The Students' Union's battle on tuition ended in bittersweet defeat last week, as tuition consultations with University of Calgary officials yielded a maximum tuition increase for all students.
Tuition is on the rise to the tune of 5.8 per cent and administration is planning to repeat maximum increases for at least the next four years. Students will pay $4,856 for a full course load next year.
Given the current state of the U of C's finances and a pending five per cent cut each year for four years, U of C officials say that anything other than the maximum tuition increase would be irresponsible.
This announcement has left student leaders feeling frustrated.
"It makes us extraordinarily angry to come into a tuition consultation only to find out the university has already budgeted and planned off the premise of maximum tuition increases," said SU President Bryan West. "It de-legitimizes the process further than it already is."
The SU came into tuition consultation armed with a proposal for the SU to share in any budget windfall the U of C receives in provincial government funding. Given that the U of C has budgeted for a two per cent increase, a four per cent increase in the U of C's base operating budget would mean $439,920 for the SU. They proposed to use the money to provide a tuition rebate to all students.
"It's fair to say that we're intrigued by the mechanics of the proposal," said Vice-President Finance and Services Mike McAdam. "[But] I do not support the concept of a student [tuition] rebate. $12-14 to every student is not a productive gesture. There is tremendous benefit in finding other ways of allocating the funds."
In response, the U of C offered to give the SU the requested windfall percentage under the condition that the money be used for quality initiatives and not a tuition rebate. Some quality initiatives suggested by U of C officials include a wireless network for campus, faculty/student mentoring, and at least one class with less than 30 pupils for all first year students.
Student leaders had mixed feelings about the university's rebuttal.
"This means more white elephant projects like a wireless campus and not what students want, which is a tuition rollback," said Brent Kettles, SU Faculty representative for the Haskayne School of Business. "We're disappointed. As far as tuition goes, we see this as a major failure."
President of the Graduate Students' Association Calvin Seaman, had similar concerns.
"We have similar issues with quality, like proper research facilities, retaining faculty and class sizes," said Seaman. "How much can be improved with $1.5 million when you see $60 million get cut from the budget? If someone can't afford to buy a computer, a wireless network is pointless."
While there were frustrations over tuition, the victory on quality did not go unnoticed. Student leaders and U of C administration alike are shifting their focus onto how they can effectively spend the potential $1.5 million for quality initiatives.
"Students said one of the most important issues was quality of the undergraduate experience," said U of C Associate VP of Student Services Peggy Patterson refering to a recent SU student survey. "We have some ideas here and I want to start the conversation."
Patterson encouraged student leaders to prepare quality initiatives, suggesting that it would be a shame to not have students involved in the process.
"There is a [tuition consultation] meeting next week and we've asked the SU to bring suggestions and we'll do the same," said Patterson referring to quality initiatives. "We hope to come up with mutually agreeable suggestions."
The SU doesn't have any quality initiative plans right now, but West says they have the quality survey as a template. He wants to postpone the process and come up with initiatives and present them to students to vote on. West still insists that the plebiscite contain a tuition rebate as an option, but feels that when faced with a number of good quality initiative options the students will pass-over the small $12-14 rebate.
"All we ask is to give students a choice and put it to a referendum," concluded West.