Balancing tuition and the budget

By Samer Elkassem

Editors, the Gauntlet,

On Mar. 26, 1999 the University of Calgary Board of Governors voted in favor of an 80 per cent increase of the maximum allowable tuition fees for the 1999/2000 academic year. As a board member, and president of the Graduate Students’ Association, I made a responsible decision and supported the 80 per cent increase. But why did I oppose a 50 per cent or 75 per cent increase? I hope the following will clear that point. But keep in mind, I voted in the best interest of students, both graduate and undergraduate, as well as the university’s well-being.

There is no question that tuition fees are increasing too rapidly, and that is why I voted against a 100 per cent maximum increase three times this year; twice at the Planning and Finance committee (a Board sub-committee), and at the Mar. 26 BoG vote. In fact, on the day of the vote, I presented an argument demonstrating that maximum tuition increases are harming the university’s ability to recruit and retain the best possible students. The ‘income to cost ratio’ is constantly decreasing, partly due to increasing tuition fees.

On the other hand, our faculty members’ salaries are among the lowest in the country. Many of these faculty members are internationally recognized for outstanding contribution to their fields, and definitely enhance the quality of our education. But competition for the best faculty is very intense, and if the university cannot match some of the offers they receive, we all lose. This is a serious concern, as I realized by attending the ‘Roundtable on Research,’ sponsored by the Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education, where I was invited to represent Alberta students.

The University of Calgary Faculty Association is now negotiating for a salary increase. The University of Alberta Faculty Association recently secured a three per cent increase, which may be paralleled at the U of C. The GSA is also negotiating for a salary increase for Graduate Teaching Assistantships. But the university’s operating budget cannot support any salary increases without increasing tuition revenues. These important issues were discussed at length through the 10 tuition consultation meetings I attended (which the Students’ Union decided to boycott). The faculties have also requested 30 million for enhanced student programs and services, which the University Budget Committee shaved down to three million.

The three million is to be used in a priority list that includes an increased library collection, more GTAS and student advisors, support staff allocations, as well as other academic position allocations. The only source of extra revenue was tuition fee increases.

So what was the right balance? Balancing quality and affordability was my modus operandi. I voted in favor of an 80 per cent increase, which represented the absolute minimum the university can afford with a three per cent increase in faculty salaries, i.e. the 80 per cent increase would give the university no extra moneys to apply toward the three million priority list mentioned above. Anything less than 80 per cent would put the university at a deficit, and hence lead to program and service cuts. Thus my vote for an 80 per cent increase save students offer a million dollars (in tuition fees) without jeopardizing the university’s financial stability and its ability of offer quality education.

Samer Elkassem

Graduate Students’ Association President

University of Calgary Board of Governors Member

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