A long list of losers

By James Keller

I am writing in the week before the University of Calgary Board of Governors meets to decide what tuition will cost next September. What’s more, this piece will be published a day before the decision is made, sitting on the stands for over a month.

Still, I’m going to make a prediction, deadlines be damned: tuition will rise, and the increase will be exactly 4.8 per cent. If I’m wrong, I suppose I’ll owe some apologies and correction in our next issue, but I’m not worried. It’s inevitable.

With this in mind, and considering that most of you are reading this long after the Fri., Dec. 5 decision came and went, let’s assume it’s already happened. (Hence, the use of the past tense.)

The easy route would be to paint students as the true and only victims. After all, battle lines were drawn and students’ efforts had little to no effect. Taking the consultation process seriously would be next to impossible, since, as Students’ Union President Jayna Gilchrist puts it rather correctly, consultation isn’t a negotiation.

But it’s not that simple. The list of losers is far more inclusive.

The SU, of course, lost. Students’ words fall on largely deaf ears (particularly in Edmonton) and despite their efforts to stop this increase, they failed. With a Conservative government giving little priority to post-secondary education, and a cash-strapped administration left with few options, the SU found themselves in a lose-lose situation. There was no other way this could have gone.

Students lost. The U of C has seen maximum tuition increases for much of the past decade, a trend that will undoubtedly continue. The latest hike means students enrolled in 10 half courses will pay $210 more per year, bringing tuition for non-differentiated programs to $4,590. Just 10 years ago, students paid less than half what they do now.

Administration lost. Even with obscene tuition increases, the U of C faces further deficit spending and budget cutbacks. Severe government underfunding at the hands of the Klein government means this school will continue losing faculty and resources. Even with maximum tuition increases, administration can’t seem to keep up with costs.

So, students lose again. Not only are they paying some of the highest tuition in the country, but recent budget slashing puts the quality of a U of C education at serious risk. Newspaper and magazine rankings aside, students needn’t look further than outrageous class sizes or the loss of award-winning instructors last year to see their quality of education suffering.

The Alberta government, then, is the only substantial player left. They certainly didn’t lose, but did they win?

They were able to keep post-secondary funding low without facing any real threat to their unchallenged power. They gave the semblance of cooperation with recent amendments to the new Post Secondary Act, which were cosmetic at best, while still relaxing the legislated tuition cap. And they will keep moving in this direction with no real incentive to rethink their policy.

Winners, indeed.

Then again, it’s not hard to win when the list of losers is so long–especially when you hold the purse strings.

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