Editorial: Tuition is the price of ambition

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

Despite the new library being shorter in stature than the old, the University of Calgary administration betrayed their vaulting ambition Tuesday night.

Responding to student questions at the Students’ Legislative Council meeting, U of C provost and vice-president academic Alan Harrison defended the university’s proposed differential tuition increases, arguing that tuition would remain favourable compared to the universities the U of C sees itself competing against — notably the University of Toronto, York, Queen’s, Western Ontario, McMaster and UBC.

If these increases go through, it is imperative that students hold the university to their claim of realistically competing with those luminous names — and not only in the faculties facing market modifiers.

Harrison’s key point was that any increases would reflect a continued commitment to high quality education. He noted that it was reasonable to raise tuition in certain faculties because — in addition to the higher supposed earning potential of their members — the programs cost more to deliver. This being the case, students should expect a competitive education across the university, not merely in those specific faculties where tuition is being dramatically raised. If, as Harrison held, the Arts and Sciences faculties are currently subsidizing the education of students in more costly faculties, then an increase in tuition in those programs should see a concurrent relative increase in the budgets of the Arts and Sciences, which would conceivably no longer be paying disproportionately into those other programs. So, in keeping with admin’s argument, all of the faculties should see their budgets aided by the market modifiers.

This notion is further bolstered when one considers two of Harrison’s other points. He said that business students, who face a tremendous increase in their own program’s fees, take up to half of their courses in the Arts and Sciences. The quality of these faculties, then, has a direct bearing on the quality of a business student’s education. Ignoring these components would jeopardize the much-cited competitiveness of the Haskayne program.

Further, Harrison was very clear on Tuesday that tuition increases in certain faculties would not relegate others to the status of a poor man’s degree. If so, the quality of the Arts and Sciences will have to attain the same level as the faculties of Law, Medicine, Business and Engineering. As long as admin stays consistent on these points, the university as a whole should be expected to keep up with their lofty ambitions.

Acknowledging that the U of C is competitive in Business, Medicine and Engineering — though some may take issue — it is far from certain that the school can adequately represent itself as a direct challenger as a whole. But this is exactly what is required of the U of C. In order to remain consistent in its arguments legitimating differential tuition increases, the U of C must create a robust academic community across all disciplines. This means the U of C needs to compete directly with the largest schools in Canada, including the U of T, with an endowment significantly larger than the U of C’s and enviably situated in the heart of the country’s largest urban area. Realistic competition requires a jump of more than 100 spots on the Times World University Rankings to get within proximity of UBC, the U of T or McGill. Even given the inherent flaws in any sort of ranking system, such a large gap clearly indicates a difference in quality. If this is a serious goal to be relentlessly pursued by admin, that is fine, but if the U of C fails to rise as a whole to this challenge, admin’s arguments of Tuesday night are simply hollow explanations which fail to legitimize the tremendous increases.

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