Most post-secondary schools have at least one student union on campus. Some have more than one, especially if the school is large enough to have both graduates and undergraduates. This is a group of students, elected by the student body, to represent them on matters of school policy and campus issues. They also provide a range of campus service to the students. A large part of student fees goes towards paying the salaries of the student union representatives, and also to run the various student services.
Generally, there are 4 positions to be filled by elected students (sometimes there can be more positions). These positions are filled once per year (usually) by general elections, and the students elected must commit to a minimum number of office hours, and a maximum number of courses taken during their tenure.
The President is the chief spokesperson for the student union. They represent the interests of their students to the school抯 administration, as well as provincial and federal governments.
The VP Student Affairs is responsible for all communications that are delivered from the student union to students at large. They are also responsible for overseeing the activities of all internal organizations and clubs.
The VP Finance is responsible for all funds of the student union, and is responsible for the creation and management of the budget. They ensure that all accounts including those of internal organizations remain in good order.
The VP Academic is responsible for all academic matters. They act as a liaison between the student union and the school抯 VP Academic. They also act as an ombudsperson for student with academic appeals or complaints.
One of the biggest services a student抯 union can provide is that of advocacy. They will act on behalf of the student on matters such as academic appeals, student discipline cases such as plagiarism and cheating, residential tenancy issues, parking disputes, library fine appeals, and requests for information under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Acts.
A larger body called the Canadian Federation of Students comprises more than 500,000 students from post-secondary student unions in Canada (most student unions are part of this larger Federation, although some have decided not to). Because most post-secondary schools are funded primarily by the federal government and administered by the provincial governments, those policies determine the quality and accessibility of post-secondary education (things like tuition fees, financial assistance, funding, etc.). Therefore the CFS was created to act as an advocate on behalf of all member-students in Canada.
Health, dental, and pharmacy plans
Most full-time students are automatically enrolled in the student union抯 health and dental plans. This is equivalent to plans made available to most employees of the workforce. It allows students access to travel insurance, supplemental health insurance, subsidized routine dental work, and access to prescription drugs. Students who don抰 wish to access this service are usually required to opt-out by a certain date in the academic year.
Many student unions will oversee certain food services on campus. These services are generally restricted to the actual student union building (if one exists) and comprise of student-run organizations. Student fees pay for the running of these organizations and student employees are paid through this fee as well.
Student unions help students with their social lives by overseeing all the campus clubs and societies, and also by organizing events on campus. This can include things like frosh-week, concerts, beer gardens, and movie nights.
Other services provided by the student union include the campus newspaper, Safe Walk programs, room bookings, tutoring, ISIC cards, fax and copy machines, and the campus radio station.