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Board of Governors votes to approve exceptional tuition increases

By Cristina Paolozzi, June 22 2021—

On June 18, the Board of Governors at the University of Calgary voted to approve the exceptional tuition increases for the 2022-23 school year. 

Teri Balser, vice-provost academic, gave a presentation regarding the tuition increase, saying that U of C was falling behind competitively in comparison to other Canadian universities on program outcomes and other upgrades. She also said that the exceptional tuition increase was created to support the Alberta 2030 framework set out by the provincial government in April of this year. 

“I think as everybody’s aware, until last year, our tuition had been frozen for five years, but meanwhile, the costs and expectations associated with delivering our programs have continued to rise to the relatively new guidelines,” said Balser. “We’ve been deliberating and we recognize that if we don’t seek to increase our tuition now, we’re at the risk of losing our competitive advantage. So we thought very carefully about which programs might make the most sense for this kind of exceptional tuition increase, and the ones that we decided to move forward were the ones that were the most behind.”

These programs include the Cumming School of Medicine’s Medical Doctor program, the Haskayne School of Business’ MBA program and the Schulich School of Engineering’s Bachelor of Science in Engineering program.

Balser said that they had originally drafted a proposal in March, and engaged in faculty-led consultation via “surveys, emails, meetings and Zoom calls,” as well as broader consultation with students. The deans from each respective faculty were also there to comment on the tuition increases as well as to present their findings from student-centred consultations. 

“One of the first things that came out of the consultation with the students was creating an additional and a new experiential learning fund to support the all-important teams, clubs and co-curricular experiences,” said Bill Rosehart, dean of the Schulich School of Engineering. “And the second one was to take what we’ve learned during the challenges of the pandemic, and one of the things that we tried, were giving student lab kits — so [students] have the ability to have more hands on experiences.” 

Jon Meddings, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine said that through student consultation, concerns were raised to improve the Medical Doctor program by updating the curriculum, providing more financial supports for students and an increased support for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives within the faculty. 

Dean of the Haskayne School of Business, Jim Dewald, said that students in the MBA program understood that the tuition increase would be used to increase academic support staff, resource investments, learning technologies and the creation of more scholarships and bursaries. 

Balser summarized the number of students that would be affected by this tuition increase for the 2022-23 school year. 

“The number of students that would be impacted in that incoming cohort — 825 in the undergraduate — is roughly three per cent of our undergraduate population and 190 in the MBA, which is about two per cent of our graduate incoming,” Balser said. “[The increase] is not affecting our current students. We have quality improvements that will affect everybody, and the incoming cohort will know what the tuition is that they’re paying.”

Students’ Union (SU) President Nicole Schmidt responded to the presentation by saying she planned to vote against this proposal outright. Her main concern was that adequate consultation with students did not occur. Her counter-proposal was to delay the tuition increases until after more robust consultation with students and student leaders. 

“I can unequivocally say that students as the stakeholder in the situation do not feel adequately consulted — this concern is shared by student leaders in a variety of organizations both in medicine and engineering,” said Schmidt. “A best practice principle of proper consultation is visibility. Visibility here means that all those who have a justifiable right to participate in the consultation should be made reasonably aware of the process and the timing. This did not occur.”

Schmidt said that students — including the SU — were only made aware of these tuition increases in mid-May, which meant that within the 10 month consultation period the provincial government gives the university, students were consulted in the final six-to-eight of this window. Schmidt also said that proper context regarding the nature of these increases was not given to students when consultation did happen.

“Students should be informed of proposals so that they can provide valuable feedback,” said Schmidt. “Sending out a mass email to all students with a survey attached without context does not meet this bar for consultation. An effort should have been made to maximize the number of students engaged.”

Schmidt also cited that a survey conducted by the Engineering Students’ Society (ESS) found that 100 per cent of students who took this survey rejected the tuition increase proposal. 

“When the university has a duty to consult, we recognize that the university does not require student consent for these increases,” said Schmidt. “I strongly believe that the university has failed in its duty to consult with students by not making them aware of their plans, the details or the numbers until after the start of the summer break.”

Schmidt also mentioned that in a previous discussion with Demetrios Nicolaides, minister of advanced education, he indicated that a proposal to these increases was a possibility. Schmidt told the Board that a proposal to these tuition increases would be the best course of action for students, in order to receive accurate and adequate consultation from students. 

It was stated that postponing the tuition increases would affect the transparency for new students coming to the university, and will delay the implementation of program improvements, according to Balser. 

The proposal for exceptional tuition increases was passed with 8 against and 19 in favour. Dissenting voices included Schmidt, Board of Governors representative Frank Finley, the Faculty Association representative at the University of Calgary (TUCFA) Tavis Campbell, Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) President Tanille Shandro and Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) representative Lorinda Hammond.   

The Board of Governors also approved the exceptional tuition increase for international students, with both Balser, Rosehart and Schmidt making similar arguments. The international student tuition increase would see a 51 per cent increase for the Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree.

Balser stated that the international tuition was failing to keep pace with the national increases, and would also improve the quality of programs for the students. Similarly to the domestic tuition increases, the timing of this increase would ensure transparency for incoming students in terms of the amount a student would be expected to pay. 

Schmidt stated that she would be opposing the international tuition increases, saying that she was unclear as to how the university consulted with international students concerning this increase beyond a notification email. 

“Students enrolled in [the Bachelor of Science in Engineering] program are being asked to pay $11,000 more this year,” said Schmidt. “I think the university needs to serve its students and consult directly with them on how such an increase would directly impact them.” 

Schmidt also stated that the campus food bank has seen an increase in student use, especially by international students. She said that students are being pushed to the margins due to the rising cost of post-secondary education. In the year prior to the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of the campus food bank was used by international students.   

“I would ask the Board to reflect on why any student should need to go to a food bank,” said Schmidt. “I would also ask the Board what factors might lead to increased use of a campus food bank, especially by international students.”    

Balser stated that student consultation was done, and that these increases would not affect current students attending the university. She mentioned that international students are required to demonstrate their financial stability before applying to universities abroad, and the timeline for these exceptional tuition increases would allow for transparency when these students determine which institution to attend. 

“This is the largest exceptional tuition increase that I have seen in recent years in Canada,” said Finley. “I’m worried about pricing some students out of the market.” 

The proposal for exceptional tuition increases for the international Bachelor of Science in Engineering was passed with 5 against and 11 in favour. Dissenting voices included Schmidt, Finley, Campbell, Shandro and Hammond.  

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