UBC increased student tuition during a pandemic. Where did the money go?

UBC has released information around what incremental revenue from its latest tuition increase will be put toward.

When the Board of Governors narrowly approved a tuition increase last spring, one of the biggest arguments for the increase from the university was that the incremental tuition revenue would help mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic on students.

In total, UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan plan to use $15.2 million and $2.8 million respectively to support student financial aid, cost of living and delivery of hybrid teaching, programs and services, according to documents presented at the Board’s September 8 Finance Committee meeting.

These four areas were deemed priorities by the Board in June, as informed by the student consultation process during the first months of 2021. Students voiced opposition to a tuition increase in that same consultation process.

In a statement sent to The Ubyssey, the VP Students Office said that, “It is important to note that these allocations are subject to change to allow UBC to be responsive to students’ needs as a result of ongoing uncertainty and the impact of COVID-19.”

We broke down where exactly this money is intended to be allocated, and what it means for students.

Following the money

A significant amount of the incremental tuition revenue went toward various bursaries to support students. In total, an additional $5.5 million has been added to the pre-existing $14.1 million that UBC dedicates to these funds, according to the VP Students Office.

For example, $912,000 and $235,000 at UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan respectively have been allocated towards a bookstore bursary — a 10 per cent discount for all students on course materials and supplies.

UBC has also created new quarantine bursaries to help international students who are not exempt from quarantining upon entry to Canada. UBC Vancouver has dedicated $2.4 million towards this financial aid, but such aid was not mentioned in UBC Okanagan’s financial plan. The university has also created a self-isolation bursary to assist costs for those that have been asked to isolate by provincial public health.

Besides investments in new bursaries, the university has dedicated funds to help with the delivery of hybrid learning and the cost of living for students.

To assist with hybrid learning, UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan portioned $2.95 million and $750,000 respectively toward installing lecture-recording equipment in around 160 classrooms.

In addition, UBC Vancouver allocated $450,000 to Students as Partners, a new pilot program that facilitates student and instructor collaboration in course design. The VP Students Office said this program is “organized by [the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology]” and that “more information on how students can get involved will be announced later.”

Both campuses are also putting aside money for food security initiatives. According to the two campuses’ financial plans, money will go directly towards groups like AMS Food Bank, Community Food Hub, Agora and Sprouts, Fooood and UBC Meal Share.

‘We need a long-term affordability plan’

When asked about the one-time nature of these investments, the VP Students Office said it was currently “too early to speculate on whether these will continue to be priorities in the future.”

Max Holmes, one of the student representatives on the Board, voted against the tuition increase last spring.

In a written statement to The Ubyssey, Holmes said he “didn’t think [the increases] were necessary or well justified” at the time and continues to feel this way without a “comprehensive and funded affordability plan.”

Holmes agrees that allocations arising from COVID-19 and a return to in-person learning are one time expenses, but said that some of these allocations should have been implemented sooner.

“A great deal of these allocations are long-term supports that have been needed to support students for years,” he wrote. “It risks potentially hurting students if we increase support ‘one-time’ and then take away that increased support the next year.”

Holmes suggested that UBC adopt a long-term affordability plan — which he noted has been requested by student governors for years.

“We need a long-term affordability plan that will allow the University to better understand where we need to invest in increased supports for students in a more sustainable and impactful way.”