Tuition keeps on climbing

By Sarelle Azuelos

For most, the last day of classes before a much deserved break is a time of celebration. But last month, just as students were waking up, the University of Calgary’s Board of Governors voted in favour of increasing tuition by 4.1 per cent next year.

The Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Association each made presentations with reasons to not increase the amount students pay for each class, but after relatively minor discussion only the GSA, SU president and Su representative voted against the move.

The SU tried a relatively new method by asking students in That Empty Space what they would like to see changed at the university in October. While the majority disagreed with more fees, students also asked for better quality of teaching, more study spaces and residence maintenance and space. To help these changes take form, the SU focused their presentation on the 4:1 Approach.

“On a broader level, we wanted to see a more cohesive approach to planning,” said SU president Dalmy Baez. “We started out by discussing the fact that we don’t really have a mission statement. There are so many committees and we don’t know what their mandates are, who sits on them and what are the students roles on these committees.”

The SU argued that by having a more streamlined and organized administrative structure, it would be easier to accomplish all of the university’s goals.

U of C vice-provost academic Alan Harrison admitted that the decision to increase tuition is a hard one to make.

“I think the fundamental point that we always make is that we want to provide the best quality of education to our students and the cost of education is rising all the time,” he said. “Some people would argue that in an ideal world the government would give us all the extra money we need, but that isn’t what happens.”

SU BOG representative Julie Bogle noticed the shift in SU priorities and was unhappy with the amount of discussion that took place before the vote.

“I was shocked in the meeting as to the fact that there were so few questions on either of the presentations,” she said. “It just seemed as if this year more than other years, people knew where they stood. The presentations– I don’t know how much of an effect they had on the board.”

Where is the money going?

U of C faculty association president Anne Stalker joined Baez in questioning where the funds were being spent.

“The thing is that this institution, like any post secondary institution, largely spends its money on salaries,” explained Harrison. “If you look at how the money is allocated throughout the budget, the single biggest item is salaries.”

Stalker was unhappy with this explanation, stating units responsible for the 4.5 per cent increase in staff wages received no increase to their budget.

“[They] have to cut somewhere else to find those resources,” she said.

The university has also been promised about a six per cent increase in funding from the province, but the exact amount has yet to be determined.

U of C treasurer and director of investment Michael Trattner said most new funds would likely go towards higher utilities costs. The working capital of the university is invested very conservatively and has been seeing a 3.5 per cent rate of return.

“Even though we’re making money here, the expenses are going up as well,” he said.

The university recently announced that, according to preliminary numbers, the endowment fund lost $78 million in the last year, or about 16.9 per cent. Audited values will be available by early February.

The endowment fund, which pays out scholarships from gained interest, totaled $348 million at the end of last year, a significant drop since March.

U of C president Harvey Weingarten said in a Jan. 11 Calgary Herald article that the loss would not reduce the amount of scholarships given out over the next few years. He added that the amount of donations received was also on the decline.

“In the next calendar year, I’d be lying to you if I said there would be a gain,” said Trattner. “There may be a loss of confidence, but we do believe in the longer term that this will recover.”

The future

Baez and SU vice-president academic Pamela Weatherbee said they needed some time to regroup in response to the BOG vote.

“This is not the end of this fight,” said Baez. “We’re kind of opening a can of worms to see how the rest of this semester unfolds.”

They plan to hold the BOG to a series of promises made at the 2007 tuition vote including increasing student satisfaction by 4.6 per cent according to the National Survey of Student Engagement. Tuition was raised by 4.6 per cent that year.

The next NSSE results will be available in August 2009.

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