CFS National Chair speaks out against tuition hike
By Lindsay Harding, The Muse
ST. JOHN’S, NFLD. (CUP) — Three weeks after Memorial University approved a 33 per cent tuition hike for international students, student union leaders say they are solidifying plans to have the decision revisited and overturned.
University spokesperson Peter Morris says they are wasting their time.
The fee increase, approved by the Board of Regents on Feb. 6, affects undergraduate international students at all of Memorial’s campuses, except those in the medical faculty.
Memorial Student Union executive member Thom Duggan says the union is planning a second protest against the increase, though they have not yet set a date. The union is encouraging their international student membership to file complaints against the university with the human rights commission.
Duggan says at least one student is expected to meet with investigators from the human rights commission this week.
Morris calls these actions “offensive” and charges that the union is not acting in the best interest of students. He says they should focus on negotiating with university administrators to see extra revenues are spent where they need to be.
“There are any number of things that they could put their energies to that are far more productive than fighting a battle over a decision that’s already been made,” said Morris. “As to the notion that this is in any way an issue for the human rights commission [that] is, I would say, ridiculous at best and offensive at worst.”
But Duggan says the union has been forced to take these actions because of disrespect shown to students by the administration. He charges that the administration has not taken any of the students’ concerns seriously.
Duggan specifically mentions an article in the university-published Gazette printed several days before the Regents met and approved the increase. Although most of the story refers to the increases in hypothetical terms, the first sentence reads, “The university has announced that fees for new international students will increase in the coming academic year.”
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and Memorial’s Graduate Students Union (GSU) have also backed the Student Union’s efforts, despite the fact that the increases do not apply to grad students.
“Graduate students, in general, are just opposed to this . . . about one quarter of all grad students are international students . . . they’re concerned that their peers are having these high tuition rates put on them,” said GSU executive member Heather Smith. “The other thing is that the concern is there that, if it happens at the undergrad level, it’ll happen at the grad level next.”
CFS National Chair Ian Boyko criticized the Regents’ decision to increase the fees.
“You’d think that [Memorial] would need to encourage international students to come to study in Canada . . . it’s in fact doing the exact opposite and I think it’s just backwards policy,” said Boyko.
Peter Morris objects to Boyko’s argument, reiterating the university administration’s position that they are taking steps to ensure the fee increase does not hamper access to education for low-income international students.
“Our expectation is . . . with scholarships and bursaries we’ll actually increase the numbers of international students we’ll be able to attract,” he said. “Even with the increases, [international tuition] will still be very inexpensive . . . there’s no indication that the cost of this will be any deterrent to students.”
However, Boyko calls this line of reasoning “an absurd theory.”
“When user fees go up, accessibility goes down, and it doesn’t matter if you use a small proportion to go back into student aid. You wouldn’t need that increased student aid if you didn’t raise tuition fees – I would say it’s that simple.”
But Morris says the CFS’s position is impractical.
“If you’re looking for absurd theories, then Mr. Boyko’s notion that we should be providing free tuition to students from all over the world – that’s obviously the logical conclusion of the opposition he would express to fees . . . that would be ridiculous,” he said.