By Noah Miller
Outrage spread like wildfire among students when the Students’ Union disclosed administration’s proposed changes to next year’s tuition in Student Legislative Council on Tuesday.
After the first of their meetings with university administration, the SU was handed a chart of figures now in circulation among students. The chart outlines proposed changes according to the province-mandated across-the-board maximum of 1.5 per cent based on the Canadian Price Index, alongside proposed “market modifiers” drafted by university administration.
Market modifiers are large tuition increases designed to move certain faculties’ tuition closer to the national averages. For the U of C, this means the faculties of Engineering, Business, Law, Medicine and the Master’s programs of Education and Business Administration will be seeing steep rises.
U of C VP external relations Colleen Turner emphasized the figures are not finalized numbers and that the university has not yet sought the approval of the province.
“They are draft numbers,” added Turner. “They are being talked about both in the faculties and the Students’ Union.”
Furthermore, the U of C will not have a solid conception of the budget until the province announces its budget on February 9.
“Any tuition increase is invariably linked to what we end up getting from the province,” said Turner.
Hardest hit by proposed increases (in terms of percentage) would be the Haskayne School of Business, whose per class tuition would go up 46.5 per cent according to the SU. This proposition has not met with much enthusiasm among business students.
“We don’t know much about it, but we do know that there’s about a $240 increase per class,” said Commerce Undergraduate Society VP events Lucibelle Tan on behalf of the club. “We just think this is really unfair. A lot of students pay for their own tuition . . . $240 is a lot.”
These sentiments were echoed by engineering students who face tuition hikes potentially as high as 38.7 per cent.
“Many of us are responsible for paying our own education, and a yearly increase of almost 40 per cent would likely be justification for many students to transfer universities,” said third-year engineering student Natalie Hilbrecht. “If the University of Calgary wants to continue to attract the best and brightest students from across Canada, they should strongly consider alternative measures. There has got to be another way to balance the books which does not involve leading the students to bankruptcy.”
While university administration attempts to deal with a potential deficit, Turner conveyed that the university is not asking students to bear the brunt of the financial burden.
“We are also very aware that we don’t want students to bear the brunt of our budget situation and that we need to be moderate in what we’re proposing,” said Turner. “Part of the approach of the university is deal with the budget shortfall, continue to deliver high-quality education, but also not to disadvantage our students . . . it’s a balance between those areas.”
Turner further stated that a portion of any increase approved around market modifiers will go towards scholarships and bursaries for those who need it. The exact portion is still up for debate, but a preliminary number of about 10 per cent is being mentioned by the university.
“10 per cent is not anything significant,” said third-year nursing student Erin Vienneau. “It’s kind of like a slap in the face.”
According to Turner, proposal numbers are based on three factors. First, how current tuition for a particular program compares to “programs of the same nature” at peer universities. Secondly, the university looks at whether or not graduation from said program signals that the student will end up earning higher income than other students. Thirdly, the cost to deliver a particular program.
Concerning students even more is the fact that the university is also proposing a $500 compulsory fee per student.
“The fee is what we have the least clarity about,” said SU president Charlotte Kingston. “Unlike the tuition numbers, which we do have in writing and we do know for a fact, we are speculating based on what our administration has told us that the compulsory fee will be similar to the one that’s being imposed at the University of Alberta.”
According to an article published by the University of Alberta student newspaper, the U of A approved a proposal that could see $285 per term mandatory student fees beginning as early as May.
The Gateway reported that the new fee is a response to the U of A’s projected deficit for the 2010/2011 academic year.
Turner pointed out that the U of A has a better idea of what their deficit will be because they are locked into a lot of their expenses in ways the U of C is not.
Kingston said the U of C has not granted the same clarity as to what these increased fees will be used for.
“We have at this point absolutely no justification for what those costs will be, except that they would roll in the current campus athletics fee and a couple of other services,” said Kingston. “Because there is no framework, the only thing they are required to do when passing down these fees to students is demonstrate cost recovery. ”
As the cost of delivering quality education rises and with government funding potentially on the decline, the university is exploring various avenues to balance the budget and provide quality education and research.
Citing the layoffs and examination of potentially increasing the cost of parking during Stampeders games, Turner stated administration is looking at other ways to cut costs and increase revenue. The newly proposed fee would amalgamate the now separate student fees covering dental, wellness and campus recreation, among other things.
“We are trying to consolidate it into one fee that covers a multitude of things while the students are here at the university and also as they go on to become alumni, but still need certain services [such as transcripts and co-curricular records],” said Turner.
Nevertheless, students and the SU alike are expressing their dissatisfaction and anger with these proposals.
“The [compulsory fee] is questionable because with all the cuts going on around campus . . . I don’t really understand why we would have to pay those additional fees,” said third-year nursing student Will Sibold.
Sibold and his classmate Vienneau expressed their frustration with the fact that even though the proposed market modifiers would not touch them, the additional compulsory fee adds to costs that they already bear, such as travel and equipment expenses associated with their faculty.
Kingston echoed popular student sentiment regarding the proposed changes.
“I’ve never been madder,” Kingston told the Gauntlet. “Frankly, if I weren’t about to graduate, I probably wouldn’t be continuing my education here and that’s something that I would say honestly as a student and not as the president of this organization.”
Kingston gave a variety of reasons why she was so upset, including the fact that the U of A is the only other institution putting forward similar proposals.
“They’re in a debt that is [significantly larger than] any of our projections and they are still choosing to give their students better consultations, more needs-based assistance out of the increased revenue and better return on increased revenue to faculties,” said Kingston. “We should be absolutely irate about that . . . at some point I have to wonder, what am I already paying for?”
Kingston noted that Alberta is one of the only provinces in Canada without a strict framework around compulsory fees.
“Our institutions can do whatever they want around compulsory fees and the only regulated guideline is that they must prove cost recovery,” said Kingston. “As we all know, all that means is they’ll move money somewhere else to prove that they have to cover costs in whatever areas they decide to move compulsory fees into.”
Kingston alleged that if U of C students are to “understand that this will improve the quality of their education, they’re being misled because it’s going down to pay a centrally administered deficit that does not effect the program quality within their faculties.”
Next Tuesday the provost will speak to students directly about these changes at 6:30 p.m. in the MacEwan Student Centre council chambers, across from the information desk.
As of publication time one Facebook group, “Attend SLC about tuition,” had already attracted 396 people to the event, numbers which will overfill the 90-person capacity of the SU council chambers.