The University of Calgary Board of Governors approved a 4.8 per cent tuition increase Fri., Dec. 5 meaning students will pay $8.4 million more in tuition next year.
Both student presentations, by Students' Union President Jayna Gilchrist and Graduate Students' Association President Jeff LaFrenz, urged the board to reject the increase and instead send a message to the provincial government the post secondary system in Alberta needs to be fixed.
"It's disappointing that there's a lot of talk that tuition is too high… and that there's no action being taken," said Gilchrist after the decision.
U of C Vice-President Academic Dr. Ron Bond, who spoke on behalf of the university administration, linked the university's ability to provide a quality education with tuition.
"We have reiterated a common message about the quality of the students' experience," Bond said. "The structural budgetary challenge, the fact that we have been pruning our expenses ruthlessly needs to be considered as a context for this recommendation for tuition."
Before the decision was made final, the SU brought forward two amendments, first proposing no increase, and then reducing it to one per cent. Both were defeated with only students in support, although some board members agreed with the rationale if not the option.
"[GSA President] Jeff [LaFrenz's] point is where I am," said board member Rod Love, referring to LaFrenz's presentation, where he called the maximum increase a "band-aid solution." "The model we are working with isn't working. I don't think the maximum increase is sending the right message."
Soon after, Love voted to defeat the zero per cent amendment, but was the only non-student to vote no to the 4.8 per cent increase. Love cited rising deficits as a sign the current post-secondary system doesn't adequately meet the university's needs.
U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten, silent for most of the discussion, quickly spoke out against the argument that a lower increase would send a message to the provincial government, or that tuition has become a significant barrier to access. Weingarten told the board comments like Love's gave him "some pause."
"In the last 10 years, when tuition increases have been the greatest, the disparity has not increased, it has decreased," said Dr. Weingarten, who added that no increase would actually send the wrong message to Edmonton. "When we enter into that discussion, the province will point out that the proportion of the education these students pay is quite low compared to other provinces."
The board also voted in favour of setting aside $1 million for quality initiatives to be directed by both undergraduate and graduate students. An ongoing survey commissioned by the SU to determine how U of C students define quality, will play a large role in where this money is spent.
"This is a good start to understanding that students do know what a quality education is," said Gilchrist. "I really hope this is just the beginning."