By Emily Senger
In what has become a yearly occurrence, a room of some of Calgary’s most prominent and influential citizens voted to raise tuition for students at the University of Calgary last week.
The U of C board of governors raised tuition by 3.3 per cent for all undergraduate and graduate students Thur., Jan. 25. The increase was limited by a new government policy which ties increases to the rate of inflation, yet some board members still voted against the motion.
This is the first time in three years students will notice an increase in tuition of $15 per half course or $150 per year for an undergraduate student. In 2005 and 2006 the board voted to increase tuition, but the provincial government paid for the increase of $62 per half course. This meant students still paid the 2004/05 rate of approximately $5,100 per year for a full course load.
Students’ Union president Emily Wyatt and Graduate Students’ Association president Christine Johns both sit on the board and presented a list of requests to the board before voting against the increase. The final vote was 12 in favour of the increase and four against.
“I don’t believe that students should be paying more for post-secondary education,” said Wyatt following the decision. “Tuition was capped this year by the provincial government, but it was capped at a point that was already unaffordable. [Tuition] has risen 298 per cent in 10 years. It really is a result of inadequate government funding.”
The vote would have been five against, but elected SU BOG representative Bryan West missed the meeting due to a scheduling error.
Johns said she was disappointed with the increase and noted that being a graduate student is increasingly unaffordable. In her presentation to the board she noted that due to increasing living costs and accumulated debt, graduate students make up 30 per cent of Campus Food Bank users even though they account for only 18 per cent of the student population.
“One of the main reasons I voted against [the increase] is that, as the board of governors, we can’t improve the housing situation in Calgary,” said Johns. “We can’t put food on these students’ shelves. We can’t pay for all of their research associated expenses, but we can make one decision and we can make one change and that’s tuition. We can alleviate that burden.”
Though board members were sympathetic to students’ arguments, they maintained that a gap between government funding and base operating cost left them with no choice but to raise tuition by the 3.3 per cent maximum.
“[U of C vice-president finance and services] Mike [McAdam] and I are cognizant of the effect of the increase on students, but we are also cognizant of the effect on the quality of education,” said U of C VP academic Alan Harrison. “The quality of what we provide to students could be affected if we don’t ask for the maximum increase.”
Harrison also noted that if the government had not implemented their new tuition policy students would face an increase of 7.3 per cent, rather than the current 3.3 per cent increase.
According to the U of C’s 2006-2010 business plan, maximum tuition increases are planned for each of the next three years. This will raise tuition for full-time undergraduate students from the current $5,210 per year to a predicted $6,295 by 2009/10. The rate for graduate students is expected to increase from $5,408 to $6,543.
“The board always struggles with the students here because we want to provide a very high quality,” said Charlie Fischer, BOG public representative and Nexen Inc. president and CEO. “It’s not a perfect world. Many of us are very sympathetic with the arguments you make, [but] at the end of the day we have to maintain a quality. It would be nice not to see [tuition increases] but we need to find revenue.”
After passing the tuition increase, the BOG voted to give some money back to students by extending their quality money commitment to the SU and the GSA for the next three years.
The GSA and SU have received annual “quality enhancement” funding from the BOG since 2003. The money is allocated towards projects to enhance the quality of student life. The SU spent the $1.4 million in quality money they received last year on projects like replacing the computers in the Information Commons, a renovation of the Social Sciences corridor, teaching grants and student scholarships. The GSA received $300,000 in quality money last year.
Previous quality money allocations were based on a yearly decision and both Johns and Wyatt said the board’s decision to guarantee quality money for three years will help them plan sustainable, multi-year projects.
The BOG is the highest governing body at the U of C. It is made up of the SU and GSA presidents, one elected student-at-large, a non-academic staff member, the university chancellor, the university president, two U of C alumni, one U of C senate member, two academic staff members and nine public representatives who are appointed by the provincial government.