By Nikayla Goddard, June 8 2020—
In January 2020, the new year for the University of Calgary was marked by an increase in student fees and tuition — an additional $316 in total fees was approved along with all undergraduate programs for new students receiving an increase of seven per cent. The hike for students continuing previous studies is capped at five per cent. International students and engineering students face a concurrent ten per cent increase.
Now that UCalgary has announced that Fall 2020 will take place primarily online with the exception of necessary labs, tutorials, practicums and small group seminars, students are calling on the university to scale back tuition costs to make up for online delivery. Two petitions to call for lower tuition are circulating currently — one set up by Esther Nwafor and another by Chloe Bellavance.
Nwafor is completing her third year this spring semester, majoring in communication and media studies, and noticed that the university’s move to online delivery at the end of Winter 2020 and into Spring/Summer semester just wasn’t effective.
“The quality of the education wasn’t the same,” she described. “I felt like the school should be doing more about it, especially since it claims to care for its students and usually refers to students and professors as a whole big family.”
She also felt that with the move online, it’s unfair for students to be charged for in-person services, like gym memberships, that likely wouldn’t be used in the fall.
“I don’t think they should keep charging for services that we aren’t using,” she said.
Bellavance held a similar view, and described her initial panic when the increases were approved in January, let alone what it meant when everything moved online. When COVID hit, she said she “knew there would be a lot more challenges in everyone’s lives.”
“I didn’t think it was fair for tuition to remain the same with online courses — especially not increased,” said Bellavance. “I don’t think there should be any increased fees right now while students are going through this. I just really wanted to see some kind of change to get the ball rolling, even if it inspires something different, I just wanted to see that people are getting some sort of justice.”
Bellavance’s petition, at the time of publishing, had over 2,600 signatures, and calls for “Dr. Edward McCauley and the University of Calgary, or further, the Government of Alberta to protect our student community.”
“Please sign this petition if you believe our institution should NOT be increasing our tuition rates,” it continues. “Better yet, if they should be decreased to reflect the lower quality of education we will be receiving. The decision to move to remote delivery is ultimately in the best interest of the health and safety of the student population at this time. Unfortunately, this does not account for the mental health, potential for decreased GPAs, and poor quality of home lives of many of these students.”
Nwafor’s petition, at the time of publishing, had over 500 signatures, and describes how she “and numerous other students have not been prevailing in this online format due to technical difficulties, lack of direct access to professors and classmates, and a more vague course outline where we are left confused for the majority of the course duration.”
“This is clearly sub-par education in comparison to the previous in-class sessions, but our tuition does NOT reflect that,” her petition’s statement continues. “The University of Calgary prides itself on integrity and quality education, so why is the University Administration turning a blind eye to this issue?”
As to why Nwafor’s petition hasn’t received as much attention as Bellavance’s, Nwafor responded, “It didn’t receive a warm reception. I was mostly shunned. […] I wasn’t really getting a lot of signatures until a couple of news networks contacted me. Pretty lukewarm response on my end, especially from the beginning. I’m not sure why, but I am a black woman, so maybe that has something to do with it.”
She added that everyone should strive to sign both petitions, as this is an issue that “affects everyone, so everyone should act like it affects them because it’s more than just tuition — it’s about how much the school values its student body and its professors.”
Bellavance also explained how the university could be addressing this problem, citing a recent example of what she says is unnecessary funding that could be put to aiding students.
“I recently found out that the university approved a brand new, 90 million dollar building for Haskayne (Mathison Hall),” she said. “This seems ludicrous when students are facing higher tuition fees. Instead, this money should be put towards student relief and fairer tuition costs.”
Students’ Union president Frank Finley offered a statement on the push for lower tuition:
“The cost and quality of education is always at the forefront for us. We were deeply disappointed to see that, in January, the university moved to raise tuition for all continuing and incoming students for Fall 2020, and we continue to believe that an increase in tuition (especially at this time) is not the right call for our students. The SU has been meeting with university administration to discuss tuition, course delivery, and student safety and will continue to do so, and we have encouraged students to reach out to administration with their concerns individually as well.
“While the SU has not formally endorsed any petitions or adopted an advocacy position on tuition for remote course delivery, SLC is discussing Fall 2020 this Tuesday and will continue to discuss this and other important issues affecting students due to COVID-19. We’ve heard from many students and there is no unanimity on the issues of tuition and course delivery in Fall 2020. I invite anyone who is interested to observe SLC’s discussion and continue to reach out to us, including your faculty representatives, with specific concerns. The SU may take a firmer stance on this issue in the future once SLC has a chance to deliberate, but at this point we are gathering information about this issue which has divided students.”