Student bars can be a tremendous drain on resources. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.
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Student bar costs will stop executive from making progress with healthcare, U-Pass

Student bars—they’re a great place to get cheap food and beer, and maybe even play some pool. Everyone loves them, right? Well, maybe not.

The University of Northern British Columbia’s undergraduate student association (NUGSS) recently announced that it was $100,000 in debt. Executives noted that the student bar run by NUGSS—the Thirsty Moose—was losing an average of over $50,000 per year. They also said they had considered closing the bar.

Over the summer, Oliver’s—the student bar run by the Carleton University Students’ Association—posted a $120,000 deficit.

And it looks like 1848—the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) student bar—may be headed down the same road.

The SFUO does not release a budget for 1848, but in a recent Board of Administration meeting, vice-president Rizki Rachiq announced that the SFUO has faced numerous problems with 1848 and other businesses, with lots of staff leaving and broken equipment needing to be replaced. There was even a full week this year where 1848 closed down entirely.

Yes, student bars are fun, and I don’t think anyone would argue that we should have them if we can. In the case of the University of Ottawa, however, having a bar run by the SFUO is just not feasible at this juncture.

At a certain point, when too much student money is being thrown into what has proven to be a risky business venture in Canada, it’s time to throw in the towel—at least for now.

At the meeting, Rachiq noted that the finance department has been spending a lot of time and money dealing with issues surrounding student businesses, especially 1848. These are resources that aren’t going towards other work done by the student federation, like providing services, social events, and club funding.

On top of that, the SFUO manages students’ health plans and U-Passes, which together account for almost 90 per cent of SFUO spending.

Both of these strategies have seen problems in the past couple years, and, in the case of the health plan, students are still paying for it.

In addition to the earlier examples, it seems that student-run pubs in Canada are bad across the board.

According to a Maclean’s article from November of 2013, “Campus pubs propped up by student fees are surprisingly common, due to bad management, high labour costs and pressure from students for artificially low prices.” And, as mentioned in this article, student bars across the country have had to shut down for these reasons, even while receiving free rent, and sometimes carrying debt in the millions of dollars.

And the fact is, while there are many bars on campus that offer good prices to students—La Maison, Draft Pub, University Bar and Grill—there’s only one body that provides club funding, student healthcare, and a U-Pass.

Until the SFUO is in a better position to have the time and funds to properly manage a student bar, they should take a knee. Because as long as they try to sink money into the business while they’re struggling to manage more essential services like clubs subsidies, the U-Pass, and healthcare, they won’t make progress on any front.