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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 4, March 2004

Tuition fees increase

Let’s be clear about the effect of unsustainable cost and the resulting debts on individual students. Wherever tuition goes down, enrolment goes up. And where does the increase in students come from? From those with less money. In other words, the lower the fees, the more egalitarian the society. The lower the fees, the more we are able to release the genius of the citizenry as a whole. And that genius, that collective unconscious is the key to a successful democracy. – John Ralston Saul

by Summer McFadyen

Students across British Columbia are bracing for another round of tuition increases. Several of B.C.’s post-secondary institutions have projected tuition increases of up to 35% for the 2004–05 academic year.

Budget letters from Gordon Campbell and Advanced Education Minister Shirley Bond have told post-secondary institutions that their budgets will be cut by five percent in 2004–05.

This will be the third year of massive tuition fee increases since Gordon Campbell broke his promise to freeze tuition fees. In the last two years, tuition fees have increased by more than 80% at B.C. universities and by more than 100% at B.C. colleges.

Administrators at Simon Fraser University have proposed tuition fee increases of up to 35% for the coming year, which would take fees at SFU to almost $5,000 per year. Students at the University of Victoria expect to face another 30% increase.

"Tuition fees at Okanagan University College have nearly tripled after this year’s increase," said Shayne Robinson, a student at Kelowna’s Okanagan University College (OUC). Tuition fees at the Penticton Campus of OUC, which has no real library, increased from $1,400 in 2001–02 to $3,800 this year.

At Vancouver Community College, college administrators plan to implement fees of $280 per course for adult basic education (Grade 4 to 12) courses. Adult basic education courses, offered to those attempting to complete or upgrade their high school equivalency, have, until recently, been provided at no cost.

"The massive tuition fee increases introduced by Premier Campbell have forced many students to drop out of school because they simply cannot afford an education," said Summer McFadyen, B.C. chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. "It’s no longer a matter of merit, but rather the size of a students’ pocket book."

Shayne Robinson agreed. "The truth is, some of my former classmates aren’t in classes this semester simply because the cost of an education has gotten out of hand."

The rapid fee increases have had a negative impact on students pursuing post-secondary studies—student debt has risen, and accessibility has declined.

Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition Study, released in January 2002, considered the implications of rapid tuition fee increases over the past decade. The study found that financial barriers were overwhelmingly the most common barriers to access for young people in Canada. Over 70% of high school graduates who had not gone on to post-secondary education because of barriers listed their financial situation as a primary obstacle.

A similar percentage of respondents who had dropped out of a post-secondary program cited financial barriers as a primary reason for not continuing with their education.

A recent study, "Access Denied: The affordability of post-secondary education in Canada," confirms that B.C. is at an historical low in ensuring the affordability of post-secondary education. Post-secondary education is less affordable today than at any time in the last 60 years. The report examines changes in tuition fees from 1857 to 2002. When fees are adjusted for inflation, undergraduate university students today are paying more than at any other time in the past century, and six times what a student was charged in 1914.

Despite the premier’s assertion that higher tuition fees increase access to post-secondary education, numerous studies provide evidence of the negative impact of increased tuition fees on the participation rates of low and middle-income students.

The University of Western Ontario Study on Accessibility (1999) was conducted over a four-year period to determine the effect of deregulated tuition fees on accessibility. As tuition fees rose, the study documented a dramatic decline in participation rates from low-income families by the fourth and final year of the study. As a result of deregulated tuition fees, there was a 50% decline in the participation of low-income students (to only 7.7% of students).

Premier Gordon Campbell will be remembered as the premier who deliberately and dramatically increased the cost of obtaining an education. The Canadian Federation of Students’ Bring Tuition Fees Back to Earth Campaign seeks to raise awareness of the effect of Gordon Campbell’s policies on youth, students, and the post-secondary education system. For more information about the student federation, or to get involved in the campaign for an accessible, high-quality, fully funded, public post-secondary education system, go to www.cfs.bc.ca.

Summer McFadyen is B.C. chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.

Founded in 1981, the Canadian Federation of Students currently unites more than 450,000 college and university students across Canada through a co-operative alliance of over 70 students’ unions. Since 1926, the Federation and its predecessor organizations have been the voice of Canada’s student movement.

The Canadian Federation of Students is demanding that the B.C. Liberals:

• Legislate tuition fees to be set at 2001–02 levels.

• Increase post-secondary education funding.

• Increase significantly the number of fully funded spaces available to students at B.C.’s public post-secondary institutions.

• Maintain and augment the needs-based, non-repayable grants program.

• Call on the federal government to restore federal funding for post-secondary education and to negotiate a national agreement on standards of quality, accessibility, and mobility for post-secondary education.

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