Tuition for the 2014–15 academic year at the University of Saskatchewan has been met with disappointment from its student union.
Although University Provost and Vice-President Academic Brett Fairbairn said that 2014–15 tuition doesn’t stray from recent tuition trends, U of S Students’ Union Vice-President Academic Affairs Jordan Sherbino has taken issue with yet another year of increases.
“Tuition is obviously one of the largest barriers for [accessibility]. When we see year after year, increase after increase, that doesn’t just pose as a little speedbump on the road — it’s actually a major wall that impedes many students from being able to come here in the first place,” he said.
Sherbino paired recent cuts to academic programs and support services — secretarial positions, the University Learning Centre, the student enrolment division — with rising tuition and said students are not receiving what they pay for.
“If it were improving programs and if it were improving the academic nature of them and having more students and admin positions, that’d be an entirely different situation. But the university is not in that situation. Students are being expected to pay more and more and they’re getting less and less.”
The USSU issued a statement immediately following the tuition announcement calling on the university to project student tuition in the same ways as budget shortfalls. The students’ union suggests in the release to follow the Consumer Price Index — the increase in price of a set bundle of commodities over time.
Sherbino said the USSU’s request for tuition to follow the CPI is reasonable because the price of living and other resources follow the index and because it is a stable number that tends to average around two per cent each year.
“We believe that our stances are very reasonable, very plausible with the government and with the university. To keep it tied to something very stable so that students don’t have to continue to pay more and more and more for services that aren’t really changing that much.”
The 2014–15 tuition rates at the U of S sit just under the tuition median of the U15 — a benchmark group of 15 research intensive universities in Canada — with the exception of the dentistry program.
“We think about comparisons in a variety of ways. We compare tuition fees, we compare programs and teaching quality, we compare research between universities as well so it’s similar comparisons for all activities,” Fairbairn said of comparing the U of S to other U15 schools.
However, Sherbino said comparing the U of S to other universities isn’t always a good fit.
“I don’t think that we necessarily should be always comparing ourselves to others. When we’re comparing ourselves to other universities that have higher tuition and have larger class sizes, that’s not necessarily the best benchmark.”
While most programs have received a hike between four and five percent, professional colleges such as engineering, veterinary medicine, nursing and law all had increases of over five percent.
This year’s increase of 5.39 per cent for law students is relatively small in the shadow of last year’s hike of 15 per cent up to $11,400. The College of Law supported two years of massive tuition increases to bring the college up to a comparable level with other law schools in Canada.
Dentistry tuition remains unchanged at $32,960 after a hike two years ago when the College of Dentistry was restructured and higher tuition rates were approved to maintain the program.
“Dentistry is the one program that we have where the tuition rate is higher than our peers … That was intended a number of years ago as part of a number of changes to their program,” Fairbairn said.
Professional colleges tend to have higher tuition and subsequent increases because their graduates often have better employment prospects and earnings than in other colleges, Fairbairn said.
The College of Arts and Science received an increase of 4.15 per cent — just under the average. Fairbairn said the lesser increase is due to it being an entry college that needs to remain accessible to students.
International students’ tuition will increase at the same rate as domestic students. Undergraduate international students will continue to pay 2.6 times what domestic students pay while graduate international students will maintain 1.5 times of domestic graduate student tuition.
The Board of Governors sets tuition at the U of S each year based on comparison with peer programs, accessibility and affordability and enabling quality. Primarily, data is collected to compare with peer institutions and then discussions with college deans lead to a decision as to how tuition should be adjusted for the following year.
Photo: Jordan Dumba/Photo Editor