By Tannara Yelland
CUP Prairies & Northern Bureau Chief
SASKATOON (CUP) — When students know their university is facing a budget crisis they are willing to accept both tuition increases and budget cuts, according to a new study.
Higher Education Strategy Associates found that when asked to consider a university’s situation in dealing with a budget crisis, most students are willing to see their tuition rise.
Slightly more than 50 per cent of students responding would accept an increase in tuition between $3,000 and $9,000. Only one student in six said they wanted tuition frozen at any cost.
Over one-third of students would accept a five per cent tuition increase if it were coupled with budget cuts of 7.5 per cent, and another third said a tuition increase of 10 per cent and budget cuts of five per cent would be acceptable.
Given these facts, it seems strange that students would greet each tuition increase or budget cut with anger, though they frequently do. Perhaps, then, the issue is one of awareness. If students do not realize their institution is in a dire financial situation, they may think they are simply being bilked of money they feel they need more than their school does.
James Eastham, vice-president academic at the University of Alberta’s students’ union, disagrees.
“I would say that the current situation that we have [at the U of A] with all of the consultation that we get is very good at helping us to understand why the university is in the positions that they are,” he said.”
“But I don’t necessarily think that it will make us happy that tuition is going up or that budgets are being cut.”
The University of Manitoba’s students’ union president Heather Laube said in a recent email that despite being involved in planning the U of M’s budget each year, students “unfortunately are often a minority voice on the [budget advisory] committee,” especially when asking for lower tuition.
Laube said she finds the main benefit to sitting on the committee is not in directing policy and funding, but in “obtaining advance information on what the next year’s university budget will look like.”
HESA’s study found that “while [students] think it might be appropriate for a university to ask students to pay more to close a budget gap, they also want to see the pain shared,” but as Laube explained, students often feel they have little say in how funds are actually allocated.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, university administrators say their budget planning process allows for ample student input.
When Phillip Stack, associate vice-president of risk management services at the U of A, was asked whether students are involved in budget planning, his answer was simply, “Absolutely.”
He continued by saying that “it’s critical that students actively participate in the process.”
At the U of A, the presidents of the undergraduate and graduate students’ unions sit on several committees that see the budget, as well as the university’s board of governors, who approves the budget. There is also a student-at-large position on the board.
But on a board that has 21 members, the three students would have to convince several other members to vote with them in order to achieve anything.
It appears students — at least members of students’ union executives and student councils — are kept abreast of the changes taking place in their school’s budget that may affect them. However, whether students actually have a voice that can affect any change in those budgets is another question, and it appears that students and administrators have different answers to that question.
Until this is resolved, students may be left wondering, in the wake of tuition increases and budget cuts, whether they could have been avoided.