The University of Calgary Students' Union scored a victory at the most recent Board of Governors meeting on Dec. 10, pushing through their entire proposal regarding tuition relief and enhancement of quality for students.
While merely consolation for the SU's futile efforts at blocking maximum tuition hikes, the board's approval is a commitment that a proportion of any new government funds will be provided to students. Tuition, unfortunately, will rise by the maximum amount of 5.8 per cent.
"This is an innovative approach," emphasized SU President Bryan West. "The SU was able to devise a formula to put money back in students' pockets. I have not heard of any other university that has come up with or passed a proposal such as this."
The SU is guaranteed a $1 million grant from the university for student initiatives--with final approval from administration. Now, based upon a sliding scale, they will also get a proportion of the money received from expected funding increases for post-secondary education by the provincial government.
"The amount [we receive] depends upon what increase in a base grant the university gets from the provincial government, but this is a major win," West continued. "The students deserve a piece of the action. This additional money is unrestricted funds the SU can use to help students."
"The SU took a proactive approach," said the student representative on the BoG, Irene Enyedy. "Perhaps administration has more of a responsibility in lobbying the government and raising money. The BoG is saying more money should go to students--this gives power back to the students."
U of C Vice-President Finance and Services Michael McAdam refused to speculate on how much the province would increase the university's base operating grant.
"It depends on who you talk to," he explained. "The decision should come late this year though, probably late March or sometime in April."
West was cautiously optimistic, pointing to a newspaper article stating that the provincial government has committed to spending more money in education as evidence of an increase.
"I can't say I know what numbers for sure," West confided. "I've heard rumours of everything from four up to 10 per cent."
An increase of four per cent would give the SU an additional $500,000. Ten per cent would move the total up to nearly $1,000,000, meaning that almost $2 million would be available for use.
The SU has come up with a variety of possible initiatives for how the money could be used, including various capital, quality enhancement and tuition relief projects. These include creating a wireless campus and a student commons lounge area, as well as possibly creating a more universal tuition grant, available to every student through only an application and a GPA requirement.
The concession was made despite a stringent budget and resistance from some board members.
"My sense is that it was a victory for the SU--to get the motion passed was huge," admitted Calvin Seaman, President of the Graduate Students' Association. "Some members were against certain aspects [of the proposal]. There was the thought that the university shouldn't be giving money back to students while having tuition hikes at the same time. How would that look?"
"We have strong friends on the board [who helped us]," admitted West. "Administration was supportive up to a point, but they did not want the funds to be solely within students' discretion. But is it so much to ask that the students have control over a small proportion of a $760 million budget?"
"Administration supported the SU proposal," McAdam clarified. "We found perhaps the idea of a tuition grant available to all students to be unwise. However, we know the SU is very responsible."
There are plans to hold a plebiscite later this year to gauge students' priorities for the allocation of any new funds.