Letter: The time is now — let's take action on tuition

In 2014, students successfully passed a referendum directing the AMS to advocate for lower tuition — recently, the AMS’s commitment to this mandate from students has been reasonably called into question.

There appears to be a willingness on the behalf of UBC administration and the AMS to explore the possibility of ensuring the cost of tuition for a student will not increase on an annual basis during their degree. In recent times, these annual increases have been to the tune of two per cent for continuing undergraduate domestic students and three per cent for continuing undergraduate international students — graduate students face similar price increases each year, too.

The elimination of the continuing student increase represents an important first step toward affordability, which should ultimately be the goal of the AMS VP academic and university affairs’s lobbying efforts. A domestic undergraduate arts or science student who started at UBC this past fall would stand to save more than $600 in tuition alone, assuming a thirty-credit course load and four years to graduate. Action from students through a referendum helps to move the needle from a conversation with university administrators toward definitive action.

With a provincial government in power that is arguably more student friendly than at any point in the last fifteen years, it is also imperative the AMS’s VP external lobby to increase the annual provincial grant — this is what could ultimately drive a reduction in tuition from current levels. In their election platform, the NDP stated that “getting the skills you need shouldn’t be a lifelong debt sentence” while accusing the previous government of “dramatically [increasing] student debt.” The AMS and other student groups from around the province have secured a significant win on student borrowing in the past year, success that must be built upon with a government that is willing to listen.

The AMS, while holding a questionable reputation with many students on campus, is uniquely positioned to advocate for these changes, as it is the only body on campus which can both claim it speaks for all students, and regularly meets with university administrators, government officials and other influential members of the community. It needs to use this position to move action on affordability, among a host of other issues.

While the AMS should, at a minimum, continue to honour past plebiscites from the student population whether or not a question this year is ultimately successful, fresh support from the student body will give the organization the shot of adrenaline it needs to get meaningful change in the cost of attending UBC across the finish line.

You can show your support by signing a petition to hold a referendum here.

Jakob Gattinger is a former interim AMS VP academic and university affairs as well as a student senator and engineering student.