Universities need to rethink their finances in the interest of equity

Between SFU’s 2019–20 budget difficulties and the presidential income, something doesn’t add up

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

Back in July the Vancouver Sun published a list of the top 10 highest paid public executives in B.C., along with a detailed breakdown of their compensation packages. Of the ten, four were university executives, with the president of UBC, Santa Ono, predictably pulling in one of the highest incomes ($601,772). SFU president Andrew Petter also made the list, with a total compensation package for the 2018–19 year of $439,910. This was only slightly higher than UVIC president James Cassels, who saw a total compensation of $432,979 for the same year.

Students who remember the controversy surrounding SFU’s 2019–20 budget decisions may be disgruntled by these figures. In March, the school’s Board of Governors voted to increase tuition across the board, with international students being hit the hardest. Increases of 12–20%, depending on academic program, will be levied against incoming international students starting this semester, while domestic students will see their tuition rise by the maximum 2%

A six-figure income is something I can only dream about at present. My current income just barely covers my tuition every semester, and certainly doesn’t cover my living expenses. It is widely acknowledged that Vancouver is the most expensive city in Canada to live in, and yet, when looking to balance the university’s budget, money is squeezed from those who make the least, rather than those who make the most. 

Am I alone in thinking that this is a backwards way to do things? Has the image of the “starving student” become so accepted that we don’t think twice about laying on yet more financial burden? Reports of students unable to afford Vancouver’s rising rents being forced to sleep in classrooms are more than just campus rumours, as a recent story in The Globe and Mail reported.

If the argument being made in favour of the current income of SFU’s president is that it is required in order to draw and maintain a talented administrator, then let me also make the following counterargument: if tuition rates become prohibitively expensive, the university also risks driving away the student talent that fuels a university’s credentials. This is particularly true of international students who are already looking outside of their domestic academic landscape for potential universities, and may choose a more affordable option outside of SFU — or even Canada for that matter. 

It is unconscionable for university administrators to make such obscene amounts of money while at the same time increasing the tuition of students who are just barely scraping by. If there is enough money in the SFU budget to pay our president over $400,000, then there is enough room in the budget to pay for talented faculty and building upgrades without raising student tuition to such a drastic degree.