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Students rallied in the Administration Building to oppose tuition increases

By Eula Mengullo, January 20 2023

Led by the Students’ Union (SU) in collaboration with the Graduate Students Labour Union, students at the University of Calgary gathered at the Atrium in the Administration Building to protest against the vote on tuition increases approved by the Board of Governors. The Board had scheduled to make their vote today, which the SU advocated to be postponed until March in order to hold proper consultation with students. 

The tuition fee proposal for the 2023-24 academic year includes a 5.5 per cent increase for domestic undergraduate students and two per cent for graduate students. Both International undergraduate and graduate students may receive up to 10 per cent increase. 

VP Academic Shaziah Jinnah Morsette commented on the consecutive increase in student fees despite the quality of education remaining the same.

“Our quality of education is potentially not increasing even though these tuition increases have been pretty strong every single year and they compound,” said Morsette.

Morsette noted that ultimately, these financial strains for both students and faculty members alike lead to further stress and mental health challenges.

Undergraduate student Laurel Spring expressed her frustration over the lack of chances given to students to comment on the proposal.

“I’m a first-year student and I heard nothing. We were told nothing and the town halls are booked during class times so it’s impossible to [speak about student issues to the Board] unless we strike and skip class,” said Spring.

Additionally, political science undergraduate student Hanna Crisostomo remarked on the lack of transparency by the university regarding the allocation of the increased fees. 

“I understand that the tuition hike is due to the United Conservative Party budget cuts, but what I have a problem with is that the university is not being transparent about where the [money] is going,” said Crisostomo. 

Joshua Locket-Harris, a graduate student and vice-chair outreach for the Graduate Students Labour Union expressed how the increased fees will only make it more difficult for the already burdened graduate students. 

“I’m a fifth-year graduate student and I’m outside of guaranteed funding and it has been very hard,” said Locket-Harris. “I’m going into a lot of debt to support my education while at the same time, I’m providing free labour in my research to the university.”

He also remarked on the need for the university to increase options of guaranteed funding for graduate students.

“Graduate students need more support across all boards because we are being exploited to support this university,” he continued. “What we contribute in our teaching, we are underpaid for, what we are contributing in our research, we are not being paid for at all. We know we are being exploited to support [an essentially] multi-million dollar corporation that doesn’t value us.” 

During the over two-hour Board meeting, students awaited the verdict outside of the meeting room while chanting slogans that called for the Board to respect student perspectives on student matters. They urge the Board to “face the students” and hold proper consultation as proclaimed in the Alberta Education Act. 

Afterwards, Muntaha Aamir — Board of Governors Student-at-Large representative — remarked that while it was a difficult discussion, they have managed to emphasize student concerns to the Board and the added hardships the tuition hikes would bring.

“The consensus is that going forward, the students should be our top priority,” said Aamir. “This is not the end, this is only the beginning. We advocated a lot for student needs including housing and food security. It is definitely known across the Board that students are struggling.”

Despite the Board’s decision to proceed with the tuition increase beginning in the Fall 2023 semester, Aamir underscored the importance of continuing the advocacy for student matters.

Similarly, VP External Mateusz Salmassi echoed the sentiment of maintaining the momentum of solidarity against tuition increase and other student-related concerns. 

“Though we didn’t win the Board of Governors vote, this is just the first step,” said Salmassi. “It’s not always about winning the battle, it’s about winning the war. This was about building that momentum and I think that we were successful in that.”

The protest saw over 250 students in attendance. The SU will be holding another student strike session on Feb. 2 to further discuss measures that students can take against tuition hikes. 

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