA-UW partnered with GRADventure to offer a professional development opportunity where graduate students participated in a networking workshop offered by the Centre for Career Action (CCA) followed by a professional photography session. Held on January 9, 2017, close to 50 graduate students attended Networking Day.
Elmira Maple Syrup Festival
- In partnership with the International and Canadian Student Network (ICSN), we offered free transportation to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival on April 1, 2017. Over 100 graduate students registered to attend with friends, partners, family members, etc.
Princess Cinema Matinée Screening
- We organized a free screening of Queen of Katwe for graduate students and their guests at Princess Cinema on November 19, 2016.
Snyder’s Family Farm Trip
- This Fall-themed event was held on October 15, 2016 and close to 25 graduate students including guests attended.
Women in STEM Mix-and-Match Event
- The GSA-UW supported with the recruitment of graduate volunteers to share their experiences as women in STEM-related disciplines with undergraduate students. This event was coordinated by the Women Centre and held on March 28, 2017.
Waterloo, let’s talk. Pulse, Orlando
- The GSA-UW supported the co-organizers Anik Islam and Brian Schram (two graduate students) with this public panel on the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shootings. Held on November 10, 2016, around 120 attendees from the Kitchener-Waterloo community attended.
GSA-UW Welcome Week
- This year the GSA-UW implemented it’s first full-some Fall and Winter Welcome Week. Events were open to all graduate students and were held at both the Graduate House as well as outside of the Graduate House. Some of the events included: a dance party, a guided tour of uptown waterloo, free food events, free skating, a networking event and more!
University Wide Orientation
- In partnership with the Student Success Office we planned and implemented University Wide orientation for all incoming graduate students. Over 1100 incoming graduate students registered for Fall orientation. We provided them with essential information and welcomed them with various social events, prizes and more.
- The Graduate Student Association (GSA) is a student-run not-for-profit organisation whose membership consists of graduate students of the University of Waterloo.
Legal aid is provided each term by the Graduate Student Association. Graduate students registered in the current academic term can consult privately with our lawyer.The legal aid service helped over 100 students and their families with issues in family law, business and contracts, landlord-tenant, and notary services.
- GSA-UW offers Free consultations to help graduate students understand and learn to file their own income tax returns.
- A General Income Tax Filing Seminar was held in March.
- 72 private consultations were available free of charge to graduate students.
We want to help graduate students learn how to file their own tax returns.
Health and Dental Plan, (STUDENTCARE.CA)
Highlights of the GSA/FEDS Health Plan
- The plan is underwritten on a refund/retention accounting basis with Sun Life. This means that the policyholder will pay for every claim that is made by our members. If claims are greater than the premiums paid, then the policyholder will have to pay Sun Life the shortfall.If claims are fewer than the premiums paid, then the policyholder will receive a refund from Sun Life.This model requires that an external ‘claims fluctuation reserve’ (CFR) is held with Sun Life and that an ‘unrestricted deposit account’ (UDA) exists for the policyholder where any surplus, if generated, will be held. For the year ending 2016 the CFR is fully funded and the GSA share of the UDA is approximately $19,000.
- Refund accounting is an exercise in budgeting, as all finances flow back to the policyholder (GSA/FEDS). Internal reserves are part of the financial mechanics of the refund accounting model.Our strategy is to carry plan reserves internally, to ensure the CFR is fully funded and to support shortfalls to claims, should they occur.
- For the year ending August 2016, Health claims have seen continuous growth over the past two policy years. Per student claims increased by 12% from the previous year. This may be accountable to the expansion of the Waterloo drugs list. Last year approximately 75 drugs were added to the formulary.
- Prescription Drug and Travel were the categories that had the largest impact on health claims. Travel claims continue to grow and surpass the half million dollar threshold. Waterloo is part of a “pooled” claims design (for Travel) that sets a ceiling on claims that will directly be attributable to the plan's claims history. That is, any claim under $25,000 will be paid by the plan holder, but any claim over $25,000 is pooled within a national group, and will not affect the plan.This is a good feature, as Waterloo experienced an out of country claim where $200,000 of the claim amount was pooled.
- The year ending 2016 experienced growth in plan enrolment, which allowed for our internal reserves to grow.
- In summary, the Waterloo Health Plan continues to operate in good financial health.
- GSA Dental Plan
- The dental plan is based on a “fully insured premium” model, due to the rather short history of the plan. This means that the underwriter, Sun Life, pays all claims. If there are more claims than premiums paid, Sun Life absorbs the shortfall. If there are fewer claims than premiums paid, Sun Life keeps the surplus. The premium is negotiated annually based on previous claims experience.
- Internal Reserves: The Health & Dental Fund
- The GSA is working on growing its internal reserve to $500,000 to guarantee its ability to pay claims. The total of the Health & Dental Fund as of August 2016 is approximately $380,000.
- Health & Dental Stats
- Eligibility to the plans:
- Full time and part time graduate students enrolled in regular "on campus" programs are eligible for coverage in the health and dental plans.
- Students enrolled in distance-ed (online) programs are not eligible for the plan nor eligible to opt into the plan. This was initiated by students enrolled in on-line programs that were billed for the GSA Administered Fees. They requested that the GSA lobby for their exclusion from the fees: (including Graduate House fee, Bus Pass, and university ancillary fees.)
- Enrollment in the Health Plan (Graduate Students)
|Health coverage only||60||53|
|Dental coverage only||5||8|
|No Coverage (Opted out)||289||419|
|Change of coverage: Opt Out rate||6.33%||9.24%|
|Family Enrolment - 1 dependent||114||111|
|Family enrolmnet - 2 or more dependents||62||66|
|Self Enrolment (during in-active terms)||21||22|
- Your WatCard is your Upass.
- Show your pass to the operator.
- Travel on GRT buses is unlimited with your UPass!
- The GSA-UW helps graduate students facing academic challenges in a safe environment.
- The GSA-UW provided support with one:one private meetings, advising/consultation support over email and telephone, and group support for issues within a department or faculty.
- GSA-UW helps graduate students navigate through UW policies, guidelines, and processes.
Annual Audit Report
- The GSA employed the services of MNP, LLP for its annual audit. The fiscal year ends on August 31st and an the Auditor's Refport is usually received the following February.
- Audited Financial Statements