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Budget town hall draws criticism from students over market modifiers

By Chris Adams, October 16 2014 —

Students hurled questions at University of Calgary executives when administration presented the U of C’s finances at a budget town hall on Tuesday, Oct. 14 in MacHall A.

Students’ Union vice-president external Levi Nilson called on students to attend Tuesday’s budget town hall to question administration about “unjustified tuition hikes” known as market modifiers.

U of C president Elizabeth Cannon, provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall and vice-president finance and services Linda Dalgetty presented the 2014–15 finances to the audience.

The town hall drew an audience of several hundred, with around 160 people watching the live-stream online.

Nilson rallied students on Facebook with the group “Hold U of C Accountable for Market Modifiers,” with 252 people accepting the request. However, less than half that number of students attended the event.

Marshall said the presentation was meant to clear up financial misconceptions about the university using “finance 101.”

Cannon opened the floor following the presentation, where students asked the majority of the questions, all of which were about market modifiers.

Marshall was questioned on administration’s consultation with students. She said they wanted to ask “fundamentally different questions” during consultation with engineering students.

“I think the question for consultation for us was ‘we are going to do a market modifier. What do you think is important in improving the quality of your program?’ I think the students in engineering wanted to ask the question ‘can we have a market modifier or not?’ ” Marshall said.

Cannon called the consultation process transparent, respectful and “given the time, very fulsome.”

One student questioned Marshall about the Engineering Students’ Society’s (ESS) recent survey that showed 83 per cent of undergraduate engineering students didn’t support the modifier.

“I didn’t necessarily agree with the wording of some of the questions. I will say we had a fundamental disagreement with how we interpreted the data. When I got the results, I actually thought it supported a market modifier,” Marshall said.

Nilson acknowledged the difference in priorities between the ESS and administration but said administration was not committed to proper consultation. He questioned Marshall’s interpretation of the ESS survey.

“That’s completely inaccurate. I can’t believe she would even say that. How can you disagree that 83 per cent of people rejected the market modifier?” Nilson said.

The presentation outlined a $36-million “revenue gap” in the funding expected from Campus Alberta in the 2014–15 budget. Marshall said the U of C expected to receive $456 million from Campus Alberta. But because of the 7.3 per cent provincial funding cut in 2013, they will receive $420 million.

According to the U of C’s financial statement for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, the university has $73 million in unrestricted net assets. Marshall said administration aims to hold five per cent of its surplus money, or $64.5 million, in this category.

If approved, the engineering market modifier will generate $3.85 million per year.

Nilson said administration made the decision not to invest its own money in the faculties up for market modifiers.

“They have a gigantic rainy-day fund. With the [engineering and law] undergraduate programs that are being market modified, the total amount of revenue that will be generated is $5 million,” Nilson said. “They could fill those gaps if they wanted to, but they’re choosing not to. It was a lot of wordsmithing and a lot of misdirection.”

But Marshall said unrestricted net assets are saved for emergency spending and cannot support long-term funding.

The faculty of engineering proposed a $170-per-course hike, a 31 per cent increase. The faculty of law proposed a $250-per-course increase, while the Haskayne School of Business proposed a $300-per-course increase for masters of business administration (MBA) students.

Proposals state that 30 per cent of market modifier revenue goes to administration, 20 per cent to scholarships and bursaries. The remaining 50 per cent goes to the faculty.

University administration received final proposal drafts on Friday, Oct. 3. Administration submitted proposals to the provincial government Wednesday, Oct. 15. The province has until Nov. 17 to approve or reject the proposals.

If any the proposals are approved, the U of C Board of Governors will have final say on whether or not they will go through.

The provincial government last accepted market modifier proposals in 2010. The government promised that it would be a one-time tuition increase to correct a market anomaly and that proposals wouldn’t be accepted again.

The Society of Law Students and MBA Students’ Association wrote conditional letters of support for market modifier proposals in their faculties.

Marshall reiterated that current students won’t have to pay the market modifier.

“I can tell you as provost it’s not my first choice to increase tuition. But I have a fiduciary responsibility to manage the university. So we have to look at all kinds of ways to do that,” Marshall said.

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