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A “significant amount of pain”: Grad student tuition to rise between 5 and 15 per cent at U of C

By Nikayla Goddard, November 19 2019 —

The University of Calgary’s Graduate Students’ Association held a town hall to discuss budget and tuition on Nov. 19, where provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall introduced proposed tuition and fee increases for graduate students as a result of the United Conservative Party’s budget cuts to advanced education.

The total amount of budget cuts that the U of C received in total amounts to $68.8 million, which accounts for cuts to the Campus Alberta Grant ($32.9m), Infrastructure Maintenance Program ($22.5m) and Tuition Freeze Funding ($3.9m). It also accounts for the lack of the previously anticipated two per cent increase to the Campus Alberta Grant. Marshall presented an adjusted model of a $45.9m in cuts as a result of revising the budget early to account for potential UCP cuts. The U of C’s reduction in funding accounts for 6.9 per cent proportionally of the province’s overall five per cent educational budget cuts.

GSA president Mohammad Mansouri and vice-president external Marcela Coelho Lopes welcomed Marshall to the theatre to review possible raises and changes to grad student budgets and tuition.

“We are all concerned that these changes will have an immediate impact on students whether it be increased financial strain or an increase in mental health stress,” Lopes said in her introduction.

Marshall summarized the budget cuts and the changes that the University of Calgary will have to make as a “significant amount of pain.”

Part of this pain comes in the form of  a proposal to increase tuition rates for graduate students. For all continuing students, both domestic and international students will experience a five per cent increase. For new students, domestic students will experience a seven per cent increase and international students a 10 per cent increase. There are specific programs labelled as “exceptions,” including the Master of Engineering, Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Policy programs. Domestic students can expect a 10 per cent increase to these programs and international students a 15 per cent increase.

The new rates will come into effect for the spring session, beginning in May 2020 if everything is passed as it currently stands.

“We do not want any cuts,” Marshall added, saying that no academic programs will be impacted in-year — however, some strategic initiatives and projects have been slowed, deferred, stopped or cancelled. A total of 250 jobs will be cut to account for the new budget, as well as cutting non-essential travel, limiting catering and holding fewer events.

There are specifically no cuts to the Mental Health Strategy, Sexual Violence Programming and the Indigenous Strategy. There is also a planned increase to scholarships, bursaries and student aid – 14 per cent of the domestic tuition increase and 20 per cent of the international tuition increase will go directly to support students, Marshall said.

One attendee asked if the “top” executives will receive salary cuts.

“I’ll say the same thing I’ve said in every town hall,” Marshall replied. “Everything is under consideration. I’ll also say something that I’ve not said at any other town hall. Everything is under consideration. But I want you to know the reports of salaries in Alberta compared to other jurisdictions are not apples to apples comparisons. [….] Regardless of that, I know that I could never justify to anybody sitting in the room executive compensation right now. All I can tell you is everything is under consideration.”

Other answers to questions included that for students transferring between programs the old tuition will be grandparented in, but previous students starting new programs will pay the new tuition rates. Another question was asked as to why tuition is being raised when scholarships are receiving more money — why not just not raise tuition? Marshall responded that “not all students require financial aid.” 

When asked if Marshall had any recommendations for students to go on strike, she responded that she believes “there’s real power in numbers and student voice.” 

The next steps include U of C presenting their tuition increase plan to Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides in December. On Jan. 13, the Board of Governors will review the final tuition increase plan and vote on it. 

Following the Town Hall, a GSA meeting took place where representatives  discussed what GSA president Mohammad Mansouri’s vote should be when the Board of Governors takes their vote. Mansouri sits on the board. He called for a vote from the GRC representatives to inform whether he should vote in favour or against the tuition increase plan at the meeting on Jan. 13.

Concerns were levied from representatives who said the immediate calling of a vote was not fair, as it’s in the interest of representatives to speak to the students they represent first. Executives called to attention that there isn’t another GSA meeting until after the BoG meeting, and another representative questioned whether the reps would actually consider a vote for the increased tuition. 

A motion was made for Mansouri to vote against the tuition fees being raised, and the results of the vote were unanimously in favour of the motion with the exception of a handful of abstentions. 

A second motion was brought forth that the GSA Board of Directors write a position statement letter to raise objections to the tuition increase plan and send it to the Board of Governors chair, its members and relevant press. Representatives voiced that while it’s a great first step, there should be a back-up plan if the board decides to ignore the letter. The motion was unanimously passed with the exception of a few abstentions. 

Another proposal was made that the letter include demands that the administration responds, and if no response is given that the grad students will strike as teaching and research assistants and students. The meeting ended without time for voting on that proposal. A special meeting in the coming weeks will be scheduled to draft this letter. 

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