SFU community consultations address budget cuts

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International students were present to voice their concerns

SFU administrators held a community consultation last Wednesday in the SFU Theatre concerning the university’s budget for the 2015/2016 year.

SFU president Andrew Petter explained the challenges the university is facing: “Government decided to cut budgets for post-secondary institutions a couple of years ago, and we are facing a third year of cuts in the coming year.”

Pat Hibbitts, VP finance and administration, and Jon Driver, VP academic and provost, led the presentation and discussion, addressing the current financial outlook of the university, and making recommendations for how the institution can move forward.

One topic that received considerable attention from attendees was increased international student tuition fees. As approved by the SFU board of governors in the 2013/2014 Operating Budget and Financial Plan, undergraduate international students’ tuition fees will be raised by ten per cent each year until 2016. This is eight per cent more than Canadian and resident undergraduate tuition fees, which will increase by the two per cent maximum allowed by BC government policy.

“It’s a very difficult public policy issue,” Driver explained. “There certainly is a question about whether an international student should come and simply pay the cost of their education, or should they pay a somewhat higher cost that reflects the investment that’s been made by the institution.”

Post-secondary institutions in BC receive grants based on the number of domestic students enrolled for the year, which make up a large proportion of the university’s budget. However, institutions do not receive any funding for international students. Hibbitts explained, “You’re not getting a grant for the international students. You’re getting $7,200 plus tuition for a domestic student, and so how do you make that equal?”

Many international students were present at the consultation, and raised concerns that the tuition increases were both unfair and unsustainable. They also questioned the amount of financial aid available to international students.

Driver replied that 25 per cent of the money raised from international student tuition fees would be directed to international student services, scholarships, bursaries, and staffing costs.

Other students expressed that they had not known about these fee increases when they started at SFU, and would likely not be able to afford them in the future.

When SFSS president Chardaye Bueckert asked Driver and Hibbitts whether they might grandfather these students — keeping their fees at a level consistent with what they paid when they first came to SFU — Driver responded that they were not going to consider such a proposal.

“It’s a complicated moral and ethical question when there are students here who are just able to afford this, and we put the tuition up and that makes it much more difficult,” Driver told The Peak. “The idea of the bursary and scholarship program is that that should help students who are in that difficult financial situation.”

Following the discussion, The Peak asked Bueckert whether she felt the university response was appropriate. She replied, “I certainly appreciate the things that SFU does for international students, but I think there needs to be more funding allocated to [needs-based funding].”

She continued, “I understand that only 30 per cent of assessed need for international students is currently being met through the bursary fund. I think, at a bare minimum, there needs to be more money injected into that fund.”

SFSS VP student life Kayode Fatoba was less than impressed. “I think that the dialogue wasn’t necessarily much of a dialogue in a sense that there were questions and suggestions coming from the international student community that were being met by a standstill,” Fatoba said.

“No input was warranted. And so, what was really the point of us coming out to see whether our voice was necessary?”