Tuition: 6.3 per cent, and differentials

By Marti Webster

Students eerily chanted “Harvey, Harvey, Harvey,” and shouted “Down with tuition!” outside the U of C Board of Governors meeting on Fri., Mar. 21. Lofty students smacked picket signs against a second-story Dining Centre window from outside. Even the walls rattled at times with pounding. But none of these actions stopped the board from implementing differential tuition and a maximum allowable tuition increase of 6.3 per cent for undergraduate students. This year’s decisions follow a 3.7 per cent base tuition hike in November, 2001.

One Nursing student fought back tears, threatening to leave Alberta for the U.S. when she finishes her degree.

“The province is telling us we’re going to have a nursing shortage,” she said. “Raising tuition is the most counter-productive move they could make. If this is a sign of things to come, than this is the right decision to leave this province, to leave this country.”

The board’s decision raises tuition to $4,370 for ten half courses next year, and followed their decision to implement differential tuition for the MBA, Law, and MD programs. Visa students will also have to pay more as their tuition surcharge increases from two to two-and-a-half times the regular tuition for undergraduate students.

In addition, an amendment by U of C President Harvey Weingarten separated the graduate tuition increase from the undergraduates’. Graduate students’ program fees (for the first year of a Masters’ degree program and the first two years of a PhD program) will rise four per cent to $4,548 and their continuing fees (for subsequent years) will increase by 6.3 per cent to $1,323.

Students’ Union President Matt Stambaugh who presented a petition against differential tuition signed by over 6,000 students, was concerned about the increasing tuition hikes.

“We have seen tuition fees increase 90 per cent since 1990,” he said. “I don’t think any students in this room have seen an increase in quality.”

Among the reasons for raising tuition, board members cited competition for professors, the growing costs of programs, and less funding from the provincial government.

“We need to be able to play in the same league as our northern neighbour, University of Alberta,” said U of C Vice-President Academic Dr. Ronald Bond. “We are not as well off as we used to be in terms of government funding.”

The 6.3 per cent increase will raise approximately $6.8 million for the university in 2003-2004, much of which will go toward increasing salary costs and to cover inflation, according to the university.

During the meeting, the board turned down three separate amendments brought by students to raise base tuition by only two per cent to six per cent, prompting angry outbursts from students. Only one non-student board member, Bernie Myers, voted in favour of Nic Porco’s six per cent increase amendment.

One of 50 students in the audience shouted that the decision to go with a maximum increase was determined prior to the meeting. Graduate Students’ Association President Michelle McCann feared as much.

“I’ve been told it’s a fait accompli. It’s not,” said McCann to the board. “Each and everyone of you could say no today. I think we can lead the way by saying no to differential tuition.”

McCann criticized the tuition proposal for not implementing the university’s Academic Plan, but voted for what she thought was the best arrangement for her students.

After the tuition discussion, which ended just before noon, some exhausted students were reluctant to leave the tent city. They sat on couches and discussed the board’s decision.

“They don’t seem to care,” one student said. “We’re just statistics.”

“I slept in the tent in the cold,” said Biology student Marie Schlachter. “They couldn’t even give us a six [per cent increase], they had to push for the 6.3 per cent.”

Packing up after the four-day tent city protest, Schlachter felt the board’s decision was predetermined.

“It’s really what I expected,” she said. “I think the decision was already made. No matter what we did, it didn’t matter.”

For her, the tuition increase may mean hardship in the future.

“I work three part-time jobs,” she said. “My studies suffer a lot. It’s either earn money and eat, or sit at home and study.”

Management student Mitch Kjinserdahl was concerned that higher tuition will mean less accessibility.

“Alberta is limiting how great their society can be if only a fraction of its population can be educated,” he said. “It limits the potential of the culture.”

At the meeting, U of C President Harvey Weingarten acknowledged that accessibility is a concern, but stated that the U of C already leads the province in relieving the growing demand for post-secondary education.

“In 1995-2000, the U of C did more to accommodate post-secondary growth than any other post-secondary institution in Alberta,” he said, adding that the U of C accepted 25 per cent of the total increase to enrolment. “This year, we had $4 million a year in student financial aid. Through fundraising, our goal is to double that. This is all being done in a difficult financial framework.”

U of C Vice-President Academic Dr. Ron Bond promised at the meeting to monitor the effect of raising tuition on students of differing socio-economic status. His promise was met with skeptical laughter from students.

Some board members acknowledged the burden of rising tuition costs on students and suggested the real fight should be with the Alberta government. The board voted unanimously to lobby the Alberta government for a larger increase to the U of C’s base operating grant beyond the two per cent provided for the 2003/04 academic year. They also urged the university’s Planning and Finance Committee to seek funding from sources other than tuition and government funding.

“The fools game that I see is the game that pits the students against the Board of Governors,” said former U of C senate chancellor and current board member Jack Perraton. “I’m going to take my fight beyond this room.”

Students’ Union Communication and Culture Representative Laura Schultz took some comfort in the board’s decision to lobby the Alberta government.

“It’s a sad day in U of C history,” she said. “The only solace I can take in this whole nightmare is that the board passed the motion unanimously to lobby the provincial government of an increase in base funding.”

Geography student Grant Van Hal noticed that provincial Liberal leader Ken Nichol–who spoke in support of students prior to the board meeting–was the only government official to show up.

“Premier Ralph Klein’s at SAIT today, completely ignoring the issues even though he’s in town,” he said. “If we make noise right now while there’s a surplus, we’ll get the money.”

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