Despite the best efforts of the Students' Union to offer reasonable arguments, alternatives and compromises, the University of Calgary Board of Governors voted April 12 to impose a new $450 compulsory fee and raise tuition in business programs in an effort to ease the operating deficit.
The morning meeting started with presentations that listed a $37.6 million deficit this year, saying the U of C would not be able to balance its budget until 2013-2014. It was conveyed that the tuition increases were integral to the future operation of the school.
Full-time undergraduate students returning this fall will see the introduction of a new Student Services fee which rolls out over the next three years, eventually bringing in $12 million per year to the school. Students in the 2010-2011 school year will pay the full fee but receive a $300 rebate. This rebate drops to $150 for students in 2011-2012. In 2012-2013, students will pay the full amount of $225 a term.
The university said that subsidizing student services such as enrolment services, student advising and the Native Centre, currently draws from funds that should be spent on academics, after operational grants from the province were cut. When the fee is completely implemented, the school will still be subsidizing the services by $50.
SU president Charlotte Kingston said that while she understood the fee might be necessary, students want to see some form of predictability in the future for non-academic fees. She presented an amendment to the board for future increases.
"There's still a huge degree of uncertainty that continues to loom above the heads of U of C students with regards to compulsory non-academic fees," Kingston said to the board. "We've stepped back and said our largest concern is what will this fee look like in the future. What kind of assurances can [the board] provide to our students that they will have predictability of cost going forward?"
The SU suggested the fee would roll out as scheduled according to the university's plans, but then it could be indexed to the consumer price index in 2013, citing that other fees at the university (such as the recreation fee) are already tied to a similar model. Any increases beyond CPI could then be put to the students in the form of a referendum, akin to a system currently in place at the University of Alberta.
The SU's suggested amendment was rejected by the board of governors.
Despite this, Kingston said that the compulsory fee framework the SU put forward to the board was the same that the Council of Alberta University Students has given toAlberta Advanced Education and Technology minister Doug Horner and believes all institutions across the province will be governed by a similar guideline soon.
"While I have the very enjoyable task of being the first students' association to bring this particular model to our board, I absolutely won't be the last," said Kingston. "This proposal will be continually talked about at board tables at this institution, as well as other institutions, and a position that we will continue to press for here and with the province."
Later that afternoon at the Legislature, Minister Horner was directly asked about the lack of non-academic fees legislation in Alberta by Janice Sarich, Edmonton-Decore MLA, in question period.
"I agree that we do need to look at how we regulate non-instructional fees within the system," said Horner. "My department is in constant dialogue with the students. We've also invited the students to draft a regulation that we might be able to look at. That regulation was presented to me last week, and we've now circulated that to other student associations for their comments as well as to the post-secondaries."
Horner said that his office will be working with student groups throughout the summer on the intricacies of the affordability framework and the tuition fee policy but admits that any new framework will "probably not be in effect for 2010."
Last year, the Alberta government announced it would allow post-secondary institutions to apply for a one-time re-evaluation of professional program fees that had been locked at 2004 levels plus increases in inflation since 2006. The University of Calgary made a total of nine cases for increases in the faculties of law, medicine, education, engineering and business with Horner accepting just two. Students will see the bachelor of commerce program increase by $1,982 and masters of business administration by $3,121. The increases are scheduled for 2011.
The recent announcement of the rejections gave the university no time to respond, so they presented a budget to the board that didn't incorporate the 2011 roll-out date for increases, leaving a $2.4 million shortfall, and which included all the rejected proposals. Provost Alan Harrison said the university would find some way to decrease next year's budget.
The budget and increases were, none-the-less, approved by the board, much to the chagrin of Kingston, who said that by doing so the board had ignored the thousands of students who were opposed to the increases.
Other fees increases for next year include the UPass, from $85 to $105, the provincial application system fee, from $115 to $120 and campus recreation and athletics fees, which both increase by 1.5 per cent. This is in addition to the 1.5 per cent across-the-board tuition increase.