The bad news is in, and it’s not that bad.
On Thu., Dec. 9 the University of Calgary Board of Governors voted to increase tuition, however the Alberta government has promised to pay for it.
The meeting was held at the U of C Dining Centre as university support staff picketed the U of C’s refusal to continue negotiations on their collective agreement. Their chanting provided a noisy backdrop for the meeting inside.
Despite a detailed presentation against the motion from the Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Association, the Board of Governors eventually voted in favour of the maximum allowable tuition increase to take effect in Fall 2006. The increase, which amounts to $35 per half course, was justified by administration citing the need for sufficient resources to run the university effectively.
“Without the tuition increase, the university would not be able to fund cost increases let alone continue to make gains on our academic plan,” said U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten. “Tuition is just one component, likely even the lesser one, of affordability [for students].”
A detailed presentation from SU President Bryan West and GSA President Christine Johns failed to sway the board on their decision, but West felt a lot had been achieved.
“It went as well as we expected,” said West. “We always knew the university would shoot for and get the full tuition rise. We were able to achieve several things, not least the agreement for us to continue to receive the quality money we had this year. The board actually raised what we asked for and has awarded the SU and GSA $1.75 million for 2006/07. What we hope to achieve for the future is to help change the mindset of how tuition is viewed.”
West said the U of C takes maximum tuition increases for granted, and stresses the SU and GSA would rather administration viewed them as a last resort.
Both sides repeatedly referenced the Alberta government in an attempt to win over the support of the board. Administration stressed the need to prepare for the possibility that the cost of tuition increases will not be covered by the government.
“If we do not raise tuition we run the risk of not receiving the extra funding from the Alberta government, who had talked of matching the raise so that it would not be passed on to students,” said Weingarten. “But they would not give us the money if we did not first raise tuition.”
West called the administration’s position “a pretty lame argument.”
Neither U of C administration nor the SU were able to confirm the government’s exact position on tuition for 2006/07. The Alberta government is presently undergoing a detailed policy review to decide on the future of post-secondary. Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock said the tuition increase will not fall to students.
“We have indicated our position is to hold tuition fees,” said Hancock. “We’re in the middle of planning a new tuition policy and are taking part in numerous public discussions to help formulate that. Our plan is to have something in place by fall 2006. Any increase made by the U of C will be met by the government. There will be no extra fees next year passed on to the students.”
Both the SU and the U of C administration had indicated their wish for the government to add the regular yearly tuition increases into the base operating budgets of the education grant provided by the government. Hancock would not give a definite answer to this but confirmed it was likely.
“All things being the same it seems reasonable to embed it,” said Hancock. “The government has said tuition will be held constant until we make a final policy decision next year. We hope the new policy will eventually prove satisfactory to all parties.”
Meanwhile, U of C support staff were pleased with their own contribution to the meeting. Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52 Chair Shirley Maki highlighted what she believes was a successful picket. The staff were out protesting after the breakdown of talks between the union and the U of C regarding their collective agreement.
“We were pleased with the number of people who came out to attend,” said Maki. “We wanted to let the Board of Governors know that we still don’t have a contract and there are no dates set yet for us to meet with them. Several of the board noticed us.”
The bad news is in, and it’s not that bad.