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Launch Slideshow
Jayna Gilchrist, President, University of Calgary Students’ Union

Jayna Gilchrist represents the U of C’s 24,000 undergraduate students as the leader of the Students’ Union.
Gary Milner/the Gauntlet

Roundtable on Tuition

Publication YearIssue Date 

Tuition is the one issue affecting the entire campus. Students, both graduate
and undergraduate must again pay more to attend the University of Calgary next
year. Support staff may be students or parents of students. Faculty share an
interest in high-quality education with students. Administration recommends
how much tuition must increase to keep up. Despite the fact these groups are
often vocal individually and together, very rarely do students, faculty and
staff hear what is said when their leaders meet. This roundtable offers every
member of the U of C campus a chance to understand what has been said so far.
It is said nothing will change until the public is informed.

 

What are your organizations' perspectives on tuition?

Tilleman: Often times, the tuition debate is forced into a confrontational
discussion between students and university administration. Local 52, representing
the support staff of the university, has a lot of empathy with both but often
feels there is a missing party.

Over the past decade, the provincial government has backed away from its previous
financial commitment, leaving a funding deficit. I can see the university has
addressed this shortfall in several ways: by raising tuition, capping enrollment
and reducing support staff. Forcing students to pay more seems to be the provincial
government's preferred option. It fits well with their ideological belief that
value of education largely flows to the student.

I don't share this ideology, but believe--as did the founders of this country--that
there is a huge benefit to society and economy in education. Simply stated,
universities are a public good. This historically recent shift by the provincial
government resulted in an affordability issue for more of the public as the
university is forced to make up the shortfall by raising tuition.

Capping enrolroment is another option the university has been forced into by
the provincial government's underfunding. Currently, Alberta's system cannot
graduate enough students to meet the economic needs of this province. Alberta
is a net importer of university graduates. By not appropriately funding Alberta's
universities, the province says to Martha and Henry Albertan that it would rather
see these jobs go to Eastern Canadian students.

Over the past year, the university has outright abolished over 100 support staff
positions. This is over and above positions lost through attrition. Local 52
is worried this massive reduction in support staff has led and will lead to
the university being less able to provide the quality of service Calgarians
have come to accept and deserve.

Bond: The administration recommends to the Board of Governors about
tuition fee levels. University administration does not set tuition fees.

The board, as the body responsible for the university's financial welfare,
must consider tuition in the context of the financial condition of the university.
In some ways, I emphasize the accuracy of what Mr. Tilleman said about the financial
facts of life in this province and the way the board and university are challenged
to make ends meet. Per student funding decreased in real 1990 dollars, taking
into account inflation, from over $7,000 in 1990 to $5,000 now. The government
is not investing as much money per student in the University of Calgary as it
once did.

We are strongly interested in quality offerings at the U of C at both graduate
and undergraduate levels. We share common ground with students on that point.
I have every sympathy with students who say "we're paying more and more
tuition. We should see return on that investment." So, I think the unprecedented
move the U of C made this year to set aside money to address the quality issues
for undergraduate and graduate students is good, and is one indication that
administration and students are on same page about things that matter most to
us.

I do think students should be paying tuition. I'm not a proponent of free tuition
as there is in other parts of the world, but we need to be realistic about the
affordability of post-secondary education. I'm concerned about the barriers
we're setting up for talented students who come from backgrounds that cannot
afford the tuition fees we're charging. The university is doing the right thing
by emphasizing student aid and fundraising for students who should benefit from
a university education without too much debt.

Grosenick: Our position developed by our council in September had several
principles: tuition for graduate students should be frozen at current levels
until minimal levels of funding are developed and until some commitment is made
that funding levels would increase with rising tuition costs and cost of living.

PhD students would receive a tuition waiver of 75 to 100 per cent and differential
fees received from international students would go back to graduate funding.

Finally, the graduate tuition fees and levels of funding at the U of C remain
competitive.

First, it's important to note more graduate funding does not mean fewer scholarships
and awards to undergraduate students. Although the practice often seems unfair
to undergraduates, we have to realize this is becoming the norm across Canada,
and this gets back to the competitiveness. By remaining competitive, the U of C
can attract high-quality graduate students which in turn benefits the university.

How? These students return significant dollars to the university through outside
grants and conduct high-quality research. Essentially this policy creates an
upward spiral.

Gilchrist: Those with the drive, ability and intelligence to pursue post-secondary
education shouldn’t be prohibited by financial barriers. Unfortunately, with
rising tuition, we’re starting to see that. Many people—because of financial
debt they could incur to pursue post-secondary education—hesitate. And those
who pursue a post-secondary education feel forced to work several jobs and go
into immense debt just to be a more integral part of society.

The provincial aspect has changed dramatically recently. In Bill 43, the government
will allow universities to go over the 30 per cent tuition cap when it comes
to tuition hikes. The balance is starting to weaken between what students pay
for their education versus it being a public institution.

It's quite unfortunate because the benefits of those who are educated to society
are immense. Fifteen per cent of the population is postsecondary educated but
they pay 35 per cent of the taxes. They receive less than 10 per cent of social
transfers--welfare and unemployment--and are less of a burden on health care
system.

The provincial government needs to make education a priority. Tuition hikes
and outrageous student debt are more an inhibitor to society's growth than a
benefit.

What amount should students pay, and what amount should society pay to
ensure students receive a quality education?

Gilchrist: There’s always debate whether education should be free, how
much students should pay and where the responsibilities lies. The maximum a
student should pay for education should be based on reasonable earnings during
summer work. You have eight months of school where you should focus on education
and four months in the work force. This has to be at a reasonable wage, which
is not possible for students forced to live away from home.

Grosenick: We think tuition levels should be competitive across Canada.
Graduate students work at this university five to seven days a week, 12 months
a year. That is another rationale behind funding for graduate students. They’re
offsetting their ability to earn income while working for this university. Funding
levels matter more so, so it’s not an unreasonable net cost for graduate students.

Bond: Like Gina, I believe fees need to be competitive. That’s one of
our reasons for differential fees in programs where we want to keep abreast
of fee levels typical of other programs in Canada.

The main point is education should be seen as an investment by both students
and taxpayers, not as an expenditure. Unfortunately, too many people, both student
and government, see it as a drain on their pocketbooks. We need to turn that
around and have people realize those contributions are not the real cost because
they benefit society in all sort of ways. University administrators have drawn
the attention of government officials and MLAs to the work of economists who
say the return to society, from a crassly financial view, is enormous with a
well-educated populace. People with whatever degree earn more over a lifetime
than people without a degree. Government, through taxes, will recoup more from
people with degrees.

'The second point is more subtle but is important to emphasize. Education
is the single best investment government can make. A well-educated population
drives down costs on the other big pieces governments have to worry about, namely
health care and social services. That's one argument governments need.

Tilleman: There was a study, somewhat dated now, through the Association
of Universities and Colleges of Canada, entitled Trends. It utilized StatsCan
information that showed, across Canada, university graduates only comprise of
15 per cent of those over 18 but contribute one-third of income taxes.

Conversely, these same university graduates use less than eight per cent of
government transfers like correctional services, health care and social services.
Post-secondary education actually shows a profit for governments and societies.
By being fiscally prudent and restricting post-secondary education funding,
governments are depriving themselves and society of resources that could fund
other necessary programs.

Going back to what a student should realistically pay, I agree with Jayna's
point of having education being affordable enough that working in the summer
should be enough. If you look at the investment the student puts in, they're
investing lost wages as well.

You might ask why would I, representing Local 52 support staff, would feel this
way? A lot of our members are students trying to fund their way through university
by taking service sector jobs at the university. I have to represent them and
I'm certain they would feel that way. Many of our members are parents of university
students and parents of future university students. Wages of support staff are
not exorbitant at the U of C. The university can hire support staff for the
princely sum of $6.65 an hour, based on 50th percentile of both public and private
sector jobs. So, our support staff are making average wages. Because of that,
many parents are in a financial pinch when they are expected to help out students
who are here at U of C. Affordability is a huge issue.

Accessibility is an issue as well because there aren't enough places. Enrolment
is capped and, like I said, it doesn't make sense: the Alberta economy needs
university graduates and we can't produce enough for our needs.

Where is the balance between quality of education and quantity of students?

Bond: I think there is a mutual interest among students and people who
work at the U of C to ensure quality is high here. Graduates want to look back
on their experiences here and figure they’ve been good. Alumni don’t want to
see the value of their degrees go down because we are no longer maintaining
quality. For that reason, we have very difficult tradeoffs between quality and
accessibility. We have to cap enrolment in all faculties, including those previously
without quotas. The U of C has been an incredibly strong contributor to the
accessibility issue of Alberta. We’re responsible for 26 per cent of the system-wide
growth in this province, far more than any other postsecondary education institution

'What are we doing to ensure quality remains high? We're trying to fundraise
more aggressively to create new revenue streams. Our target is to go from $18
million to $36 million annually over the next four years. We're also trying
to identify business opportunities to bring in new alternative revenue streams.
And we're quite conscious as we do that to remain balanced and to remember that
our core business is education and research. We don't want to adulterate or
become promiscuous in what we do so people question us about commercialization
of the university.

We think of tuition as another revenue stream to invest in quality. The $21
per half course increase we're recommending to the board this year translates
into $8.4 million of incremental revenue to the university and we intend to
use the money wisely and well.

Gilchrist: It was an unfortunate conundrum administration got into last
year about enrolment because of the debate between the accessibility by society
versus overcrowding and our limited resources. Overall, due to lack of provincial
funding and education being a priority, I would say capping enrolment was the
only choice to be made at the time. Quality is extremely important especially
when you’re paying that much in tuition. It would be a waste to dish out all
that money and ask “why did I spend all that money and all those years here?”
The enrolment cap did need to occur. Unfortunately, it will be to the detriment
of Calgary and those who want to attend the U of C.

Grosenick: Interestingly enough there was a concerted goal last year
to increase graduate student population and to increase graduate programs here.
We found that with all of the funding issues and challenges we have, we didn’t
have the ability to support it. We need to have equality on both sides of the
ledger.

Tilleman: Our problem is underfunding. It’s underfunding from the provincial
government. There’s no other way of stating it. And that is turning into an
affordability issue because of tuition. It’s turning into an accessibility issue
because of capping enrolment. I believe it has a huge potential to impact the
quality of education. Because of reduction of support staff, people are burning
out.

'The Renner report a few years back looked at the funding framework for post-secondary
education in Alberta. Using the province's own data and doing very simple calculations
comparing the U of A and the U of C, it showed the U of C received $1,500 less
per year per student less than the U of A, a $30.6 million shortcoming for Calgarians'
educational opportunities. I would say to students and Calgary "what are
you getting for consistently voting for this government? What's been the payback?"

Bond: I think we need to remember the Alberta government is investing
in the k-12 system and the Alberta government has every reason to be proud of
k-12 system. We do very well on standardized tests comparing certain grade levels
against other provinces and against students from around the world. Alberta
has a strong education system and has invested in it and is continuing to invest
in it. The Learning Commission has made a number of recommendations about strengthening
further the k-12 system.

My understanding is that the government is prepared to invest in those recommendations.
I think the next investment should occur in the postsecondary educational system.
If this is, as most government officials have said, the year of education, it's
important to remember Albertans deserve and need a robust post-secondary education
system to go hand in hand with a strong system at the K-12 level.

What have you done individually and collectively to lobby for more funding
and to raise awareness?

Tilleman: Local 52 some years ago wasn’t as politically active as the
faculty association, Students’ Union or Graduate Students’ Association in this
area, but when we saw the educational opportunities for our kids being limited,
we jumped on the bandwagon. Now, AUPE represents a whole variety of post-secondary
institutions. We regularly inform our membership of these problems with the
hope this message gets out to the public and the voters. We’re also telling
them talk to MLAs Frankly, talking to your mla, I don’t know how much good that
is doing. I think you will see an effect when see a change in polls. Students
haven’t been voting and they need to vote. You need to talk to friends and neighbours
and tell them what the challenges are, where problems lie-—and don’t pull the
punches.

Bond: I spent the last six years in this job trying to ensure public
servants understood the issues. I’m pretty much convinced they do understand
issue. The Renner Commission report identifies issues appropriately. The report
contains strong recommendations the government needs to take up and consider
seriously. That was a government-established commission and there are some people
in government, including some MLAs who see the nature of challenges in front
of us and are prepared to make strong recommendations to the government on how
to proceed.  

I agree with Dan that the preeminence of health and wellness as an investment
priority for the Alberta government needs to be challenged, and the best way
of doing that is to try to educate the tax-paying and vote-carrying public better
than we have in past. This is one of the reasons we are working collectively
on a series of public awareness sessions. We each think we have a role to play
in heightening the awareness of the public. We are ensuring we use as many vehicles
as possible to get the word out to the public.

Grosenick: We’re all singing same song. We have heavily lobbied and
discussed this with Alberta Learning. I agree the government knows what the
issues are, but until we get to the public and have them make it priority we’re
going not see anything.

From our perspective, we need to define what a graduate student is. A university
student is easy to conceptualize, but what is a grad student? One of our previous
executive members went to the then Minister of Learning and said "you can't
get jobs in your department if you are not a grad student," and he had
no clue this was the case. From our perspective, if we want people to understand
our plight we have educate them on what we do for society as well as the university.

Gilchrist: As the SU obviously represents a larger constituency, we
have a lot of different ways to encourage government to provide more funding.
A majority have been presentations. Some people may say presentations are hitting
only a few people, but it’s a thorough info session where questions and answers
can occur, where there’s an opportunity for real information.

We also have one-on-one meetings with MLAs We've dealt with Calgary caucus.
There's been some information handed out to alderman because the reality is
city council provides for Calgary and education will reflect that. During Halloween
there was flyer drop initiated by our VP External [Lauren Baituk]. It was an
opportunity to hand out information to the average Calgarian. There's different
lobby groups. It's amazing how many different ways there are to provide information
to people. The more we try to get information out to the community, the better
we'll all succeed.

Bond: I can tell you the Board of Governors finds the problem of making
the tuition fee decision each year a very challenging one. They do not find
it an easy decision to make at all. Partly for that reason, the Board of Governors
sponsored a number of public awareness sessions. We need to acknowledge the
board is interested in making sure the public understands issues and understand
the difficult decisions the board is obliged to make.

How successful have you been in the most recent lobbying efforts?

Gilchrist: This is a question many students ask us: “what’s the point?”

It took K-12 a long time to get some recognition. It took a lot of work, it
took never-ending battles and finally we're starting to see the community and
the provincial government realize the importance. I agree we should be the next
step in process. Post-secondary education should be a priority too in that area.
I think you can easily say we have seen changes. In the last few years, there
has been a slight increase in provincial funding grants but not nearly to 1990
levels. We are fortunate there is a remission program in Alberta. It's through
hard work and dedication that these things change. And considering we've seen
an increased number of people attending post-secondary or desiring to attend,
something's got to be going right, at least slightly.

Grosenick: I don’t know how effective lobbying efforts have been yet,
as we’re just starting. I think we’re all going to the government with the same
message. It’s easy to pit groups against each other, so if we’re going to be
successful, this is the way we’re going to be successful.

Bond: It’s critical students at large as well as student leaders try
to get this point across to the public, and we found it’s often a student advocate
who will impress government officials. Administration can always be written
off as people engaging in special pleading if we’re talking about university
funding as an investment. Students committed to quality education can make a
huge difference. It can’t be left to a few elected SU or GSA representatives,
it should become an advocational mission of large groups of students.

Tilleman: AUPE has the attention of the provincial government and an
indication of that would be when we had a conference on post-secondary education
in Canmore. Learning Minister Lyle Oberg did come, and at that forum he announced
Bill 43. AUPE felt the government was listening to some things we were saying.

With regards to what Gina said, we’ve got to work together to continue the
message. It’s not that I disagree with Ron that students and student leaders
can make difference to government, I think students have been written off as
special interest group. I think it’s the public. We have to get, as [Alberta
Premier] Ralph Klein likes to say, Martha and Henry Albertan aware of the limitations
they are currently living under because of the current funding regime. Once
the general public picks up the message and carries the ball, then you have
a chance for success.

Any closing remarks?

Tilleman: Talking to government officials over the years, there is a
recurring theme with regards to tuition and the funding of universities. They
always talk about funding being three-way responsibility: government, students
and industry. If you think of funding universities this way, maybe you should
ask yourself some questions. Does the value of post-secondary education warrant
extra investment in system? Should students shoulder more of a burden or will
that result in an elitist system where only rich are being educated? If education
equals power, is power further concentrated? Should corporations share more
of the cost of the investment? Does the government already have access to corporate
dollars through the tax system and it’s up to them to appropriately redistribute
those dollars?

Bond: It’s a public policy issue. How much tuition is enough? How does
the tuition increase affect students in terms affordability? What choices does
the university have to make when it considers tradeoffs between accessibility
and quality? If I had one key message for the public, it is that they have to
become involved in what are sometimes regarded as internal university issues.
There are big social issues that should engage hearts and mind of the public.

Grosenick: In order to make these points we have to ensure this is a
competitive and a top leading institution in Canada. I don’t know what the answers
are, but how we do that reflects on tuition and funding.

Gilchrist: We’re in a situation right now where those who deserve it,
those who try and those who focus, are unable to go forward. Whether it is accessibility
or financial reasons doesn’t matter. I like to believe society has progressed
to a point where equality is above all importance.

When you have something so beneficial to society, not being able to provide
it to all those who desire or deserve it, you have issues with society. For
life to become better for all, we need open up our eyes and realize this is
an investment that could improve so many things. The community needs to speak
out and explain to those around them. Politicians and bureaucrats need to realize
there is no one better thing they can do for Alberta, Canada and the world than
to invest in education and the future.

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