The University of Saskatchewan’s decision to increase tuition fees for the 2017-18 school year was met with sighs of disappointment from students all across campus, but for a particular group of students, the hike was a call to action.
The Socialist Students’ Association staged a rally in Upper Place Riel on Jan. 31, the deadline for tuition payment, to fight the announced increase in tuition fees. Increasing by an average of 2.3 per cent across all departments, the hike follows grant cuts to the U of S by the provincial government. According to the university’s official announcement of the hike, revenue from student tuition accounts for 25 per cent of the university’s operating budget.
Mairi Anderson, fourth-year English major and SSA president, believes the lack of student concern about tuition increase is alarming.
“The hike is evident of the trend going on for a while of a constant increase in student apathy,” Anderson said. “People need to think more critically about how much tuition we’re paying and what services we’re getting for our tuition and what we’re getting in terms of our education.”
She argues that to justify the U of S’s tuition hikes, students need to feel that their investment in their education is worthwhile.
“We’re not necessarily seeing the benefits of having higher tuition … The province has cut funding for the university, but the university is also cutting more undergraduate research programs and is focusing more towards corporate research,” Anderson said.
Ilia Rudnitsky, a third-year computer science major and SSA member, believes that high tuition rates pose a problem not only for students currently enrolled but also for applicants wishing to enter their college of choice.
“It will definitely put a lot of students who are in debt in even more debt, and for students who are just planning to enter university, this will just be a higher barrier for them to get in,” Rudnitsky said.
Despite the increases, tuition at the U of S is still 18.1 per cent below the median rate when compared to other Canadian universities, according to the university’s website. Anderson expresses the need for students to be vigilant about how tuition money is spent, and more importantly, who reaps the benefits from it.
“We need to look at where the money is going, how much of it is going to the students and how much is going to the administration where students don’t benefit directly. We need to make sure that money is benefitting the majority of the student community,” she said.
Along with planning the tuition rally, Anderson explains that the SSA has been active in lobbying for more meaningful student control of university activities.
“Students need to get things back, and students must also take more control of what’s going on at the university. I mean, we have the U of S Students’ Union, but that is still governed by administration and the Board of Governors does not have that much student voice on it. Students don’t really have a lot of power but we should have, and people need to pay more attention to this,” Anderson said.
In the future, the SSA hopes to garner more support from students, support Rudnitsky believes will enable the association to act decisively in the interest of the student body.
“Right now we’re building people power and in the future, we’re fighting to start a general assembly that represents all the students so that everyone has a voice,” Rudnitsky said.
Anderson believes that a larger membership would allow the SSA to combat the rise of tuition fees, which she anticipates might keep going up year after year.
“We are hoping to build towards the capacity to student strike, and I know we won’t have much of an impact if [the SSA] alone was to go on strike, but we are building towards it,” Anderson said.
Rudnitsky invites all students who are interested in taking action to join the SSA.
“Join our cause and spread the message so that more students can get involved, so that we’ll have the capacity to do concrete action rather than just being on the fringes.”
Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor