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SU prepares for tuition consultation

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Albertan legislation states that each year before making the decision to raise tuition, university administrators must meet with their student associations.

This year meetings have taken place throughout Sep. and Oct., with the final vote on whether to raise tuition by the proposed maximum amount of 4.6 per cent happening at the University of Calgary's Board of Governors meeting Fri., Dec. 7. The BoG is comprised of staff and faculty of the U of C, community members and three student members, Students' Union president Julie Bogle, the Graduate Students' Association president David Coletto and BoG representative Emily Wyatt.

Traditionally, the SU has lobbied the university administration in meetings leading up to the BoG vote to not raise tuition by the maximum amount. This year however, the SU is trying something new.

"We are going to lobby them to ensure that student satisfaction, that the quality of undergraduate student success is really focused on," said Bogle. "We're going to really try to ensure that we're focusing on the things about the university experience that need to be addressed for the undergraduate student experience. We're really going to ensure that the needs we are continuously told are issues and what we believe are issues are set as priorities through the Board of Governors for the upcoming years."

Bogle explained that although tuition is a key issue for students, when talking directly to students, affordability of textbooks, class sizes and the emphasis on teaching versus research are top issues students continually identify.

"Ensuring that tuition increases don't happen isn't something that we can guarantee," said Bogle. "What we're really trying to work towards is making a change that students will feel and that will really assist them in continuing their education."

According to a resolution passed at the Students' Legislative Council Tue., Oct. 9, the change the SU intends to make this year is to negotiate that the university improve the quality indicators by 6.1 per cent annually of undergraduate satisfaction.

"The plan is still being developed," said Bogle. "We don't have a firm plan passed through SLC that says, 'these are the quality indicators we will be looking at this is what we want to see the university do,' but what we're doing is developing a plan that will address and will help increase the student experience. As for the numbers, it's a little bit harder to tie people to specific numbers of increases, but what we're really looking for is a realistic approach that the Board of Governors can feel they can support and that the university can support."

Bogle explained the SU is still looking for a way to measure undergraduate student satisfaction.

"We're trying to find quality indicators that can have measurable outcomes and we're trying to [sort] through the data that they present to us at different meetings," said Bogle. "For instance the NSSE survey, this is something that is comparable to other universities of similar size and similar situation, so by using their data we hope to help ensure that the indicators that we choose and the measurable outcomes that we want to see can actually be achieved because it's what they're working with right now."

GSA president Coletto explained tuition is an issue for graduate students, but because most graduate students receive funding packages--which help to cover both tuition and living expenses--if the increase in tuition meant that funding packages would be increased proportionately, graduate students would not be affected.

"That's our goal, always to have the lowest tuition, but I think this year it seems like they're going to raise it by the maximum they're allowed to, which is 4.6 per cent, [tied to] Alberta's CPI," said Coletto. "From a graduate student perspective, knowing they're going to do that and there's probably little way that we can stop it, we're going to be looking for ways to increase graduate funding as well as we're negotiating TA agreements this year, which is part of the graduate funding package."

The intention to raise tuition by its maximum amount for the next five years is in the university administration's business plan.

"That's part of the reason we're trying a new strategy," said Bogle. "That's part of the logic behind it, if they've already made up their decision, what can we do to make sure that that decision positively impacts students."

U of C provost Dr. Alan Harrison maintained no decisions were made before consulting with students.

"We haven't made decisions in advance," said Harrison. "We simply said our business plan is consistent with maintaining quality and in order to maintain quality we shall always recommend increasing tuition to the maximum the government allows us to raise it by."

Harrison explained in order to maintain the quality of education the U of C offers raising tuition by the maximum amount is essential.

"If we were not to raise tuition, we would do two things--we would be making decisions that would inevitably reduce the quality of education of our students and we would also be signaling to the government that their support for tuition increases wasn't actually required," said Harrison. "What the government said to us was you can raise [tuition] by the increase in the Alberta Consumer Price Index and we'll top it up to six per cent."

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