Fees need transparency, says Birk

By Michael Grondin

If students need to dish out extra dough for university, many agree that the money should enhance their experience on campus, and they should have more of a say in what they are paying for.

Non-instructional fees have been used by the University of Calgary to cover costs that go beyond the classroom. Some of these services include recreation fees, gym access, upasses and Students’ Union fees. These fees are roughly $787 per student for the 2012-2013 school year. In comparison, students at the University of Alberta pay $773 in non-instructional fees.

However, the exact distribution of these fees is unclear, which makes it difficult for students to see how the added fees are beneficial.

The su and the university administration are currently discussing how these fees can be positively used for students, according to su president Hardave Birk.

“Traditionally, non-instructional fees here in Alberta have been used to cover the things that go above and beyond what students already pay for in their tuition,” said Birk. “They go towards developments and other things that benefit students but the university is not required to provide.”

Birk said many students have not found value in these fees, and that negotiations and student consultations are needed to ensure the money is used properly.

“We can’t put fees in place just because the university needs more money,” said Birk. “Students are willing to pay these non-instructional fees, but they are only willing to pay these fees if they add value to the student experience.”

In April 2010, the Board of Governors approved a $300 student services fee, which was added to the non-instructional fees that students have to pay each year. A proposed increase of the student services fee to $450 for the 2012-2013 school year was declined by the university administration and the bog, however, the fee is expected to rise to $450 for the 2013-2014 school year.

Although the fees are supposed to be fully accountable to students, Birk said currently this is not the case.

“It was not clear what this [student services] fee went towards, and that is where the issue arose,” said Birk. “Students constantly ask what this fee covers, and I can’t give a clear answer to that question, the university can’t give a clear answer to that question and we are in the process of clarifying these answers.”

Birk said non-instructional fees must be unrelated to instructing students — they have to go beyond what the university is required to provide and they must improve the student experience. He believes students must be included in the decision making process, and the fees should be transparent.

“For a university to run, there are a certain number of things we need to have in place, such as teachers in classrooms, facility maintenance and other important things,” said Birk, emphasizing that non-instructional fees need to bring additional value to students on campus. “That is why it is so important to us that students get involved in the decision-making process, and that they have a say in what these fees go towards.”

The su is currently working with the bog to develop a strategy to clarify where the money is going, and a new list of what will fall under the student services fee will be approved in the next few months.

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