Dear Students,

As we approach the end of another academic year, I wanted to take a moment to share my reflections on the end of a four-year journey with our UASU. Saying goodbye to the teams and people who have made my time at the Students' Union so enriching and impactful will be difficult. It has been an incredible privilege to serve as your Students' Union President, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to represent you. 

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my years at our UASU has been the opportunity to collaborate with diverse people, each bringing their unique perspectives and passions to the table. Whether through engaging with students from various corners of our campus or across the country or participating in club fairs and campus visits, my interactions have enriched my understanding of our community's needs and aspirations. 

The challenges we have faced this year have been numerous, but they did not deter the spirit of our campus community from taking them on. Whether it was in Student Council meetings, over cups of coffee, during tabling sessions, or in simple conversations on our way to class, I have had the opportunity to hear from and engage with many students throughout the year. I am deeply appreciative of and grounded by your candor, feedback, and motivation to see our University and Students' Union improve. Your voice has empowered us to reshape and enhance our advocacy for evolving student needs with the University Administration, as well as municipal, provincial, and federal governments.

At the start of the year, our team set out three main goals:

  1. Amplify Student Voices
  2. Enhance and Cultivate the Student Experience
  3. Promote Comprehensive Student Learning

Reflecting on the past year and our efforts toward these goals, I am incredibly proud of our collective achievements for the students of the University of Alberta, both present and future. Their support, kindness, and drive have been crucial in navigating this year. I want to express my gratitude to them for their dedication and service to the student body.

Reflection on goals
With only two weeks left in office, I want to share some of the work and goals we have accomplished through student advocacy this year. Amidst a rising cost of living, we committed to pushing at every level accessibility and affordability of University. I am proud of the efforts of what we have been able to deliver in pursuit of that commitment, specifically:

  • Negotiated a revamp of the Moderate Standard of Living calculation, boosting bursary funding for 2023/2024 by an additional $1 million. This will go directly to students who need it most. 
  • We introduced the ZTCup, recognizing faculties' efforts to make courses more affordable through the Zero Textbook Cost program. This year, we had the highest ZTC year yet, with 31.3% of all classes across Fall and Winter being ZTC.
  • We fought back against automatic textbook billing models that were proposed by the University potentially unaffordable student textbook fees. Specifically the Academic Materials Program.
  • Creation of a financial aid support hub to provide better communication and awareness of financial assistance for students.
  • 4,700+ letters were sent as part of our letter-writing campaign to fight tuition increases.
  • Increase tuition offset from 7.99% to 8.99%, which will result in nearly $1.2 million in additional financial assistance for international students in need.
  • We promoted and/or created more student discount resources, like the Deals and Discounts page or UASU Perks Member Mondays, to ease students' financial burden wherever possible.
  • Expansion of Free Verification of Enrollment to Augustana.
  • Recent announcements from the Federal Budget 2024:
    • $500 million over 4 years will be going toward a new Youth Mental Health Fund.
    • Extension of Student Financial Aid maximum amounts are being increased! The grant maximum has gone from $3,000 to $4,200, and loans have gone from $210 to $300 per week.
    • Increase of shelter allowances used by the Canada Student Financial Assistance Program when determining financial need, at an estimated cost of $154.6 million over five years, starting in 2024-25, and $32.3 million per year ongoing. 
    • $242.7 million over 3 years towards the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) to provide financial assistance to First Nations students who are enrolled in eligible post-secondary programs.
    • $487.5 million over 10 years, with $61.8 million ongoing, to both Inuit and Metis Post-Secondary Education Strategies.
    • Student housing projects can qualify for $15 billion in the Apartment Construction Loan Program.

Even as we’ve been confronted with affordability crisis, we’ve never stopped thinking about ways we are working towards making our campus community continues to be inclusive, we’ve worked to make that a reality by:

  • Collaborated with the Dean of Students Office to create a grant to improve access to prayer spaces.
  • We worked hand in hand with the Indigenous Students' Union (ISU) to defeat the proposed campus-wide smoking ban: The ban was not passed at the General Faculties Council (GFC). 
  • Negotiated with the Registrar’s Office a plan to implement exam rescheduling procedure for high density exam schedules. Approval of this policy at GFC will mean that students who have an exam in the morning, another one in the afternoon and a third one the next day can reschedule one of their exams, further details can be found on page 27.
  • We were at the forefront of designing, launching, and implementing the University’s Student Experience Action Plan. This plan, officially launched in January,  holds students’ perspectives and outlines pathways for improving the student experience in vital areas identified by students.
  • Indigenous Course Requirement Approval: Successfully advocated for an Indigenous Course requirement in degree programs.
  • We saw through the arrival of a syllabus management tool that will integrate with existing university systems and adapt to the particular needs of different faculties. This tool will also serve as a starting point for the creation of a syllabus bank
  • Consent Awareness Week: We partnered with Possibility Seeds and The UofA Sexual Assault Centre to promote consent literacy on campus.
  • Undertook efforts to minimize waste on campus, focusing on initiatives like zero waste at CSJ and partnering the Daily Grind with Too Good to Go to reduce food waste.
  • Pushing the university administration to fast-track the hiring of the executive director and restore UASAC's services.
  • Co-organized and hosted alongside the ISU the Indigenous Students Award Recipient Recognition Night.
  • Successfully advocated for the role of the SGBV response coordinator to be transformed into a permanent position as the University Lead on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Response.
  • Getting the University to recognize outdated religious exam policies and allow students to continue to apply for accommodations past the policy deadline.
  • Expansion of the Affirmed names so students can update first and last names of University interfaces.
  • Collaborated with the Indigenous Students’ Union to host the Residential School Memorial, highlighting important histories and celebrating Indigenous cultures.
  • We collaborated with the Augustana Students’ Association to create a dedicated residence representative position to ensure the voices of Augustana residents are heard at North Campus.
  • We advocated to the University to provide robust student OneCard access to buildings and interior access routes, ensuring students’ retain access to spaces on campus amid the reduction of building hours.

This year, we also welcomed the re-opening of the Myer Horowitz Theatre. Witnessing the completion of the Horowitz Theatre renovation, a project that has been years in the making, stands as a testament to our collective determination and vision for enhancing student life and culture on campus and beyond. While there are still some finishing touches, I am thankful to have witnessed the coming to life of the vision of my predecessors. The renovations saw new achievements, from reducing energy use in the building to more accessible all-gender washrooms, expanded lounge space, and updated and accessible seating within the theatre. The Tegan and Sara concert elevated the space with a packed room of fans, students, alumni, and staff.

As we throw open the doors to this renovated space, I challenge each of you to think about the role you will play in the next act of the Myer Horowitz Theatre. Will you be a performer, a spectator, or perhaps the director of your masterpiece? The choice is yours, and the possibilities are as endless as our imagination. I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has played a part in this renovation—from the builders, who probably found some very interesting artifacts under the seats, to the students whose passion and energy have always been the lifeblood of this theatre and our events team for planning, preparing, producing the show and re-opening the space.

Final Thoughts
As I bid farewell to this role, I leave you with a final message of encouragement and hope. In the face of challenges and uncertainties, it can be tempting to succumb to cynicism. However, I urge you to resist and instead embrace hope as our guiding force. Together, we have all we need to overcome any obstacle. Let us continue to draw strength from our shared values and aspirations and remember the words of the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “If you can't fly, then run; if you can't run, then walk if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Thank you for granting me the privilege of serving as your President this past year, following two years of service as your VP External. It has been an honour to advocate for your needs and aspirations, and I am confident that together, we will continue to strive for a brighter future for all.

With warm regards,

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Christian Fotang
President, Students' Union 2023-2024