Almost 100 students attended Tuesday’s meeting of the UNB Fredericton Senate to let senators know that the tuition reset recommendation as it stands, is not something that students want.
Student senator and UNBSU vice-president internal Chris McGinn successfully moved to delay the tuition reset recommendations from going to the Board of Governors until October, after a lengthy discussion that showed the need for continued consultation with students and faculty.
Motions passed in Senate are non-binding, though. And it is up to the Board to decide whether to uphold the delay.
The strategic discussion on the report of the tuition review task force was one of the last items on the agenda at Tuesday’s Senate meeting. Vice-president academic George MacLean began by giving a presentation on the report of the tuition review task force. “You may notice there are already some changes,” he said.
The report recommends that tuition be reset with differential program fees and that tuition rates be raised from between seven and 50 per cent, depending on the program—something that MacLean said reflects what tuition would have been naturally if the provincial government had not set out tuition caps and freezes over the past few years.
The task force was also mandated to look at the international student differential fee, but decided it would not be rising since it has not been subject to recent caps and freezes of domestic undergraduate tuition of around three to five per cent.
These recommendations were set to be presented to the Board of Governor’s on April 19, followed by a vote on the strategy of the tuition reform, and would have been implemented through a grandfathering process in the 2019-2020 academic year.
MacLean highlighted that they’d have a year to set up an implementation plan since the tuition reset would not be officially approved until the 2019-2020 budget, and that they anticipated around five years for the new framework to be entirely implemented and that there’d be an opportunity to review the framework and assess its usefulness at that time.
Campbell and MacLean also said that at the request of student leadership there was a decision made to delay the discussion at the board until May, in order to give more time for consultation and adjustments.
“[This] came at the request of student leadership; we want to respect their request,” said Campbell. UNBSU president Herbert Bempah later clarified that their request for a delay was in reference to a delay until October, and not May.
Students and sympathetic faculty dominate discussion of the report
Student senator Chris McGinn spoke first, sharing a statement from the UNBSU that discussed how council received this news for the first time only on Feb. 25, and that “since then the magnitude of these tuitions hikes has settled in.”
“While we truly do appreciate Dr. Campbell and Dr. MacLean taking time on their Sunday evenings in February to present to us, we still do not believe that the process the university is undertaking is transparent, and [this] has resulted in uninformed students and faculty,” said McGinn.
Student senators read statements sharing the personal stories of students that highlighted the affordability and accessibility concerns students have in regards to the proposed changes.
“As a second-year Renaissance College student who is currently relying on support from the Tuition Relief for the Middle-Class Program, scholarships and bursaries, and a role as a hall proctor to afford my education, I have no doubts that if the price of Renaissance College were raised by 22 per cent before I began my studies, I would not have been able to attend,” said student Craig Fernandez.
Fernandez also brought up how his future goals include law school, and that before the tuition reset he had been looking forward to going to UNB’s law program. Now, with the potential tution hike, he is being forced to reconsider his decision. Tuition for the law school is being raised by 50 per cent to $10,000 per year.
“I envisioned finishing my law degree at UNB and being in a financial position to pursue a passionate career surrounding social justice. However, with the proposed fee raise, I would likely be unable to do so,” said Fernandez.
“It’s pretty hard to sell a 50 per cent increase when there is no direct return.”
One of the issues raised at Senate was that, as the recommendations stand now, the increase in tuition rates will not result in an increase in funding to the faculties; rather, the money is intended to help the university eliminate its deficit.
MacLean acknowledged this concern and said the university wants to get to a point where they can move beyond the threat of a structural deficit. Part of that solution is to reset tuition costs, but it is not the only solution.
According to MacLean, the end goal is to eventually have more money being put into the academic programs. Faculties would see some money back—but maybe not right away.
“I’d like to move beyond balancing the budget.” said MacLean.
Student senator Haley MacIsaac gave a statement on behalf of Serena Smith, UNBSU council chair and law student, that highlighted how the law faculty’s almost $4,000 program fee currently goes to covering costs that are unrelated to student programming—the original intention of the fee. With the reset, students would still have to pay this program fee on top of $10,000 tuition.
The statement also pointed out how the university’s location in one of Canada’s poorest provinces with one of the lowest standards of living means that these prices are out of students’ means.
O’Byrne also spoke in defence of her future students, highlighting their increased debt load and the limitations that will put on their career choices. She also spoke out against the ambiguity of where the money is going: “It’s pretty hard to sell a 50 per cent increase when there is no direct return.”
McGinn’s motion passes to delay the tuition reset recommendation going to the board
Toward the end of the discussion, McGinn put forward a motion to delay the Board’s vote on the tuition rest strategy until October.
“I move that Senate officially oppose the tuition reset strategy in its current state, and request that the Board delays their vote until October at the earliest, while continuing student and faculty consultation,” the motion said.
The motion passed with 25 votes yes, 1 abstention and 10 votes no.
After the motion passed, McGinn spoke again to express that—however much the administration might not like him at that time, the UNBSU was still open to being involved in discussions around the tuition review. One suggestion for the continuation of the discussion was a Q and A with not only the UNBSU but the entire student body.
This was a suggestion that was well received by MacLean and soon after students filed out of Senate for the closed session, almost three and a half hours after the meeting began.
“It was encouraging to see standing room only at the Fredericton Senate meeting last night. Student engagement is an important part of a healthy university community and the input we heard last night was really positive,” said MacLean, who said the feedback has been helpful and is still welcome because it assists with “framing our final recommendations.”
“At the end of the day, we are all working toward a common goal—to ensure that UNB continues to offer a high quality education to our students well into the future. Re-setting our tuition fees to help cover those costs is just one of the ways we are working toward that goal.”