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SAIT letter requests Minister of Advanced Ed. to halt tuition increases for Fall 2020

By Nikayla Goddard, June 23 2020—

Petitions have been circulating recently calling for the University of Calgary to scale back tuition costs for Fall 2020 due to the move to online delivery. A similar approach has been taken by SAIT Students’ Association (Saitsa) Director Tim Holowachuk, who drafted a letter to Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides calling for the seven per cent tuition increase slated for Fall 2020 to be temporarily halted in light of COVID-19 financial struggles for students. 

Saitsa voted on June 1 to temporarily halt student spaces fees for the fall semester, cutting student fees by $120, over 40 per cent, which Holowachuk cites as a “small amount, but the least that our small association could do in solidarity with the numerous people faced with the incompletion of their academic programs.” 

Holowachuk calls on Nicolaides to follow their lead by inducing a “one-year pause at current tuition levels.” 

Holowachuk says that he has been opposed to the tuition increases before they were officially announced in last year’s budget release, taking part in planning some of the protests and demonstrations against the hikes. 

In a written statement, he explained:

 “While we were certainly advocating against the tuition increases as a matter of principle before (students shouldn’t need to take on a lifetime of crippling debt in order to enter society as a net benefit for that society), now it’s become so much more. I’ve spoken to hundreds of students since the lockdown began in March, and many of them have decided to put their academic career on hold for good due to fear that they won’t be able to make ends meet with 1: substantially increased tuition costs due to the budget and 2: substantially decreased income due to the pandemic crisis. There wasn’t a set turning point, per se, but a building-up of anger and hurt that the people I represent have to drop out for no fault of their own, with little to no addressing of this problem by either the UCP government or the NDP opposition.”

Holowachuk says that the ideal response is that Nicolaides acknowledges his letter as a “modicum of respect to the students he himself serves. The end goal is simply stated in the letter: unilaterally pause tuition increases across Alberta for one year at their current levels, something that would cost the provincial government exactly $0 in either the budget or political capital, as no rational Albertan could disagree with helping students out at no cost to themselves.”

So far, he has had no response from neither the Minister nor his Advanced Education office, but his Calgary-Bow MLA office has said that the Ministry would contact him directly, which he is waiting on.

Other actions that Saitsa is planning to take to continue easing the COVID-19 strain on students this fall includes creating online versions of their standard services, ensuring SAIT administration provides quality classes online this Fall and continuing to follow up with the agreed-upon implementation of an ombudsperson office at SAIT. 

Holowachuk encourages other students to get involved by using his letter as inspiration and sending their own to ae.minister@gov.ab.ca, or to their own student representatives.

“Students have, historically, been incredible elements in social change,” Holowachuk wrote. “If the ~170,000 full-time post-secondary students in Alberta each wrote a letter to Minister Nicolaides, he would be hard-pressed not to acknowledge the issue within the legislative assembly. If that same number of students marched onto the lawn of the legislature in Edmonton, they could accomplish nearly anything they set their minds to. This issue doesn’t just affect the ~15,000 students that I represent at SAIT, but a significant fraction of Alberta’s total population. Students should care about it because long-term, if we have a missed period of academia due to people dropping out from this crisis, Alberta is going to see an inordinate internal brain-drain compared to the rest of the provinces; graduates won’t be leaving to other provinces for better career opportunities, they simply will not have been there to begin with. That starts us as a province down a road that leads to increased poverty, reduced prosperity, increased social unrest, and a slower provincial recovery within the context of COVID-19. Governments are always called upon to invest in infrastructure during a recession to jump-start the economy again, and our province’s greatest infrastructure asset is our people, while this investment is free. I honestly don’t know why any student wouldn’t jump at this opportunity to make real change for good in their province.”

Discussions have been taking place at UCalgary’s Student Legislative Council (SLC) meetings, and a straw-poll posed by vice-president academic Semhar Abraha and president Frank Finley showed that a “vast majority” of SLC voted in favour of whether tuition should be lowered this Fall because of quality of education. Finley also asked for a straw-poll of whether himself and vice-president external Marley Gillies should be pushing for “substantial emergency funding from the provincial government.” 

Haskayne School of Business rep Shagufta Farheen recommended that the university consider tuition deferrals for students “because students facing financial constraints may need the flexibility.” 

The May SLC meeting saw provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall state that “tuition will not change if we go online for the fall. The one thing that might change is some of the fees.”

Finley also released the following statement in regards to lowering Fall 2020 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.”

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