BoG rep attacks tuition increase

By Ruth Davenport

The lowest potential tuition increase in over a decade has given a Board of Governors member cause to cry foul.

"I think a 3.7 per cent increase is a disgrace," declared Drew Brown, undergraduate representative to the Board of Governors. "It’s a number members of the Students’ Union picked as the number they would like to see."

Brown called for the resignation of SU Vice-president External Duncan Wojtaszek and Academic commissioner Nic Porco, who spoke in favour of the 3.7 per cent increase during the tuition consultation process.

"I believe that if this is the attitude and the belief of these members of the SU, they owe it to the students to resign because they’ve betrayed the trust of the students," Brown stated emphatically.

A 3.7 per cent increase means an extra $141 per year per full-time student. In 2000, the Board of Governors approved a five per cent increase–65 per cent of the allowable maximum–compared to an 80 per cent increase the year before. Prior to that, tuition had increased by the maximum allowable amount every year since 1988.

"We tried to get 3.7 per cent amended and we’re disappointed that it didn’t happen," said Students’ Union President Toby White, after the financial committee meeting on Jan. 23. "The number is 48 per cent of the maximum which is down from last year and the year before. It’s good progress, but we’d like to see a lower number. We already think tuition is too high."

"We’re talking inflation numbers," countered U of C Vice-president Finance Dr. Keith Winter. "If the board approves a number like that, it will be the first year in 10 years that tuition will not have gone up in a way that displaces the cost of education more on the students."

Brown took issue with the assertion that the tuition increase is linked to inflation. According to a letter from Alberta Learning, the Alberta inflation rate for 2000 was 3.7 per cent, a figure which was used throughout the consultation process. Representatives of Statistics Canada and the Alberta Treasury both indicated that the inflation rate is in fact 3.5 per cent, a number which includes recent astronomic increases in utility costs.

"I think the university’s financial situation is such that a reduction in the amount that would cover inflation would be injurious to the institution," said Winter. "Alberta Learning said that for the purposes for calculation of the tuition fee cap, inflation is 3.7 per cent. I have no idea how they calculate it and never had occasion to question its solidity."

Because the university received government funding to cover increased utility costs, the assertion that the tuition increase matches the inflation rate may not be accurate.

"That is interesting," said White. "I know that when Alberta Learning does their cap calculation, they have to include inflation, but if inflation is less than 3.7 per cent and does include utilities, that is interesting because this tuition increase is not meant to cover those utility increases."

Brown alluded to a heavy government hand in the tuition process.

"The government said to these universities, ‘your increase cannot be over four per cent," explained Brown. "In order to get their share of the $25 million envelope, they must be below four per cent in tuition increase."

The $25 million performance envelope is new money provided to post-secondary institutions by the Alberta government.

"This is the first time there’s been any new money come in, and they said that we should take this into account when we’re setting fees," explained Winter, in discussing the increase. "It’s a win for students and a win for government and it’s a win for us, I guess."

Brown strongly disagreed.

"The concept of a university suggesting that 3.7 per cent–just because it’s below four per cent–is a win for students is a joke," he declared. "I feel there was a chance for a zero per cent increase and there was a very good chance for a two per cent increase. I feel we’ve done a lot of things to destroy that chance."

SU VP External Duncan Wojtaszek agreed that a two per cent increase was not an unrealistic figure.

"We feel that administration could have done better," he said. "The difference between 3.7 and two per cent, which was certainly a number the SU felt was better, was only $1.4 million dollars of the university’s budget; we thought they could have found that money for students’ sake. It’s a bit disappointing."

The next step in tuition consultation is a Town Hall meeting, followed by the Board of Governors meeting on Feb. 1 where the tuition increase will be finalized.

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