Reduced Student Government Budget Leads to Smaller SIG Budget Allocations

Student Government Fall 2014 budget allocations to Student Interest Groups generated discontent among various SIG leaders. In spite of the increased ...

Oct 25, 2014

Student Government Fall 2014 budget allocations to Student Interest Groups generated discontent among various SIG leaders. In spite of the increased size of the student body and increased membership, many SIGs were allocated smaller budgets when compared to previous semesters. This comes as a result of Student Government's overall budget being reduced by the university for the 2014-2015 academic year.
According to Student Government Treasurer and senior Yuqi Sun, the budget allocated for student-led student activities has decreased by approximately $30,000 USD from $130,000 USD last year to a current $100,000 USD, with some room of flexibility.
The treasurer of each SIG submits a budget proposal to Student Government. The proposals are then passed onto the Student Funding Board, where the four class representatives and the treasurer allocate resources considering each SIG's needs.
“When we look at budgets, we look at fairness and efficiency. Fairness, as in we have to maintain relatively similar standards for all the SIGs. If we decide we are going to fund movie nights for some SIGs, then we should also fund movie nights for some other SIGs,” said Sun.“At the same time, there is also efficiency … it is not the best way to use the university’s money on food, which is what happened last year: 60% or 70% of the budget was going to food.”
Reportedly, a large portion of SIG budgets goes to paying for catering, transportation and facilities charges decided upon by the university. The school will therefore reassess the current budget's feasibility given the increased costs, many of which are a result of the transition to the Saadiyat Island campus.This reassessment is to take place in mid-November. At the same time, Student Government will be in a conversation regarding the budget allocated to them by the university.
“We have some flexibility to say that the original allocation simply wouldn’t work and that would be a conversation that would happen at university level, not just within the Student Government,” said Sun.
However, with a greater number of new SIGs on campus as well as increased membership for individual SIGs, as a result of a bigger student body, SIGs submitted larger budgets as compared to the past. Most SIGs have been allocated only one-third of the amount they had initially requested and some SIGs are having issues with this cut.
The Latinoamérica SIG had originally planned to start beginner Spanish non-credit classes; however, with the budget cut, the SIG has had to restructure its activities for the semester.
“We were planning on opening up a beginner Spanish course with a teacher from outside the university and get students to co-pay part of the cost of the course. We also had some smaller activities planned,” wrote sophomore Eduardo Campillo Betancourt, treasurer of the Latinoamérica SIG.
Attitude, the dance SIG, has had problems related to facilities.
“[A] problem is the purchase of portable speakers. All five types of Attitude dance classes and various rehearsals need speakers but we still have not gotten one speaker. The internal sound system in the new dance studio is not working, so we have to constantly try to borrow portable speakers from our friends before each class,” wrote sophomore Xuexin Cai, president and co-founder of Attitude.
Another problem is foreign and regional trips. Attitude is unable to send its dancers to various festivals outside the UAE as it has in the past.
“[One of the problems is] not being able to send as many dancers as we've planned to an amazing dance festival where students can learn from world-class instructors and afterwards bring their experience back to share with their friends,” wrote Cai.
Student Government is not funding any trips outside the UAE. That funding must come from the Office of Student Life or other departments to be used by SIGs like Debate Society and Model United Nations.
“In this year, we’ve not sponsored any regional travel in my memory apart from Attitude. Attitude got 2500 AED for the Zouq Festival [in Ras Al Khaimah],” said Sun.
Student Government is aware of the reductions in the budget cuts and it is working with various SIGs to provide the support they need. Citing the example of Women’s Leadership Network, Sun said that the SIG worked with the Career Development Center to facilitate their kick-off event.
“Since we have limited budget, we cannot maintain the same standard. So our strategy is to fund them with a certain amount of money and then help them work collaboratively and reach out to other departments and see if they can sponsor [them],” said Sun.
Student Government also takes into consideration the relevance and importance of events that SIGs have organized in the past. If the money allocated for certain events is not used efficiently, the Student Life assumes that that money could have been originally allocated to another department.
“I think Student Life has the impression that Student Government has been constantly underspending in the past four years,” said Sun. “Although every Student Government has been trying to close the gaps between the money that we spend and the money that the Student Life decides to give us.”
Cai also expressed that SIG leaders should be a part of the budget allocations, provided some SIGs’ popularity in the student body.
“I guess one thing that many SIG leaders strongly feel should be re-evaluated and adjusted, is the criteria used to determine the amount of funding that each SIG should get. It will be great if a set of specific criteria used by the [Student] Funding Board can be created with input from SIG leaders and these criteria should be very transparent. Frankly, Attitude is almost equivalent to a combination of three to four SIGs considering our membership and frequency of activities. We could split the SIG to get more total funding, but that will be disastrous in any other aspect and is completely against our vision of establishing a vibrant dance culture on campus,” wrote Cai.
Campillo shared a similar opinion, stating that more conversations on budget allocations would allow SIGs to make wiser budget requests in the first place.
“I think that each SIG is different in the events that it organizes and the effectiveness with which they do it and this is what needs to be taken more into consideration: rewarding with more funding those SIGs who have shown to spend their budget wisely and sensibly. This will motivate all SIG leaders to make smarter proposals and hold them more accountable to the manner in which they spend the SIG's funds,” wrote Campillo.
Khadeeja Farooqui is features editor. Email her at 
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