Students question whether consultation in latest tuition increases made an impact

Last week, UBC students received a broadcast email requesting feedback on a tuition proposal for the 2018/19 school year. Some students remain doubtful towards the effectiveness of these consultations.

The proposal itself involves a series of tuition increases that are said to “reflect inflationary pressures” of the university’s operating costs.

This includes a two per cent tuition increase — the legal limit — for domestic students registered in any UBC program, as well as incoming international students enrolled in any standard rate graduate program or certificate program. Continuing international students from any program will face up to a three per cent tuition increase.

The proposal also recommends increases of 9.2 per cent and 5 per cent for international students who are not enrolled in a UBC degree program. This increase is meant to fix an oversight made by the Board of Governors when they left out international non-degree students in a 2015 plan to drastically increase international undergraduate tuition, according to Cowin.

“This is just for ensuring that everybody sitting next to each other in the same class, if they’re an international student, is paying the same dollars per credit,” said Louise Cowin, UBC’s VP Students since 2011.

Cowin suggests that this year’s tuition proposal is reasonable with regards to its scope.

“Truthfully speaking, the inflation cost of the university is higher than the two per cent that we are proposing to increase tuition by,” said Cowin. This restriction comes from a provincial government policy that places a two per cent cap on domestic tuition and mandatory fee increases made to compensate for inflation.

From responses gathered on social media, many students have doubts about the effectiveness of student consultations.

A fourth-year political science major who goes by the Reddit username Quiddity99 expressed his concerns about the sufficiency of student aid and the marginalization of “less well-off families,” though he does not believe his comments “would have any real impact on the so-called ‘consultation.’”

Another Reddit user, lastlivezz from the faculty of science, said that student consultations “felt more like an excuse for them to say the students had a say in the matter, when it is pretty clear we don’t.”

On Facebook, a second-year English student asked, “What is the point of even consulting us about it if the results of the feedback won't influence the outcome in any way?”

“For students being motivated to take part in such a process is much about … knowing that your voice can have an impact,” commented Jan Cloppenburg, a graduate exchange student from Germany.

Cowin said she wants to ensure students that “input is taken into serious consideration.” She invites students to come to Board of Government meetings to listen to their level of engagement in student feedback discussions. Student issues are mainly brought up by the two student members of the Board, but their fiduciary duty is to the Board.

Cowin provided a few examples in which student feedback has affected tuition decisions, including the tuition cost of the Vancouver School of Economics program, the major international student tuition increase approved back in 2015 as well as a recent development related to the lab fees for a biomedical engineering program.

A major reason why UBC administration bothers to consult students for small-scale proposals is due to Policy 71, set by the Board of Governors in 1994, which mandates that all tuition and fee increases undergo student consultation.

When asked about how the administration plans to increase student engagement, Cowin explained that most changes to the student consultation process have come from AMS and Graduate Student Society (GSS) recommendations, which included promoting the consultations more on social media where students would actually see it.

“We have been taking the AMS’s advice as well as the GSS’s advice as to what it is that we should do in terms of our consultation,” said Cowin. “The process this year is a direct result of the input from the AMS and the GSS.”

Despite the negative sentiment towards student consultations on social media, Cowin said she's happy that she received 1,186 pieces of feedback from last year’s broadcast e-mail.

“I’m actually really pleased with the level of engagement.”