Students jam-pack ceilidh to talk tuition

Principal Hitchcock said 10 per cent student representation on the Board of Trustees is “pretty high.”
Principal Hitchcock said 10 per cent student representation on the Board of Trustees is “pretty high.”

Students showed they have more than just classes on their minds by turning out in spades at Monday’s AMS town hall forum with Principal Karen Hitchcock.

Spectators were forced to watch from the balcony as hundreds squeezed into the lower ceilidh of the JDUC to express their concerns about tuition, accessibility and deregulation.

Hitchcock said she wanted the event to focus solely on student finances, an area overlooked at town hall meetings held last semester.

“It was clear, from the prior meetings, that the issue of tuition needed more airing,” she said. “All of this input will be fed into the improvement process we are undergoing.” The town hall events are part of Hitchcock’s “Long Term Strategic Planning Initiative,” which she said is meant to strengthen the University’s position as a leading university and research facility.

Other members of the University administration also participated. Jo-Anne Brady, University registrar, Tom Harris, dean of Applied Science, Andrew Simpson, vice-principal (operations) and Teresa Alm, associate university registrar (student awards), all took part in the forum.

After brief comments by Hitchcock, moderator Michael Urban opened the floor to student questions, which he limited to one minute in length, an unpopular decision among some.

When his comments were cut off by Urban, Toby Moorsom, VP internal (graduate) of the SGPS, spoke out about the format of the event.

“Come on, come on,” he said. “You can’t just say complex points in sound bites.”

Eric De Domenico, ArtSci ’08, agreed.

“You can’t squeeze an opinion into a one-minute question,” he said.

Student questions and comments focused mainly on the issue of university funding and the risk of increased tuition because of deregulation.

Adam, an ArtSci ’06 student who did not state his last name, told the group he worried that an increase in tuition would mean middle class students who are not eligible for bursaries wouldn’t be able to afford their education.

“What I want to know is how much will tuition go up, and how will you address accessibility and the middle class that is going to get squeezed out?” Hitchcock said that the University would address a rise in tuition with more funding for students.

“If tuition goes up, bursaries will go up,” she said.

However, Hitchcock also said that the University needs more money from the government and private donors to meet their financial needs.

“The province is a critical player in this issue,” she said. “This under-investment by Ontario into education is a major revenue strain.

“You also have to look at private given money,” Hitchcock continued. “Without this third source of revenue, we can provide access, but without quality.” Hitchcock repeatedly told students that she was hopeful the government would increase their investment in the University.

“We are looking for more government funding, first and foremost,” she said. “I’m hearing tremendous commitment from the province in this regard.”

Much of the discussion focused on student involvement in decisions about deregulation and tuition.

Aaron Lemkow, ArtSci ’07, said students should have more representation on the University Board of Trustees. The Board is composed of staff, alumni, administration and one undergraduate student, one graduate student, and the rector.

“Students need more decision-making power in the administrative bodies of the school,” he said. “We currently have 10 per cent of the seats on the Board of Trustees, and I think it’s important that we have some say in where the money goes and how it is spent.” Other students voiced similar concerns.

“Queen’s University is not the Board of Trustees or the administration,” said De Domenico. “The University is us, the students.”

Hitchcock said she agreed that student involvement in University administration was important, but expressed satisfaction at the current level of participation on the Board of Trustees.

“10 per cent student representation is a pretty high number, in my experience,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s pretty high, and the students on these boards are doing an excellent job.” Vice-Principal Andrew Simpson agreed.

“We have a budget committee that includes the rector, and we have a financial committee with student representation as well,” he said. “There is student participation in the formulation of the budget and financial decisions.”

When pressed, Hitchcock said she couldn’t make any promises with regards to increasing student representation in the administration.

“I can’t commit or promise anything—it’s not my place to do so,” she said.

Hitchcock said that all final decisions regarding tuition will rest with the Board.

“The Board of Trustees would ultimately have that decision,” she said. “Of course, accountability and transparency are critical parts of that.” Mature and international students also expressed their concerns about tuition and accessibility.

“We don’t fit in with bursaries and things like that,” said Janina Fisher Balfour, a mature student in her third year. “Is there going to be any special consideration for mature students?” University Registrar Brady said the University plans to provide more money for non-traditional students in the coming years.

“We certainly do recognize that there are different students with different needs,” she said. “With new changes to the government assistance program, we are now able to redirect some internal funds.

“This is the first year we’ve been able to improve in the area of funding for non-traditional situations like single parents and mature students.” International students also voiced concerns about their tuition costs.

Brady and Simpson said that the increase in international tuition can be attributed to the federal government.

“In 1996, the government decided to stop funding international students and deregulate their tuition,” Brady said.

When asked why international tuition is more than double that of a Canadian student, Simpson said that government funding was to blame.

“The difference between local and international student tuition is the government funding,” he said.

The panel had no response when Jennifer Raffoul, ArtSci ’06, cited an AMS report regarding international students.

“The AMS reported that local students pay 44 per cent of their tuition and the government makes up the rest,” she said. “So, if local students pay $5000, then 100 per cent of their tuition would be around $11,000, but international students pay about $15,000.

“That’s a lot more significant than the government difference,” she said, as the audience erupted into applause.

Not all students attending the forum had problems with accessibility.

Philip Kelley, an Applied Science student, said that he was able to attend Queen’s despite the high tuition in his faculty, where tuition is deregulated.

“I have an extremely high debt load, but am still able to come to Queen’s, so accessibility is working for me,” he said. “University is an investment, and what matters is the quality of the investment.” Hitchcock agreed there was a fine line between accessibility and quality of education.

“Of course, access is crucial, but one always has to ask: access to what?” she said.

“Improving education obviously requires finances.” Hitchcock went on to say that problems like growing class sizes in the Faculty of Applied Sciences, which deregulated tuition in 2004, would not be solved overnight.

“The issue is a number of years of under-investment by the government,” she said. “That doesn’t get corrected quickly.”

Dean Harris said that the increases in Applied Science tuition barely sufficed to cover basic costs.

“Applied Science tuition has gone up eight per cent a year since deregulation, because there has been zero government contribution,” he said. “We can barely keep up with inflation, so there is no improvement to class sizes.”

One fourth-year Arts and Science student named Jennifer who didn’t give her last name asked Hitchcock to get specific about how the administration was working to get more funding from the government.

“You keep addressing the efforts by Queen’s to lobby the government for better subsidies with regards to tuition,” she said. “I’m wondering if you could get specific as to how you have done that, and what has happened to the $1.4 billion dollars that the federal government allocated to post-secondary education this past year?” Hitchcock said the increase in government funding would only keep the University at the level of inflation, but stated that the administration was working to get more money.

“Advocacy is critical,” she said. “I have been working with the Council of Ontario Universities, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and there are ongoing meetings with ministers, MPs, and MPPs.” “Our advocacy stretches across the country, and there are many routes we are taking,” she continued.

Not all students were optimistic about the future of the University.

“The tide is turning in favour of cutting tuition and non-deregulation, and you are very much alone in your position,” said Ivan Stoiljkovic, a history PhD candidate. “I think it is very clear from today that students are not up for raising tuition.”

Hitchcock maintained that she was optimistic the University was heading in the right direction.

“We have challenges ahead of us,” she said. “But what we’re pleased to see is an increased attention and concern with solving these problems.”

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