By: Jess Dela Cruz, News Writer
Money: a huge factor when it comes to post-secondary institutions. Quality education, resources, labs, and various opportunities come at a price — a very expensive one.
Martin Pochurko (Vice-President Finance and Administration) and Jonathan Driver (Vice-President Academic and Provost, Pro Tem) presented SFU’s 2020/21 budget to the public where members of Tuition Freeze Now (TFN), the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU), the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), and concerned students were able to view the budget and ask questions. This team plans to also present at the Surrey and Vancouver campuses on October 29.
Pochurko started the consultation with a presentation of the budget allocation of the university. He stated that any tuition fee increase for domestic students is capped at 2%, by provincial law. He then continued to discuss financial investments from the 2018/19 school period. $40.2 million was spent in various upgrades and renovations throughout the Surrey and Burnaby campus. Among other projects, $7.1 million was allocated to research space at City Centre, $5.5 million for the plaza renewal, $6.7 million for the First People’s Gathering House, and $5 million in renovations towards Applied Sciences.
Pochurko also stated that, “three or four years ago we had only about $500,000 to operate and maintain all three of our campuses. [The campuses] have a placement value of about 1.5 billion dollars so you can see [that maintaining them] on 500,000 a year is quite a challenge. [. . .] We’re now at the level where the provincial government has provided $30 million per year to do renovations. SFU needs to match 33% of that price.”
Currently, there are a plethora of capital investments that SFU has undertaken. SFU is working on technological improvements, upgrades to classrooms, Phase I & II Dining & Housing, Grad Student Housing at UniverCity, Lorne Davis Complex Renewal, and others. Pochurko stated “Some of our classrooms are certainly stuck in generations past, not flexible in the way that we like to teach today.”
Pochurko’s presentation showed that SFU has a heavy focus on residence and housing. Phase I includes 475 beds, which they hope to have ready by January 2021, and an approval for Phase II with 350 beds. SFU hopes that the new dining hall can accommodate residences, 80 of which ARE “dedicated to mature and graduate students, and students with families, primarily.” Pochurko stated that they will be building the residences, and subsequently “sell it off on a long term lease to an investor.”
Pochurko claimed that “two to three years ago, you would have noticed that the provincial grant was bigger than the student tuition so the money the province was putting in was more than the tuition.”
He said that “the formula has changed rapidly over the past decade or so,” and that “more money has been generated through tuition than the provincial operating grant.” He added that tuition for international students has gone up significantly because it’s “the one flexibility that the university has to relieve [financial] pressures.”
Driver then took his place at the podium and continues to discuss the fee increase specifically. He presented two options for the increase, both of which have 2% increases for domestic undergrads, 4% for current international undergrads. However option 1 has the increase at 4% for incoming international undergrads, and option 2 has it at 8%.
“It’s simply disingenuous to suggest that we would support a 0% tuition increase because it would result in cuts to the university and the activities we do here,” said Driver.
Driver mentioned that 25% of the increase increase for international students will be designated for student support and related services. He also promised that, with an 8% increase, that international students will not have an increase greater than 4% in the subsequent five years.
A question and answer period followed, in which concerned SFU Students, Tuition Freeze Now members, GSS members, and TSSU members questioned and provided feedback to the finance team. Many of them criticized the allocation of money in the budget. One person in particular stated that SFU spent $42,000 on a golf and resort casino.
After the presentation from SFU administrators, members from Tuition Freeze Now surprised the Finance Team with their own ‘budget consultation.’ They rolled in their own television, and TSSU member Jorji Temple stated, “We thought we would share some of the results of a very limited consultation we’ve done over the past month, which was a survey that reached 145 SFU students with a few very simple questions, rated on a scale of strongly disagree to strongly agree.”
For the claim “Tuition is too unaffordable for domestic students” 86% of students agreed. Further, 89% strongly agreed that Tuition is too unaffordable for international students.
Several more survey questions followed, and Temple stated, “as we follow through these questions, you’ll notice a similar set of responses to each of these tuition levels despite the fact that students are paying different amounts.”
One question in particular was notable, where 66% of respondents strongly agreed that tuition rates have had a negative impact on their mental health.
After this interview, Driver said: “I’m not sure there is a sensible response to that survey except to say that tuition is one of the costs that students have to endure . . . we will continue to work to try and improve accessibility and do our best to keep costs reasonable. But there are costs that we have to cover and not covered by government funds”
In a follow up interview with Quentin Rowe-Codner on behalf of Tuition Freeze Now, Rowe-Codner expressed that “When the consultations were conducted the admin had already decided on the budget.”
Rowe-Codner’s concern is why the Finance Team would not show a breakdown of what a 0% increase would look like. Row-Codner said, “The reason why they didn’t show us is because if they did, we would see where their misshapen priorities and needless expenditures are. We already know that students and faculty aren’t a priority to them.”
Rowe-Codner mentioned “As tuition raises every year, more and more people are barred from getting an education merely because they can’t afford it. Last year and this year we talked to students who had to drop out, move, or had to skip out on meals because all of their money was going to tuition. Additionally, as students have to take up more shifts to pay off tuition, they’ll have to take less classes per semester, which means more years at SFU, which means more money in semesterly fees. Education should be accessible to everyone, and students can’t afford another tuition increase.”