How much does your student union executive get paid?

And is it too much? Or not enough?


Every student union is a little different, but they all have one thing in common: they don’t work for free. Student unions often have multi-million dollar budgets, and you can bet the people in charge are getting a good chunk of your money.

But just how much? I did a little digging, and pulled the numbers from every student union in Ontario that’s a member of the Canadian Federation of Students – easily accessible list of websites, if you’re wondering why. Or at least I tried to. Only 12 CFS-O schools have online budgets (that I could find), while 25 don’t.

No matter. I pulled the numbers as best I could. Salaries for each executive were sometimes lumped together, sometimes seperated. Benefits were often unclear and tied in with other expenses. Executives wages were not always seperated from other full time employees. Some of these budgets are two or three years old. So if anybody has more recent or accurate numbers, I would love to see them. But overall, this gives us a little bit of perspective.

The average executive receives about $16,757 in remuneration ($19,705 for undergrads, $10,860 for grad students.) The average executive slate is paid about 13 per cent of the student union budget (15 per cent for undergrads, nine per cent for grad students.)

Here’s the list, in order of average executive financial remuneration (includes salary, benefits, honorariums, etc.)

1. Carleton University – $36,599

2. University of Guelph Central Student Association – $30,335

3. University of Windsor Students’ Alliance – $27,682

4. University of Toronto Students’ Union – $26,171*

5. University of Ottawa Graduate Students’ Association – $16,110

6. Trent Central Student Association – $13,075

7. Scarborough Campus Students’ Union – $12,703*

8. University of Western Ontario Society of Graduate Students – $11,419

9. Queen’s University Society of Graduate and Professional Students – $8,480

10. University of Toronto at Mississauga Students’ Union – $7,574

11. University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union – $7,432

12. Glendon College Students’ Union – $3,500

* UTSU and SCSU both include their executive salaries with those of directors, co-ordinators, and other important staff; these numbers are the average of the pay of all these positions

So what do you think – do student leaders get paid enough? Or do they get paid too much? I’d love to hear your comments, and if anybody has any information about student unions that I haven’t covered I’d love to share it with the readers.


How much does your student union executive get paid?

  1. I understand U of T wages. They have an enormous amount of people in their university. But Guelph, Windsor, and especially Carleton, have an abnormally high amount of compensation. They should definitely not be making as much as they are. I think the U of T graduate students deserve some props for making about 3.3 times less money per student than Carleton.

  2. Last year there was a committee that reviewed the amounts the executive make for CUSA. There was an extra increase provided on top of the increase for CPI. The argument to justify the amount the executive are paid was that we are local 1 of the CFS and that entails more responsibility.I am not sure how being local 1 makes Carleton more responsible for the CFS than other locals.

    Some other arguments are that they work more then 40 hours a week (I highly doubt this considering the performance of certain executives last year), that the executive are removing themselves from the labour force and cannot get other jobs, that it was necessary to have that amount in order to have a living wage.

    I find all this arguments particularly ridiculous considering most students will live during the year on less than $20,000.

  3. Most of those you posted are on the low end most medium-to-large SUs (membership over 15,000) have full-time executives with salaries in the 20k.

  4. Most of the GSA salaries are comparatively low, however. A grad student can make $4,000-$5,000 a semester as a TA, which usually requires less work than being on the GSA executive.

  5. I’m curious how you arrived at the amount of $36,599 for Carleton…

  6. Sure, Sean.

    For the 2009/2010 year, this is what they have budgeted:

    Executive honoraria: $180,300.
    Executive benefits: $18,000.
    Tuition credits: $17,000
    Travel Expenses , taxis, buses: $4,300 (this figure is split on budget; this is total for each)

    These numbers are all divided by six (number of executives) and added together. The total (after rounding) is about $36,600. I would be happy to send you the spreadsheet I produced with all the information I gathered if you provided me with an e-mail.

  7. This might be nit-picking a bit, but:

    – there is an oranges-for-oranges comparison problem here…do each of the other SUs that you noted include all of the benefits?
    – The tuition credit amount seems a bit high: $17,000 for 12 credits? Last year, my full credit equivalent was about $1,100..$1,200 * 12 = $14,400
    – You could make the case that the health insurance benefit could be included…but I suspect that benefits line also includes CPP and EI from the employer’s side…not exactly what one associates with benefits for comparison purposes.

    I’m saying all this because every one of these studies I’ve seen over the years has always placed Carleton in the middle of the pack of large universities – that’s the whole point of having a formal by-law requirement to review salaries and benefits every two years.

    In any case, I believe that they are generally worth it – anyone who has been an SU Executive will tell you that they put in ridonculous unpaid overtime over the year that they are not compensated for.

  8. The YFS (York) execs make somewhere between 23,000 – 25,000 each. Can’t remember the exact number, and since they don’t post their budget anywhere easily accessible, it’s difficult to find.

  9. Was there a reason that non-CFS schools were exempted?

    Also, many organizations hire full-time, non-student staff members. For example, the Wilfrid Laurier University Student Union has at least 5 of these including a full time general manager as well as a finacial controller. In the WLUSU budget, these staff members salaries (which are actually much higher than the student execs.) are in the same budget line.

    How did you deal with the above situation if you ran into it?

  10. Sean – as I mentioned to you in our conversation last night, I’m going off the budget numbers. And I attended the Financial Review Committee and the budget presentation at CUSA council this year, and they made no mention of any other costs that would be incurred under these categories, so I believe the numbers as gathered from the budget are accurate. And all of the other numbers include benefits where they are listed on the budget.

    AF – I looked at CFS-O schools because the CFS website gives an easy list to look at, and quite frankly I thought 37 schools would be fairly comprehensive. Unfortunately, only 12 had budgets online that I could find. If you have any numbers you would like to share with me, I’d be happy to post them.

    As a side note, I actually did look at WLUSU to try and get a comparison between a non-CFS and a CFS student union, but as you mentioned, the executive salary is impossible to determine. In that case, I simply didn’t post anything because I didn’t even have a ballpark figure. I also looked at the McMaster Students’ Union budget, who list executive expenses as $395,200 without breaking it down further or listing any sort of number for salary.

    UTSU and SCSU, who both similarly listed executives and other full-time staff together, listed how many total staff were included in that number, so I took an average to get a ballpark figure.

  11. $395,200 is enormous for executive expenses! Some student unions don’t even have that in their total budget.

  12. Dean, I can send you a summary of the WLUSU 2009 budget. Please send me an email at afryerATwluDOTca. Then I can give you the documentation that you seek.

  13. Thanks AF – I sent you an e-mail.

    If anybody is interested, I’m going to be appearing on the University of Ottawa’s radio station at 2 p.m. today (July 22) to discuss this issue and other related to student politics. You can listen at

  14. They might have earned their money if the CFS-O (especially the YFS) did anything worthwhile.

    Anyone wanna dress up like zombies and walk around Queen’s Park?

  15. So, let me get this straight. Even though most students’ union director salaries are outlined in the bylaws or policies, you went to the budgets and averaged out the salaries line item that in some cases – where they also budget for full-time unionised staff?

    And then in other cases, you include benefits, to inflate the salaries of one students’ union that you have a particular bias against.

    nice work. macleans is really scraping the bottom of the barrel for their education section.

    please take a tutorial in reading budgets before publishing misleading non-issue pieces.


  16. Hi Johann,

    If you want to provide me with more accurate data from UTSU and and SCSU, please be my guest. I did not “mislead” anybody, I clearly stated how I gathered the data in the interest of full disclosure.

    With regards to benefits, I included benefits for every student union that lists them in the budget. I certainly don’t have a bias against any student union, and if you had read my other work you would know that I actually believe that student union executives should be paid more.

    With regards to your personal insults, I find it very disappointing you would choose to go that route. Especially when I recently was the only one who noticed an error in the Carleton University Students’ Association budget, saving them $9,000. But if you’re offering free tutorials I’d be happy to take you up on the offer.

  17. “If you want to provide me with more accurate data from UTSU and and SCSU, please be my guest”

    This has to be a joke.

    You are a blogger on the website of a “news magazine” it is not the job of the reader to provide you with accurate information. It’s your job. If you can’t do that you shouldn’t be pretending to be a writer.

  18. @chris

    The number I provided is absolutely accurate, in the sense that I described it. I averaged the numbers and gave a ballpark figure. I don’t have access to the exact number – whereas I would welcome anyone from UTSU or SCSU to provide me with this information. I don’t understand how you could possibly accuse me of being dishonest.

  19. Um, Dean, you didn’t find them $9,000.

    You pointed out a typo which had the effect of not allocating $9,000. Non-action would simply have been to technically run a budget surplus of $9,000. The money is there whether it is budgeted or not.

  20. Check out how much McMaster’s Student Union makes – it would take the cake on this list. They follow in Peter George’s shadow…

  21. You should indicate what duties (including hours/week) are expected of each executive.

  22. Your UTSU ballpark is surprisingly accurate. To the best of my knowledge (again, even as a member, not perfect) executives rake in $25k a year in salary – and I have no idea about benefits, but I imagine guessing an extra $1000 wouldn’t be ludicrous.

  23. The University of Victoria Executive get paid approximately $28,000 a year for their work.

    They get paid that while elected Directors at Large, who often put in 10 to 20 hours of work a week, get paid absolutely nothing.

  24. As far as I know, executive members of the SFUO (Student Federation of the University of Ottawa) make $30,000.00 a year.

    Then again, we have a student population of 35,000 or more.