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The battle for an affordable education

Students' Union plots their annual tuition consultation approach

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University of Calgary students will be granted an opportunity to witness the consultation process that determines if tuition will rise and, if so, how that increase is spent.

Each December the university Board of Governors -- a body legislated by the Post-Secondary Learning act -- convenes and votes on tuition. Before the university's operating budget is formalized in March, administration is required to consult students at least twice.

"Tuition consultation is an opportunity for students to talk about not only the rising costs of their education, but also the quality of education that is being delivered in return," said Students' Union president Charlotte Kingston.

"It is also an opportunity to demand accountability for those rising costs."

The Students' Union, the official voice of undergraduates, has something a little different in store for this year's consultation.

"This year one of the consultations will bring the administration to the Students Legislative Council and will be open to students-at-large," said Kingston.

"We have asked the provost to present towards the end of November, and we will send out notices to students in advance to alert them to come see the tuition breakdown by the administration."

Kingston and vice-president academic Meg Martin will be presenting on behalf of students.

Kingston said the SU is in the process of recruiting an undergraduate researcher and faculty member to present with them in order to "represent the values and articulate the need for high quality teaching and undergraduate research."

According to Kingston, next year students could see an average tuition increase of up to 1.5 per cent across the board, the maximum allowed by the provincial government. The consultation process is essential in determining how tuition dollars are to be used, she said.

"In the past we have done everything from securing  Quality Money through this consultation, to simply voting no, to requesting greater residence space and a better first-year experience, to advocating for a "four to one" approach to university governance and planning," said Kingston.

The Quality Money initiative puts aside $1.5 million a year for projects suggested by students.

This year the SU plans to focus on 'the quality of the undergraduate learning experience.'

"We will focus in on teaching and undergraduate research because they have been identified as priorities by our students through the National Survey of Student Engagement," said Kingston. "We also believe that the economic downturn and the cuts to budgets will necessitate us to focus our recommendations, and this is the most central need that students have articulated."

Kingston said the SU will focus on how "to incentivize and reward excellent teaching through the merit process and teaching fellowship, how to bring the creation of knowledge and research into the undergraduate experience and how to create a cohesive plan for improving the quality of teaching and the academic experience for undergrads."

Through this process the SU hopes to ensure accountability for their recommendations at the budget vote. Should those recommendations fail to be reflected, the SU will oppose the budget.

"This will not be the only time that the SU brings student concerns around the quality of their education directly to the BOG," said Kingston.

"We will be holding a panel discussion and forum on November 25th and 26th to get direct feedback from students on the experiences they are having now that the cuts and job losses are being rolled out."

The feedback gained from this panel is to be brought before the BOG in the winter semester.

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