Tuition going north again

By Ruth Davenport

There were, unfortunately, no surprises at the recent Board of Governors meeting.

On Fri., Nov. 30, the BoG voted in favour of increasing 2002/03 tuition fees by 3.7 per cent, tacking an additional $145 onto a standard 10- course academic year.

"I don’t feel there was any real rationale for the increase," said Students’ Union President Barb Wright. "I don’t think the reasons presented supporting the increase were as valid as ours opposing it."

The Board heard presentations from U of C Vice-President Finance and Services Keith Winter, Wright with the assistance of BoG student rep Toby White and Graduate Students’ Association Kevin Douglas. Winter outlined the university’s current gloomy financial situation, emphasizing the downward trend of tuition increases in preceding years.

"The U of C has foregone $12 million in revenue over the last three years, decreasing tuition in response to student concerns," he explained. "We have to find the balance between university needs and student affordability."

Wright and White outlined the equally gloomy financial situation facing present-day university students and urged the BoG to consider other sources of revenue. Wright pointed out surpluses in the 2001 university financial statements which seemed to indicate an availability of other financing options.

"Refusing to increase tuition would send a much-needed message to the government that the U of C is unwilling to burden students any further," she said. "It will show a commitment to providing the people of Alberta with affordable, accessible quality education."

Wright and White also introduced a proposal to increase the cost of annual parking permits to match the cost of a year’s worth of monthly transit passes. The increase would generate over $1 million dollars in revenue for the university, hypothetically allowing a lower tuition increase.

"With parking on campus at a premium, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to increase the cost of annual parking permits," said White. "This won’t affect students already facing financial hardships because they’re the ones parking in Lot 10."

Discussion after the presentations was minimal, focusing on the debate over quality and affordability. University Chancellor Jack Perraton and President Harvey Weingarten both made public commitments to working to reform policy for student bursaries and scholarships. These statements were received cautiously by Wright.

"I applaud these commitments to improvement," she said. "However, we don’t budget based on funding that we don’t have; we have received no commitments to increase funding to financial aid, so why are we willing to use hypotheticals in the area of student financial aid?"

Eyebrows raised when BoG member Rod Love demanded that the SU put their mandatory fees to referendum.

"I’m uncomfortable being on the Board of an institution that forces students to belong to a union to get an education," he said to Wright. "You said that mandatory fees are a barrier to education, so why don’t you make mandatory fees voluntary?"

Amidst disapproving murmurs from the crowd, BoG Chair Brian MacNeill called the discussion back onto the subject of tuition.

"Rod Love is not a fan of unions and having no choice to belong to them," said Wright afterwards. "I would be happy to discuss SU fees anytime, but we were talking about tuition. I’m not sure why he tried to complicate the issue at hand."

Alumni representative Brian Bass was the only non-student member to vote in favour of both a zero per cent and a 2.8 per cent increase.

"I’d like to urge the BoG to think outside the box and try to imagine some ways to make things better for students," said Bass, whose comments were received with enthusiastic applause from the students.

"There was no reason given by most of the BoG members for their vote," said Wright. "They never explained why they believed there is a need for the increase. It’s the most frustrating thing."