Written by: Henry Tran, Coordinating News Editor
Several student groups on campus have endorsed SFU Tuition Freeze Now, an independent campaign to reject SFU’s proposed tuition fee hikes for fall 2019 for all incoming and current SFU students.
SFU Tuition Freeze Now was formed in October 2018 and has garnered the support of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Board of Directors and Council, the Graduate Student Society (GSS), the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU), SFU Left Alternative, and SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) for their campaign.
SFU Tuition Freeze Now will voice their concerns about the proposed tuition hike at the upcoming Board of Governors meeting, which is set to take place on January 24 at 8 a.m, at the Vancouver campus.
In fall 2018, SFU administrators held a consultation session with SFU students, faculty, and staff about the proposed fee increase for the 2019–20 fiscal year. At this meeting, it was revealed that the tuition increase could range from 2–20% depending on the program students are enrolled in and whether they are a domestic or international student.
Part of why SFU is proposing an increase is the lack of financial aid from the B.C. government. Peter Keller, SFU vice-president academic and provost, explained in a previous Peak article that the province remunerates SFU based on how many domestic grads and undergrads it enrols. However, SFU has exceeded this enrolment target, and the B.C. government is not paying the institution extra for the surplus.
As part of the provincial legislation, SFU has the right to increase tuition for domestic students by a maximum of 2% a year. For international students, there is currently no cap on tuition hikes. As a result, raising international students’ tuition is SFU’s only means of compensating for its underfunding, according to Keller in a previous Peak article.
However, some students don’t necessarily agree with the university administrators’ reasoning, and suggest that the university adopt an alternative budget.
Matt McDonald, SFU PhD student in economics claimed in a previous Peak article that SFU has consistently stated that “tuition and fee hikes are necessary to maintain a balanced budget,” but also that the institution has always made surpluses during the years where tuition and fees were increased, with the majority of the surpluses being invested into its endowment fund.
The Peak recently sat down with Kayla Phillips and Seamus Grayer, two co-organizers of SFU Tuition Freeze Now, about the group’s plans for the upcoming Board of Governors meeting. Phillips is a masters student in political science, and Grayer is a masters student in communication.
Grayer explained that at the January 16 meeting of the SFSS Council — an advisory board for the SFSS which comprises elected representatives from department and faculty student unions as well as constituency groups — the SFSS councillors have voted to support freezing tuition at SFU for the next two years.
The SFSS Board of Directors, on the other hand, will not be advocating against the proposed 2% increase for domestic students, according to Samer Rihani, acting president of the SFSS.
“We’re advocating for all the initiatives of SFU Tuition Freeze Now except for the 2% increase as we believe it is necessary due to costs of inflation,” said Rihani in an email interview with The Peak on behalf of the SFSS directors.
Besides this caveat, the SFSS Board of Directors has endorsed SFU Tuition Freeze Now and “their virtues of affordability [and] student activism,” said Grayer.
“We are trying to highlight how the consultation process has not been transparent and we are trying to convince the Board of Governors that they should implement
Phillips further explained that the SFU Tuition Freeze Now will have approximately 10 minutes to present their appeal to the Board of Governors. They will express how difficult the whole tuition-increase consultation process has been, particularly due to a “dearth of information” about the university’s operating budget. They will also discuss students’ experiences in their presentation, such as how tuition hikes have affected students in the past.
Phillips also mentioned that members of the SFU Tuition Freeze Now have tried to draft an alternative budget, but a lack of available financial information has made this difficult.
“We’ll finish up talking about our proposed motion to have an [alternative] budget drafted so that Board of Governors will have something different to vote on at the March’s [Board of Governors meeting] other than just the budget that’s already been posted,” Phillips added.
In response to the allegation that the university has not been transparent about its proposed tuition increase process, Martin Pochurko, SFU vice-president finance and administration, stated in an email interview with The Peak that: “Our process has been consistent over the past several years [ . . . ] The budget is currently being assembled by various departments across the University and as such the detailed numbers are not yet available to be shared.”
Pochurko also quoted a section of University Policy B10.15, the policy which governs “consultation with students on tuition fees,” Pochurko says.
“The final draft budget document recommended by the University administration to the Board of Governors will be made available to the Societies in advance of the meeting at which the Board of Governors will be asked to approve the recommendation[s],” he quoted from the policy.
The Peak reached out to Keller, but he was not available for comment by the publication deadline.
“I don’t think they ever expected as much resistance as they got. I’ve been here for 6 years at this point [where tuition has increased in the past] . . . and this is something that kinda happens and is never questioned,” said Grayer. “Affordability needs to be on the top of the priority list for this administration.”
Phillips also commented, “Besides freezing tuition, this is about [communicating to the university] that they can’t just do whatever they want and expect students not to speak out.”
Grayer and Phillips explained that SFU Tuition Freeze Now will also work with other institutions across Canada in the long run to make post-secondary education more affordable for everyone.
“We’ve been talking with the University of Regina, UBC, Selkirk College, so trying to build [a] unified university presence that’s outside of SFU to show the province and ultimately the federal government as well that this is something they need to invest in,” said Phillips.
Prior to the Board of Governors meeting on January 24, the GSS and the SFSS will hold a light breakfast from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. to accomodate students at the Vancouver Harbour Centre campus room 2290.
“They’re not going to listen to anything unless we get students’ [support] and we welcome student involvement in our campaign. It’s not just our group speaking for our group,” Grayer concluded.