Opinions
Jen Grond/the Gauntlet

Editorial: Start saving your pennies, gang!

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For as long as we can remember, tuition consultation at the University of Calgary has been fairly routine. Every December, university administration has a quick discussion with the Students' Union, asks them how much they'd like to pay and then raises tuition as much as they can. Usually it's a drop in the bucket, an extra five per cent or so matching inflation. This year, it looks to be much, much worse.

The current plan, revealed by the SU in Students' Legislative Council on Tuesday, has three parts. Base tuition is slated to go up 1.5 per cent, the rate of inflation, the most that tuition can be legally raised according to the Post-Secondary Learning Act. In addition, the university is proposing a compulsory fee, estimated to be around $500, that will be levied upon all students. Last, and certainly not least, the university is adopting a differential tuition scheme for professional degrees, similar to that of the University of Alberta -- raising annual fees approximately 40 per cent for business and engineering, $2,000 for law and $4,000 for medicine.

Administration's plan for tuition increases would be merely deplorable if not for a few more factors. First and foremost is the timing. Tuition consultation is typically completed mid-December. That allows institutions to plan their budgets and submit them to the province in a timely fashion, but also allows students to come up with a plan. This year, the Board of Governors will vote on this matter, and it'll likely pass, on April 16 -- Bermuda Shorts Day. Not only will the average U of C student be asked to pony up an extra $600 per year (1.5 per cent plus the $500 fee), if not more, they will have four months fewer to figure out how to get that money.

Not shockingly, the move has the SU fuming. At the weekly SLC meeting, president Charlotte Kingston said that university's proposed hike will "screw their students a little harder" next year. Several other elected officials remarked on the matter, with vice-president external Kay She saying that if students should get mad about anything, it's this. Both noted that the university has a projected deficit for next year that's roughly half that of the University of Alberta yet they're planning for a larger tuition hike. Additionally, the U of A's extra revenue will partially go to the various faculties, while the U of C will funnel the vast majority towards their central administrative deficit, even while continuing to cut jobs. In other words, students will be paying much, much more for the same sub-standard education.

So what can be done about this outrageously awful proposal? Students have a few options. Base tuition is legally tied to the rate of inflation and the institutions that wish to raise professional program fees by more than that are required to get permission from the province to do so. In addition, the law surrounding compulsory fees is wonderfully vague. Students can and should communicate their disgust with the proposal to their MLAs and Alberta's Advanced Education minister, Doug Horner, so that the province doesn't stand idly by and let the cost of education be passed onto us. More importantly, U of C provost Alan Harrison will be part of the SLC meeting on Tuesday, February 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the MacEwan Student Centre council chambers. Every single student that feels strongly about their education should be there.

Fees go up, it's a fact of life. However, the U of C's decision to essentially pass the responsibility to balance their books directly to students is ludicrous. It's time for students to take a stand. Get the government involved and tell them how much this will disrupt your education. Most importantly, come to SLC on February 2 and tell Alan Harrison that students will not take this lying down.

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Comments

> For as long as we can remember, tuition consultation at the University of Calgary has been fairly routine.

Yes, the SU has been horribly ineffective since around 2001.

> Every December, university administration has a quick discussion with the Students\' Union, asks them how much they\'d like to pay and then raises tuition as much as they can. Usually it\'s a drop in the bucket, an extra five per cent or so matching inflation. This year, it looks to be much, much worse.

You\'d be complaining about the lack of equipment, or slow Internet access, or lack of student space, if the university didn\'t peg increases at institutional inflation, instead of the much lower CPI. But go on...

> The current plan, revealed by the SU in Students\' Legislative Council on Tuesday, has three parts.

I hope they didn\'t breach any confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements in so doing, as implied by the \"leak\" headline elsewhere in the paper. We can either trust that the SU didn\'t leak the document (the Gauntlet is dishonest to readers) or the SU did leak the document (the SU negotiating in bad faith).

> Base tuition is slated to go up 1.5 per cent, the rate of inflation, the most that tuition can be legally raised according to the Post-Secondary Learning Act. In addition, the university is proposing a compulsory fee, estimated to be around $500, that will be levied upon all students. Last, and certainly not least, the university is adopting a differential tuition scheme for professional degrees, similar to that of the University of Alberta -- raising annual fees approximately 40 per cent for business and engineering, $2,000 for law and $4,000 for medicine.

That would be a mistake. Quality of recent U of C graduates: engineers = MDs > lawyers >> business.

> Administration\'s plan for tuition increases would be merely deplorable if not for a few more factors. First and foremost is the timing. Tuition consultation is typically completed mid-December. That allows institutions to plan their budgets and submit them to the province in a timely fashion, but also allows students to come up with a plan.

And the list of efficiencies gained by the province from submitting in December includes: ?

> This year, the Board of Governors will vote on this matter, and it\'ll likely pass, on April 16 -- Bermuda Shorts Day.

BSD isn\'t fixed in stone like the end of the Mayan calendar...

> Not only will the average U of C student be asked to pony up an extra $600 per year (1.5 per cent plus the $500 fee), if not more, they will have four months fewer to figure out how to get that money.

But you know now that the increase in coming. You just wrote an editorial and a news story about the increase. You even \"leaked\" the exact amount of the increase. The SU is organizing yet another ineffective tuition rally about it. And despite the SU\'s PR department, it made the broadcast and newspaper headlines. If any of the above are effective at communicating with students, the four months are not a problem.

> Not shockingly, the move has the SU fuming. At the weekly SLC meeting, president Charlotte Kingston said that university\'s proposed hike will \"screw their students a little harder\" next year.

Hint: Knowing that tuition consultation is a regularly scheduled process, concluding roughly in early December, the time for the SU to have began fuming effectively would have been in December or early January. Did it really take the SU two months to realize that their annual consultation process was off track and that students would get extra-screwed?

> Several other elected officials remarked on the matter, with vice-president external Kay She saying that if students should get mad about anything, it\'s this.

The time for mad has come.

> Both noted that the university has a projected deficit for next year that\'s roughly half that of the University of Alberta yet they\'re planning for a larger tuition hike.

Clearly, a university\'s system of revenues and expenses may be represented by a simple linear input-output function involving exactly two variables.

> Additionally, the U of A\'s extra revenue will partially go to the various faculties, while the U of C will funnel the vast majority towards their central administrative deficit, even while continuing to cut jobs. In other words, students will be paying much, much more for the same sub-standard education.

Why do you assume that money which goes to faculties IN RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES would correlate with education quality?

> So what can be done about this outrageously awful proposal? Students have a few options.

If you\'re right about the previous assumption, a market-based solution readily presents itself.

> Base tuition is legally tied to the rate of inflation and the institutions that wish to raise professional program fees by more than that are required to get permission from the province to do so. In addition, the law surrounding compulsory fees is wonderfully vague.

So, I suppose the logical, sustainable and durable solution you and the SU are proposing involves a critical examination of the Post-Secondary Learning Act and Regulations pertaining to tuition increases, compulsory fees and market differentials?

> Students can and should communicate their disgust with the proposal to their MLAs and Alberta\'s Advanced Education minister, Doug Horner,

Wait, what? Having pointed out the drawbacks of this action by the university, why would the suggested action to be to (optimistically) fix it for just one year? Why wouldn\'t we peruse a solution that fixes it well so that we wouldn\'t have to come back to this next year?

The SU could also help students escalate the sophistication of their political engagement to beyond that of campus pro-life. They have students as a captive audience for five years. Students are capable of doing more than just write letters or rant in the local campus paper.

> so that the province doesn\'t stand idly by and let the cost of education be passed onto us.

What\'s the super-optimum policy solution you propose which would not increase taxes for some other arguably disadvantaged group for your idea of not passing the cost of education to students?

> More importantly, U of C provost Alan Harrison will be part of the SLC meeting on Tuesday, February 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the MacEwan Student Centre council chambers. Every single student that feels strongly about their education should be there.

Let\'s all sit in unison to fulfill our having been active duty, to avoid doing anything substantial that requires critical thought. Please tell me about market differentials and compulsory fees in other G8 nations.

> Fees go up, it\'s a fact of life. However, the U of C\'s decision to essentially pass the responsibility to balance their books directly to students is ludicrous.

Passing responsibility to balance their books directly to students is not ludicrous. You just asked for students to be able to decide how the university runs its finances in the preceding two paragraphs. The SU\'s tuition protest as advertised is ONLY about about increasing student\'s influence over finances.

> It\'s time for students to take a stand. Get the government involved and tell them how much this will disrupt your education.

The minority of prospective professional students who will be affected by this decision will have almost NINE MONTHS to figure out how to address these entirely predictable increases. There will be hard luck cases, but by the time they take a majority of courses from the affected professional faculties in their second, third or fourth years, they should have figured out basic budgeting and planning on a six-month horizon and not be disrupted in their programs.

> Most importantly, come to SLC on February 2 and tell Alan Harrison that students will not take this lying down.

Right. Students will take it not uncomfortably reclined on decades-old SU bench seating which has been the site of more taking it than you could possibly imagine.

Anon Cow Herd,
I agree with a lot of your statements, but I object to the spirit of your post.

\"Having pointed out the drawbacks of this action by the university, why would the suggested action to be to (optimistically) fix it for just one year? Why wouldn\'t we peruse a solution that fixes it well so that we wouldn\'t have to come back to this next year?\"

What are you suggesting instead? Your entire post follows this line of thinking. In addition to tearing down a proposed plan of action, increasing the readers’ helplessness and apathy, why not propose a better action that we (or your fine self) can take instead? Your comments are worse than useless. They’re actively damaging.

You’re clearly an educated person. Ever heard of the Nirvana fallacy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana_fallacy)? Just because an action isn’t perfect, that doesn’t make it not worth doing. Anything, ANYTHING, is better than nothing. Help, or get out of the way.

Until you or someone else comes up with a better solution, I’m starting a letter campaign. I plan it to be massive. I plan to flood them. I’ll see you all at the rally around 4:45.

@Janine Pelletier:

The logical, sustainable and durable solution would be a critical examination of the Post-Secondary Learning Act and Regulations pertaining to tuition increases, compulsory fees and market differentials, since a positive result would fix the problem for all Alberta post-secondary students for years to come.

Instead of that action, or one of many actions of similar effect including engaging with ministers or political action groups at the policy level, both the SU and the Gauntlet have proposed that students walk or sit around to parrot information which they\'ve not internalized nor fully understood. Such actions do not substantially advance the students\' cause since having participated in a marginal activity morally relieves them of the responsibility to do anything further. See some of the references in http://ssrn.com/abstract=1463018

It is not generally the case that any action is better than no action as actions have known and unknown costs, and known and unknown consequences. From experience, we know that tuition protests as conducted in the manner typical of the last eight years or so have no net effect on the rate of tuition increase. To devote resources to an action with a predictable disfavourable outcome is at best wasteful. To devote those resources instead to a policy process which others (e.g. bottle recyclers, RMTs, etc.) have recently shown to be effective in achieving positive legislative outcomes may not lead to a super-optimum outcome, but would at least lead to a net gain in terms of enhancing the political aptitude of students. At best, a policy or legislative outcome achieves everything students want out of this process, and much more and more direct access to policy makers in the future.

CPL deserves an apology. They appear to play from an effective and coherent multi-year PR plan to advance their position. As seen by the reference above, their brand stands for an identifiable position, and they are reliable in providing their product promised. CPL\'s mission statement is well articulated through its actions.

On the other hand, it\'s not made clear by the SU\'s activities what the SU stands for, why it exists, or the intellectual or political markets in which it intends to compete.

I\'m very much appreciating the input you guys have had into the editorial. These things are difficult to do for complex issues, such as these:

As far as disclosure goes, I personally received the tuition proposal numbers at Tuesday\'s SLC. I requested and was handed a sheet with a table of the proposed increases. As far as I know, other members of the Students\' Union talked about it on Facebook and Twitter. The implication made to me on receipt was that the numbers were not confidential, given that they were directly handed to a member of the media.

As for the proposed solutions, that\'s tricky. As a university student, what I would like is free education. But that\'s a pipe dream. What I am hoping for during my tenure is cost certainty. It\'s easy to budget my life if I know what my expenses are and when I need to pay them. I imagine it\'s the same for the university, too. They ALSO want cost certainty. Heck, the provincial government is likely in the same boat. But, the provincial government has allocated its money the way that it has. That means that to avoid a deficit, the U of C HAS to do three things: raise tuition to some extent, cut costs to some extent and/or ask the province for more money. Given that the province doesn\'t seem to have the money to give, the U of C is exploring the most readily available options.

From a student perspective, I just want the university to abide by what the province mandated. Is that realistic? No, probably not. But a large public outcry is probably the only thing that will stop such a massive tuition hike/compulsory fee introduction. By no stretch of the imagination is \"stopping\" the hike a permanent solution, but neither is imposing giant fee hikes.

Short of the federal government coming in with a magic parachute of money for post-secondary education, I cannot foresee a permanent solution to this problem. Each of the three sides (students, the U of C, the provincial government) is doing what they feel is best given the circumstances; there\'s just seemingly no tenable middle-ground here, no solution that won\'t leave somebody unhappy. The best we can do, I guess, is pressure the province and try to buy some time for everyone involved to find another way out, if there is one.

Sadly, there probably isn\'t.

A possible super-optimum solution:

Do as medicine and law do for the other professional faculties by giving industry a part of the responsibility for training the professionals who will work for them. That simultaneously: reduces the cost to industry of re-educating graduates to meet the contemporary needs of industry, reduces the cost to the university of bringing in or maintaining some areas of professional expertise and capital in house; reduces job uncertainty for graduates of those programs; provides the province with a more flexible and competent professional workforce on the ground sooner; and reduces uncertainty for the university, province and students about where new human capital are needed. This solution meets the objectives of more efficient use of resources, sensitivity to market value of professional skills, and predictability for students.

This isn\'t rocket science if we\'re willing to lower the height of our ivory towers.

No no Pike, don\'t you see? Students, in addition to attending classes, working, and paying for tuition, should all become politically enlightened and solve their problems through legislative outcomes.

Cow Herd is so caught up in his/her own ego-stroking cynicisim that she/he completely bypasses going over his/her own argument with the same fine-toothed comb.

Criticize the SU all you want - lord knows I do, but offering a proposed solution based on a hopeful outcome, without actually offering any plan yourself, is asinine. Why? Because you\'re acting like the idea never crossed the mind of anyone in the SU for the last 8 years.

Go pat yourself on the back, you fucking genius, and let everyone else be ticked off.

@bat:

Existence proof that more can be done: The U of C and U of A medical students associations train and send regular medical students to meet with every MLA every year, and provide insightful information on one issue, without media whoring about it. As a result, they have secured in the last eight years (among other achivements):
-increased student spaces at medical schools
-increased access to training for foreign-trained MDs
-better access to financial support
-enhanced incentives for training to become GPs and to practice in rural Alberta

As a result, the medical students have accrued a good deal of social capital and trust with the government, and individual students have gained political competence beyond what the SU is able to offer.

This is a group of perhaps 200 students studying in probably the most mentally and physically taxing post-secondary program in the province, on a budget of ~$20,000 a year. This group of students achieve more policy successes every year than the U of C SU does every decade.

You can be a sheeple and persist in the belief that your protests are effective, despite years of evidence to the contrary, or you can do better for yourself and your fellow students. Heck, CPL are annoying, but as was pointed out, even they are effective in getting their message across.

I've presented some options: Move BSD, become educated on the issues, question the systematic faults. Zha offers a viable plan, but only if the SU become able to plan their lobbying more than two weeks in the future.

Do not blame the government for tuition increases. The U of C administration is responsible for financial management. See the Open Letter to the Board of Governors by the Faculty Association (Faculty Association website under News and Events). The Faculty Association is demanding that an external forensic audit of U of C finances be conducted. Has this forensic audit been conducted? Demand that this audit is done before administration increases tuition!!!!

Did I say these protests would be effective? No. Some are capable of the same level of cynicism without the laughable apologism. Don\'t compare a resume-building undergraduate body with med student associations. The CPL comparison is even worse: the only thing they\'ve succeeded in doing is diluting their \'campaign\' into a rallying cry for \'free-speechies\' and other hard-line right wingers.

If only we had people with all the solutions running our potentially effective SU... my my, all of our problems would be solved.

@bat...

I\'m afraid I no longer understand your argument. You seem to want change, think the SU will not deliver, want solutions, but reject sustainable solutions which have already been proven.

Do you have any position on whether low potential income earning graduates in social sciences and humanities should continue to subsidize high potential income earners in professional programs?

Are you just here to complain? Is your position, in fact, solely to justify the SU's continued miserable and ineffective existence?

The campus pro life group are highly relevant to the discussion of SU effectiveness as a lobby. With a budget of under $2,000 per year and perhaps 10 students, they secured infinity% more victories against the U of C administration than the SU did in 2009, this despite having almost no support from students and a generally offensive message and goal. The SU, on the other hand, have a budget exceeding $30,000 for each VP, have the support of the majority of students, and a reasonably sane message and goal but have consistently failed completely to advance their cause with the U of C administration.