The university doesn't listen to student opinion on tuition increases. How should consultation change?

UBC could see changes to the way it has consulted students on tuition increases.

In April, right after the UBC Board of Governors (BoG) narrowly approved a tuition increase for the following academic year — despite 93 per cent of undergraduate students opposing the motion — some members discussed potential changes to the way the university consults students on tuition.

During the meeting, Governor Alison Brewin emphasized that if the Board were to increase tuition regardless of student opinion, it would be more effective to ask students about what they should do with the increase, rather than simply ask them if they support the motion or not.

Professor Mark Mac Lean, an elected faculty representative on the BoG, echoed this point. In an interview, he wondered if they were “asking students the right questions.”

“Let’s stop pretending we’re asking a plebiscite or something on tuition,” he said.

Mac Lean, who voted against increasing tuition, stated that the BoG should indeed consider the financial situation of the university — which would often favour tuition increases. He added, however, that students “should be part of the pressure” to ensure that the university spends the money wisely.

“Based on what our collective understanding is of the best interests of the university,” Mac Lean said, “is it fair to have students believe that simply their opposition to having increases in tuition would be enough to convince the Board not to increase tuition?”

Max Holmes, an elected student representative on the BoG, believes that there is value in the current system, though he said the consultation process could see improvements.

In an interview, he emphasized the importance of tuition consultations, stating that they influence how the university addresses topics such as affordability.

“There’s a lot of merit to having [tuition consultations],” Holmes said. “And if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have as many student-centred commitments around affordability that we have had in the past few years.”

But Holmes — who, like Mac Lean, voted against the tuition increases — also stated that he would like to see the process more directly address students’ concerns, especially should Board decisions conflict with student consensus.

Rather than eliminate essential parts of the process, he emphasized “expanding and trying to get more of that information that we need to address affordability on campus” in ways besides tuition.

Holmes, along with fellow student governors, had earlier voiced his concerns on tuition consultation in an article published the day before the April 19 meeting.

“From my perspective, what we’re trying to get at is we recognize the tuition consultation process isn’t completely working.

UBC Okanagan student governor Shola Fashanu echoed similar sentiments regarding the consultation process. Like Holmes, she viewed consultations as essential in university affairs, such as in addressing affordability.

Though at the same time, she noted that tuition increases seemed to be “guaranteed,” regardless of public opinion.

“It’s a frustrating thing to have that question being asked when it doesn’t necessarily yield any impact,” Fashanu said.

Fashanu emphasized the incorporation of student leaders in discussions, as well as accurate communication to ensure that students understand the impacts the consultations will have.

“It definitely needs a revamp in terms of the conversation that we have around it,” Fashanu said. “And I think that ultimately will lead to less frustration among students.”

According to both Mac Lean and Holmes, introducing changes would involve VP Students Ainsley Carry, who is in charge of the consultation process. Mac Lean, who is not formally involved in the process, believed Carry is “quite capable” of determining the right direction for consultations.

The Ubyssey reached out to Carry for an interview, but received a statement from UBC Media Relations in return.

“We have the tuition consultation policy in place and if there are changes required there is an established process in place to make those changes,” said Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs, in a statement.

Mac Lean noted how important it is for students to feel their voices would be heard, especially regarding consultations on tuition.

“[Tuition is] a significant contribution that students make to their education at UBC,” said Mac Lean. “There should be some consideration of whether students feel they’re getting sort of value for that contribution and whether we’re meeting our promises to them as an institution.”