An invalid referendum has scuttled the Thompson Rivers University Students' Union’s (TRUSU) attempt to help refugee students receive an education.
The vote, held from Nov. 21 to Nov. 23, failed to meet quorum as less than 20 per cent of the student membership at the university voiced an opinion on whether the students’ union should collect a fee to support operating a student refugee program at TRU.
While just 1,365 students — 15.3 per cent of TRUSU members — cast a ballot, those who did vote were overwhelmingly in favour of the program. There were 1,120 ballots cast (82 per cent) in favour of the fee to run the program, compared to 245 ballots (18 per cent) opposed.
A simple majority of 50 per cent plus one was needed to see the refugee program become a reality, if the 20 per cent quorum threshold had been met.
The proposed student refugee program would have been facilitated by World University Services Canada (WUSC) and involve the student union charging students 85 cents per credit to a maximum of $7.50 per semester to support it.
Had the program been successful, one student refugee would have been brought in each year over the next four years until the program was supporting four refugees at once while they obtained a four-year degree from TRU.
TRUSU has no plans to revisit the program, but little discussion has taken place in the days since the results came in, said students’ union vice-president equity Sierra Rae.
“Reaching quorum is a measure of participation, not of support. The only support we can measure is the ballot count, which was overwhelmingly in support of this program,” Rae said.
TRUSU needed 1,784 students to cast a ballot to meet the 20 per cent threshold for a valid referendum — coming 419 votes short of the mark.
The referendum campaign began on Sept. 17 and students were able to cast their ballots at the TRUSU lecture hall in the Campus Activity Centre between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Nov. 21, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Nov. 22 and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov 23.
Rae said the student union hasn’t discussed whether or not it should have had additional polling stations.
“But it’s definitely something we need to think about when we talk about future referendums,” Rae said.
TRUSU estimated it would take about $100,000 per year to support four students at the same time.
“They would be supported on the same $100,000,” said Rae. “The average estimate by WUSC is $25,000 to $35,000 to help [a refugee] come over here and do their degree.”
The funding would have covered a refugee student’s tuition, housing, food and money for social activities.
WUSC selects refugees from a United Nations-recognized camp who must pass a number of tests to qualify for the program.
Rae said more than 80 universities across Canada run a WUSC program, noting the students’ union felt “it would be a really great addition to campus.”