Advocacy Updates on Tuition and Fees from AC

(October 25, 2022)

Hey y’all, hope you’re keeping warm, enjoying a warm bevvy or two, and finding time enough to rest and regroup between your studies! I’m loving the way the snow is sitting on these evergreens, but I digress. Let’s get to the point: tuition season has kicked off, so I’m writing to give you some info about the timeline here and who the key decision makers are in this process. You can find some current details, as of last week, in my October GRC Report, and more info at the Graduate Representative Council (GRC) meeting Tuesday evening that you’re all invited to (KNB 132, and there’s a zoom link in your GSA Newsletter as well – if you’re having trouble finding the info, I encourage you to ask your DGA exec and/or your department’s GRC representative). Below, I’ve written a summary of the situation, including some key facts and key dates for the season as a whole

Alright, so in terms of the tuition situation, the main question that I’m going to encourage you all to ask is the following: “Who are making the decisions about this issue?”. For tuition and budget things, this decision is ultimately made by the University’s Board of Governors (BoG), who are meeting next on December 9th. Budget proposals are initially tabled by the BoG’s Budget Committee (I don’t sit on this one), and then presented to the Tuition and Fees Consultation Committee (TFCC) for myself, Saaka, and Andrew (as well as our counterparts in the SU) to ask questions and make counter-proposals about. Our last TFCC meeting was Oct 20th, where we received a list of proposed increases to tuition, student fees, residence fees, athletics and recreation fees, etc. I can’t post those numbers here since this is a public page, but I will relay them to you at the GRC meeting on Tuesday. Please come if you can, or ask your GRC reps for details. Our next TFCC will be Nov 1st, where it will be our turn (as your GSA reps) to respond to the proposals and present our thoughts on the changes we’d like to see, in terms of numbers, commitments, or both. At GRC, I will present the counter-proposal that Andrew and I are drafting, and ask for your thoughts on such.

Ultimately, I want to remind you that the GRC has the legislative authority to govern the actions of your GSA exec (so long as we abide by the applicable governing documents: bylaws, and legislative acts, codes, etc.), and so if there is something that you want the GSA to do as an organization, then you simply need to move it through a GRC vote (consult the GSA Bylaws for the formality here). If you’d like further info on how this process works, or some explanation of what’s written in the bylaws, please email myself, cc your president, Saaka, and we will arrange for a DGA-training in your department with the help of the Advocacy Engagement Working Group. For example, if you’d like to see the GSA take a particular stance on tuition changes, then you need to pass a motion through GRC that says something like, “Be it resolved that the GSA Board of Directors advocate for […] during this year’s budget consultations.”

In the meantime, I encourage you to attend the University’s Budget Town Hall, happening Friday October 28th, at 9:30 am in MacEwan Hall A. This will be your most direct line of communication with the Board of Governors leading up to their budget decisions. You should have received an email from the university last Friday advertising such, and I’ll point you to your inboxes for more info (including a livestream link of the event).

Now, a couple key facts that I want to bring your attention to (and big ups to Andrew for going hard on the research here!). The main thing for us to keep in mind is that our university is a publicly funded institution, meaning that a large portion (roughly half) of our operating budget comes from the government by way of infrastructure and operating grants. In particular, the Campus Alberta Grant, awarded to the UCalgary by the provincial government, has been the single most impactful portion of our operating budget over the past few years. This is also the grant that has been cut some $134M over the past 4 years [annual reports from the Ministry of Advanced Ed.]. Meanwhile, private funding sources (tuition and donations), which accounted for about 45% of our budget in the 2020-2021 year [UCalgary consolidated financial statements] have been pressured to make up the difference. When it comes down to it, this is why tuition is increasing. And moreover, the Alberta Treasury Board and Finance has said that they aim to have this percentage increase to 55% of university budgets coming from private sources (tuition and donors) by 2025 [Ab Treasury, Fiscal Plan: Moving Forward 2022, p.131]. This is a clear move to increase the privatized stake in our public universities, and something for us to keep very closely in mind going forward. 

In terms of effects, what this shift in funding ratio means is that universities now face financial pressure to inflate their tuition revenue, or wager their Campus Alberta Grant support, so that the ratio of public -vs- private funding aligns with the government’s vision. One clear way to enforce this ratio, from the government’s perspective, is to cut the excess funding that the institution receives, and we’ve been seeing this happen at UCalgary and UAlberta especially, over the past few years. Regulated by the Ministry of Advanced Education is that a university may increase its tuition rates each year up to the consumer price index (CPI) for the province, in order to keep up its revenue with its expenses. Reading between the lines, the inference here is that if a university doesn’t increase its tuition rates and private forms of funding, then that university doesn’t need as much provincial funding to run its operations, and so it risks losing part of its provincial funding. At the end of the day, it is our operations (academic staff, number of TAs, class space, programs, caretaking, student services, etc) that are on the line here, as reduced grants and reduced budgets will necessitate a change of expenses, in one form or another. When it comes to the budget, it is these operations and services that I think should live at the centre of our dialogues, guiding our conversations about funding proposals. 

I’ll remind you here that myself and the rest of the GSA Board are ultimately governed by your votes and voices at GRC, so I encourage you to work with your GRC reps and attend these meetings as prepared as you can, given your academic and other workloads. We have until Nov 1st to draft our first rebuttal to the proposed increases, and then until December 9th to make our case to the BoG, who are the final decision makers.

The key dates for you to keep in mind as far as tuition goes are these: Friday Oct 28th (9:30 am) in MacEwan Hall A, the University is hosting their Budget Town Hall, which is an opportunity for each and every one of you to speak directly with the President and Provost’s office about your thoughts for the budget. The invite to this event came out last Friday, by email, and I encourage you to join me at the event – no registration required, and watch your email for a link to the livestream. Following that, Nov 1st is the GSA’s response time at TFCC. The final decisions will be made December 9th at the BoG meeting.

Advocacy Engagement will be coordinating with your DGAs for some training sessions and more info about the issue of provincial funding. Talk to you soon!