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Lukewarm ratings for the representatives

ROB SHAW

Globe and Mail Update

Canada's university and college students gave their own unions lukewarm ratings in the 2004 University Report Card.

When asked to dole out letter grades for student unions and governments, almost two-thirds of respondents from the 38 schools delivered unenthusiastic Cs.

"Students don't have confidence in their student unions," said Doug Hughey, 24, a fourth-year modern languages student at the University of Toronto.

Student governments don't seem to address real issues, and instead get bogged down in small-time political infighting, he said.

"The unions sometimes seem to forget what they are doing is petty compared to the politics around us," said Mr. Hughey. "After all, we're university students and we should be thinking of the larger issues of Canadian politics."

David Horowitz, a 25-year-old who just finished studying political science at the University of Toronto, said student governments suffer from "a lack of transparency, a lack of accountability and are not inclusive" to all groups.

"Really it's just a little clique," he said.

The heads of Canada's two student associations acknowledged what appears to be a disconnect between those studying at colleges and universities, and the unions supposed to be representing them.

George Soule, national chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, said many undergrads and graduates don't understand how their student associations function behind-the-scenes.

"We do things like make sure a certain community club stays open, but a lot of people didn't even know it was going to close," said Mr. Soule, whose organization represents 76 schools and more than 475,000 students.

"Based on that, I could see how individual students would be left more frustrated with student unions if they don't seem to see anything getting accomplished."

Traditionally, one of the controversial sticking points has been money. In a typical school, about $30 in student union fees is automatically deducted from every tuition payment.

For those who feel out of touch with their governmental peers, having no choice but to pay into their school union coffers can be a bitter pill to swallow.

James Kusie, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations which represents 19 schools including the University of British Columbia, said he's not surprised the survey results show what he called "student apathy."

"I wouldn't say it's dissatisfaction, I'd say it's more disinterest," said Mr. Kusie. "If you talked to the students on campus they might give you the opinion they're far removed from their student unions. But I know every day I'm trying to make that connection."

Students at the University of Calgary seemed particularly upset at their student union and handed out a D grade.

Yet students in Quebec were more generous. Université Laval, University of Montreal, University of Quebec at Trois Riveres and Sherbrooke University scored B's, the highest grades in the survey.

Coincidentally, many Quebec schools don't belong to the two national student groups.

Jean-Patrick Brady, president of La Fédération étudiante de l'Université de Sherbrooke, said he believes Quebec student unions are more popular because they focus their energy on provincial issues.

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