By Riley Hill
A new year begins and a fee increase is born.
Student fees have once again risen by $150 for the fall semester, with students now paying $450 to attend the University of Calgary in addition to their tuition, Students’ Union membership dues and other fees. The fee is part of an increase that was passed in April 2010 by the U of C’s board of governors when members voted to charge more fees to students to pay for services previously covered by tuition.
This is the third $150 student fee increase in four years and is the last one planned under the 2010 board of governors decision. This year’s final increase was originally planned for September 2012, but was delayed, in part due to lobbying efforts by the SU.
Under current provincial regulations, the price of tuition can only be increased at the rate of inflation as measured by Alberta’s consumer price index. Because of this, students cannot have their tuition abruptly raised — but they can be charged more money on top of tuition under something called mandatory non-instructional fees.
MNIFs are fees charged in addition to tuition that are meant to cover the non-essential services that the university provides to students. Universities are allowed to do this under Alberta’s Post-Secondary Learning Act. There are few regulations in place from the provincial government as to what services should by covered by MNIFs. This means that the decision about how much money is charged to students under MNIFs and where that money is spent is left entirely to universities’ governing bodies.
MNIFs are charged at different rates in universities across Alberta.
Since their conception, MNIFs have been a point of contention between student unions across Alberta and their respective universities. According to U of C SU president Raphael Jacob, the SU has long held the position that any increase in student fees should first go to a referendum.
“When students see value in something, they are willing to pay money for it and the fact that these fees are not going to referendum is troubling to us,” Jacob said.
Past SU presidents have argued that more information should be provided about how MNIFs are being spent.
The SU was given projections about where the money collected under MNIFs will go in the upcoming academic year for the first time during a board of governors meeting on June 26. But Jacob said he wished the information provided in the document was more specific, as the projections only show where the money was being spent on campus, not what services it will cover.
“In our opinion, a fee should pay for one specific service,” Jacob said. “With say, the recreation fee, it’s very clear what it pays for. Another clear example is the Upass. With fees, it shouldn’t be a basket of goods. They should pay for a specific service.”
Student board of governors representative Michael Smith was also critical of the document.
“What I wanted to see was a document that included how much money they took in, how much money went out to each department, if there was a positive balance or a negative balance on this sort of thing and that’s not what the document was,” Smith said. “The document was more of a hypothetical calculation of what our mandatory non-instructional fees are supposed to be paying for.”
U of C provost Dru Marshall, who is the chief operating officer for the university, defended the document provided, saying that the information was given in standard form and was done so in the best interest of students.
“There is an actual expense column and there is a budgeted column which is the way we normally do it,” Marshall said. “We try to be very transparent. I think it’s important to do so, particularly when students have paid money for services.”
Since coming to the U of C in August 2011, Marshall has worked with the SU more than any other non-student member on the board of governors. She regularly meets with the SU Tuition and Mandatory Non-Instructional Fee Advisory Committee to discuss MNIFs and was instrumental in getting the final $150 fee increase delayed an extra year.
Marshall said that she understands that students have been suspicious about how the money generated from MNIFs was spent in the past and the administration is making every effort to make that information clear.
“Part of the issue before is that students on our campus thought that they were paying for things that should have been the core responsibility of the university,” she said. “Our efforts, in terms of clarifying what the fee is paying for is to ensure to students that this is not the case. When we talk about transparency, for me, it’s at the level of principle.”
But whether the fee increase is right or wrong, students on tight budgets will be forced to bear the costs.
One of them is a third-year psychology student who would only give her first name, Claire. Claire was forced to move from her Kensington basement suite after the summer floods in southern Alberta and now pays almost double what she previously did for rent. She said the fee increase was just another cost chewing away at her wallet.
“The floods pretty much made me broke for the year and it sucks to hear that now school will be more expensive,” Claire said. “But I guess, as students, we’re just at the mercy of