SFU’s profits should allow room for a tuition freeze

With over $150 million of operating surplus in the last five years, outside funding shouldn’t make a difference

Students should be the benefactors of revenue, not the institution. IMAGE: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

by Emma Jean, Staff Writer

It’s been said that there are only a few certain things in life: death, taxes, and Simon Fraser University raising their tuition an exorbitant amount each year. I may have added that last part myself, but considering how damn consistent the SFU administration has been with it, we may as well add it to the list too. 

Like clockwork, tuition raises have sparked rightful backlash from student government and advocacy groups like the Simon Fraser Student Society and the SFU C19 Coalition, who have both condemned it. This has inevitably brought up contrarian counterarguments that the blame on SFU isn’t warranted. What about government funding? What about inflation? Why is no one talking about that? 

The reason that no one’s talking about it isn’t because they’re ignorant; it’s because those factors change very little of student demands and needs. Considering the amount of financial surplus SFU has consistently received, over $150 million in the past five years alone, it is incredibly fair, realistic, and pragmatic for students to ask for frozen tuition. 

The reason that SFU is under more fire than the government isn’t by accident. Even as post-secondary funding has gone down compared to BC’s overall income and value, SFU’s operation surplus has increased. However, outside benefactors like the government shouldn’t be entirely discounted because they do significantly impact the sort of funding that SFU gets. Funding for post-secondary institutions should certainly be increased so that higher education can be more accessible for all, regardless of income. That being said, SFU is far from being strapped for cash. 

During the 2018/19 fiscal year alone, SFU brought in an operating surplus of $48 million, 6.4% of their total revenue. That’s more than three times their surplus in the 2015/16 fiscal year. Assuming this trend continues, or even if it plateaus or dips, is it so unfeasible for SFU to give students a smaller burden by freezing tuition, or God forbid, lowering it? That $48 million must have a bit of space to allow students some financial breathing room, especially when many students are struggling with the adapted online format. Several post-secondary institutions in BC have lowered costs for students, even our sworn frenemy UBC. It seems ridiculous that SFU can’t do the same.

As for inflation, it’s certainly a factor in how tuition prices are determined, but it’s not even close to the rising cost of living. Compared to the BC Consumer Price Index, tuition prices at SFU have risen dramatically over the past twenty years, but not at all in accordance with real-world price inflation. 

The goal of any educational institution should be to educate. If that’s what SFU wants to do, they need to prioritize student’s well-being which, among many other things, means that tuition is set at a number where they can take courses and have the means to lead a healthy life. If those needs are met, students can be more equipped to fully learn and participate in their education. Standing up for students and making their continued well-being a reality should be prioritized well before any excess profit. 

So far, student efforts to freeze or reduce tution have been unsuccessful. In addition to tuition increases for the 2020/21 fiscal year, SFU announced proposed increases for the next two fiscal years as well. Now, I’m no Beedie student, nor do I have the knowledge of a tuition freeze activist, but it seems very reasonable for SFU students to ask for a tuition freeze considering the ample surplus it has consistently received. For increased struggle in the middle of a pandemic, let alone ordinary student life, it shouldn’t be too much to ask.