Queen’s Rector & Undergraduate Trustee advocate for lower tuition in fall term

Student representatives concerned about financial barriers of remote delivery

If tuition is not lowered, Hiemstra said the University is going to have to offer additional funding and resources to students.
If tuition is not lowered, Hiemstra said the University is going to have to offer additional funding and resources to students.
Journal File Photo

Undergraduate Trustee Shoshannah Bennett-Dwara and Rector Sam Hiemstra released a joint statement on May 25 calling for the University to lower tuition in the fall term.

Following an announcement from the University stating the fall term will be delivered remotely for most students due to COVID-19, Hiemstra and Bennett-Dwara have teamed up to advocate for tuition reductions. 

The two student representatives are working with a group of student governors from universities across Ontario to develop a plan to lower tuition. They’re looking for additional accommodations for funding, including an increase in bursaries and scholarships. 

“[A]n online education is not going to benefit all students,” Bennett-Dwara told The Journal in an interview. 

Some of their concerns are related to changes regarding which resources the University will be able to provide in a remote setting. For example, according to Bennett-Dwara, the high-quality online education being promised by the University does not include many of the face-to-face aspects of learning, like office-hours, which would otherwise be available to students. 

“[A] lot of different students have different learning styles, and we can’t undermine the benefits of office hours and face-to-face interaction,” Bennett-Dwara said. 

Bennett-Dwara explained the losses students experience from an online education should be reflected in the tuition cuts.

In the case that the University pursues synchronous online lectures, Bennett-Dwara is concerned about how the situation will affect international students, as well as those in different time zones or who require accessibility accommodations, including closed captions. 

According to Bennett-Dwara, students in different countries have expressed concerns about access to online learning platforms like onQ and SOLUS because of internet restrictions in their home countries. 

The Journal has previously reported that the University will require all course instructors to ensure their videos are captioned or transcripts are provided. Course content delivered at specific times will also be made available to students in a recorded form afterwards. 

In addition to students who will be affected by online learning, Bennett-Dwara is concerned many could be disadvantaged by on-campus job loss, such as the work-study program which the University has not yet confirmed for the fall term. She also pointed to teaching assistant and research positions that may be lost as a result.

Without these forms of income, Bennett-Dwara said many students would not be equipped to pay for a full set of courses for the online semester.

“We pay a good amount of money to go to Queen’s, we pay a good amount of money to go to class and [interact] with our professors—and we’re not going to get that anymore,” Bennett-Dwara said. 

As a sitting and voting member of the University’s Board of Trustees, Rector Sam Hiemstra feels his votes for budgeting and tuition rates were brushed over. He also said the University should be considerate of the message it’s sending by not lowering tuition. 

He highlighted the need for effective communication and clarity when it comes to addressing impending changes in how students can remotely access services.

“You can’t just throw a decision out like that without […] explaining the rationality behind it and what the services are,” Hiemstra told The Journal. “[E]veryone is trying to adapt [current] services and seeing how we can move them online.”

Hiemstra also acknowledged tuition allows important on-campus services to run effectively and doesn’t intend for these proposed cuts to negatively affect the services.

“The most important thing to be asking is: how can we help students in how they are able to ask for help and [make sure] that all resources are as accessible as possible?” Hiemstra said. 

Ultimately, if tuition isn’t lowered, Hiemstra suggested the University is going to have to begin considering how additional funding will be distributed to students who need it.

“I think if [a tuition reduction] doesn’t happen, it means we’re going to have to offer a lot of additional funding and resources,” Hiemstra said, adding efforts will need to be directed in a way that gives students both a change in tuition and new resources to help them overcome the financial barriers they’re facing. 

Hiemstra noted the University has increased emergency bursary funding for students and pointed to the silence from the provincial government on many of the issues post-secondary students are currently facing because of COVID-19. 

Acknowledging students will likely need more financial assistance under these circumstances, Hiemstra is also offering financial assistance through the Rector’s Bursary. The Bursary has recently received an extra $10,000 from the University.

The bursary is available on the Rector’s website and is dispersed at the needs of students.

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