Author: Thomas Little
The Ontario government sets a cap on how much universities can increase tuition per year. If it did not, universities would be free to demand whatever they wanted for tuition, with disastrous consequences for students. Before this year, the cap was five percent. For the 2013-2014 academic year, the cap has been lowered to three percent, which gives students a bit more financial breathing room. It seems the UW Board of Governors did not get the memo. On June 4, it raised tuition retroactively by roughly 3%, that is after students in the Spring/Summer term had already paid their fees. Two out of three student representatives voted against the increase, the sole exception being Sean Hunt. This took students by surprise and shocked and outraged most. Our campus media being what it is, no one had reported on the Board of Governors meeting, nor had anyone reported on the tuition increase itself until Imprint writers were tipped off about the anti-tuition protest which happened on June 11.
Even then, the Imprint article (“Mid-term tuition increase sparks controversy”) put forward the same line as the CBC (“Retroactive tuition hike upsets U of W students”) and the Record (“UW students angry over retroactive fee increases”) articles, quoting Sean Hunt (Senator-at-Large) and Adam Garcia (Feds VP Education) extensively and creating a “narrative” for the situation that students are only upset about the timing, not the increase itself. This is something these papers can be comfortable with: a minor quibble with the administration’s conduct, easily fixed by them promising not to do it again. It is also a narrative that Feds and the administration are comfortable with.
Yet is it a narrative that most students are comfortable with? The majority of students we talked to complained not just about the bad timing, but about the increase itself – that the extra burden was unwelcome and difficult to deal with, regardless of the timing. Many students complained about the high cost of tuition regardless of the increase. This is not something Feds, the Imprint, or the administration are comfortable with because they all maintain the firm position that there is no option but to accept fee increases, and the only concession to students is that we be notified about them beforehand. Arguments for a tuition freeze or even for lower tuition fees are dismissed as “impractical” and “unrealistic.” Yet what could be more realistic when our fellow students in every other Canadian province get an education for a much lower cost?
To hopefully answer these questions, an information session held on June 20 in the SLC Great Hall aimed at exploring the issue, with a diverse panel of representatives from the Graduate Student Association (GSA), Feds (Adam Garcia), an international graduate student, and an international undergraduate student (to discuss the heightened impact on international students). Both Adam Garcia and the GSA representatives were quick to defend the administration at all costs and to make it clear that they were not prepared to meaningfully oppose the administration, despite Feds officially criticizing the tuition hike.
After this info session, I and other students angry about the tuition hike worked for days passing around a petition demanding that the administration reverse the fee. We had conversations with hundreds of people and they complained about the high cost, yet had few answers about how to deal with it. If we want to actually do something about these fee increases, we need student organizations that are prepared to do something about the issue and student media that will give us a real picture of the situation and what students think, not what it wants them to think.
This article appeared in Volume 1, Issue 1 of The Chevron on 5 September 2013.