Admin pushes differential tuition, 6.3% increase

By Nicole Kobie

If the University of Calgary administration has its way, differential tuition will not only raise fees for MBA, Law and Medicine students, but the rest of us will see a 6.3 per cent increase in tuition–and if an extra $260 a year isn’t enough to keep the riff-raff out, what is?

Last Tue., Feb. 10, administration informed the world of their recommendations to the Board of Governors concerning tuition by publishing a Media Advisory notice titled “2003/2004 tuition fee recommendation.” The proposal includes a 6.3 per cent base tuition increase as well as differential fees for Law and the MBA program to increase to about $11,000, and fees for Medicine to increase to about $14,500, over two and three years respectively.

For these changes to occur, the recommendations must be approved by the Board of Governors at their March 21 meeting, to be held in the Dining Centre at 8:30 a.m., which students are welcome to attend.

“Really, not a lot of surprises were involved in it,” explained Students’ Union President Matt Stambaugh. “The actual numbers don’t surprise me because it’s the maximum allowed.”

Under provincial regulations the university is not allowed to raise tuition by more than about 7.5 per cent a year. This year, with the proposed addition of differential tuition, the numbers have become more complicated. Tuition increases in differented faculties must be considered as part of the overall tuition increase, so students in other faculties cannot face the entire 7.5 per cent increase this year.

“It’s not well understood that the total tuition envelope is a combination of base tuition and differential,” said U of C Vice-President External Relations Roman Cooney. “We could have had a lower [general tuition] fee but that would have resulted in a higher differential fee.”

“The 6.3 per cent number comes out after they factor in the differentials. So, they’re still going for the 7.5 per cent increase,” said Stambaugh.

The BoG–with the exception of student representatives and kindred spirits–traditionally votes in favour of administration’s tuition recommendations, leading many to think differential tuition is unavoidable.

“What’s surprising about the press release is that it was… the number and then a long winded rationale, that obviously we find faulty,” explained Stambaugh. “They’re really trying to make it seem like a necessity, when it isn’t. “

“I think a lot of professors aren’t happy about tuition hikes, although they may see them as a necessary evil,” said Dr. Rebecca Sullivan, a Communications and Culture professor. “It’s highly unlikely that the board will reject [these tuition hikes] without compelling reason.

“That said, the university is full well aware that by releasing this information early, they could spur a public response by the students and the community that would sway the board… so releasing the information early isn’t a strategy to close down debate, but to allow it to occur within a reasonable time span. That said, the debate will likely have very little effect on the final outcome as the real players in this issue are the board and the administration.”

Either way, the university is looking for ways to increase its revenue–hardly surprising after months of headlines proclaiming massive budget cuts, wage freezes and restructuring. So, even if differential tuition fails, students will still pay the difference, as general tuition will simply increase to the full 7.5 per cent maximum.

“If differential tuition were not part of the tuition equation, then one alternative would be higher general tuition,” said Cooney.

As the U of C budget is not finalized–and likely won’t be until May or June–administration has the opportunity to make changes to the budget if the tuition recommendation is not heeded by BoG.

“It certainly would increase pressure on other parts of the budget,” explained Cooney.

The recommendation brought up more issues than just cost, however. One issue is how the dollars will be spent; exactly how much of the differential portion of the fee will stay with the faculty is confusing. According to the media advisory, “80 per cent of the differential [Gauntlet’s emphasis] portion of the fee [will] go back into the Faculty,” however, both Stambaugh and Cooney believe 80 per cent of the entire tuition fee for differential faculties will go to the faculty. Of the 80 per cent, about one third is allocated to student aid; the remaining 20 per cent would go to general operating costs.

“It’s something that hasn’t been all too clearly communicated to us,” said Stambaugh.

Other questions raised by the recommendations include competition with other universities. According to the report, differential tuition would place the U of C’s Medical, Law and MBA programs in line with universities like the University of Toronto and Queen’s University, in cost if not in quality. As well, the document suggests the tuition increases are “marginal” and that the

U of C is one of the “top ten research schools in Canada”–two debated statements. Also, the notice says that “the cost of tuition is directly related to the value [Gauntlet’s emphasis] of the degree,” a statement frightening to most Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences majors, and one that has been thankfully contradicted by administration.

“We don’t think it’s reasonable to speculate on what the income or what a student might be after graduation,” explained Cooney. “The word ‘value’ isn’t meant to imply that there should be a relationship between earning power and the cost of a degree.”

Whether such issues are more the fault of poor press release writing or duplicitous administrators is irrelevant, says Dr. Sullivan.

“The issue here, one that is clearly and pointedly not addressed, is government cutbacks to higher education that have left universities struggling for survival while being asked to do more,” said Dr. Sullivan. “We need everyone in the university system to work together to fight for the principles and values of a truly public educational system.”


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