Frustration builds around tuition hikes

By Cailynn Klingbeil

Sharing boos, cheers and chants of “we won’t bail you out,” about 500 students gathered outside of council chambers Tuesday night to watch provost Alan Harrison speak about tuition increases.

Many students held posters expressing their frustrations while others showed up in little more than garbage bags and underwear.

Harrison explained to students the context in which the current tuition increase proposals were drafted preceding a question and answer session with students.

“We have been receiving six per cent increases for the past several years and in the coming year, that’s 2010/11, that will go from six per cent to zero per cent,” he stated. “We were told to expect that by the government some time ago. So in other words, relative to where we’ve been in the recent past, we have to deal with [. . .] the nonappearance of government revenue [. . .] nearly $26 million.”

Other funds that have been available to the university in previous years will also not be available in the future, Harrison noted. These include tuition-offset money and funding for lights and heating.

“If you add all these up, you get to very big numbers very quickly, numbers that look like roughly 10 per cent of our operating grant,” Harrison said.

The Alberta Department of Advanced Education and Technology announced in November that it would consider proposals from post secondary institutions to temporarily suspend the current tuition-fee model.

“They were inviting us to look at programs where the price [. . .] charged by the university was significantly lower than the price of other universities with which we compete for students,” Harrison said.

Other factors considered were the earning potential and cost of delivery for professional courses. The programs affected would be business, engineering, law and medicine.

Students then listened, cheered and booed as their peers questioned Harrison on everything from the university’s energy consumption to what the U of C has to offer in comparison to Mount Royal University.

Harrison said the tuition increase would be short-term and last only a year, but admitted there would be no sunset clause stating a timeline for the decrease.

“I’ll be very blunt, the answer is no [sunset clause],” he stated. “If government comes in, starts showering money on us like manna from heaven, we may be in a position where we could do something about the tuition, but at the moment our view is that [. . .] these increases are necessary.”

Many of the students who were able to speak to the provost thanked him for his attendance and conversation, but others felt he was insincere.

“It’s typical of a bureaucrat,” Students’ Union VP events Kat Lord told the Gauntlet. “He doesn’t say much, and still manages to be smug and insulting to people along the way.”

Following the event she said students sent a great message to the university, proving they are a force to be reckoned with. Lord helped emcee the event along with events commissioner Dylan Jones.

Following the meeting, first-year engineering student Richard Tchorzewski called the proposed increases unreasonable and said he found Harrison’s comments in council frustrating.

“He didn’t want to tell us too much,” said Tchorzewski. “He’s just answering the questions but not understanding where we’re coming from.”

Third-year social work student Angela Mulvey showed up in a garbage bag and said she was also unsatisfied with Harrison’s remarks.

“I felt that he just repeated a lot of things,” said Mulvey.

“I really thought he lacked empathy overall and could have handled the situation better.”

Jinwook Lee, a first-year engineering student, said there is no way he can earn enough money in a summer job to pay for the proposed increases.

“I’m really in shock,” he said, noting he faced a long decision when he switched from science to engineering this year but never expected his choice would potentially cost so much.

International student Helle Aagaard lamented the differences between education in Canada and her home country of Denmark.

“I know how it is in a country where the government is actually paying for your entire degree,” said Aagaard.

“Therefore [I came] to show my sympathy for the Canadians here who are struggling everyday just to pay their tuitions and try to have an everyday life with student loans, and part-time jobs and everything.”

“It says something about a society if only the rich kids can afford education,” said Aagaard.

Calgary-Varsity MLA Harry Chase was also in attendance with a seat inside council chambers.

While Chase heard students decry the situation as simply a matter of cold economics, he was quick to point out the understated role of the Alberta government.

“Basically the government has put the university in this position by under funding,” said Chase.

“These discussions are absolutely unnecessary if the government viewed postsecondary as an investment as opposed to a liability or a cost.”

Chase said he was extremely pleased by the growing activism displayed on campus and believes “the crowd has to multiply and multiply and the message has to go to the government.”

Leave a comment