This month’s AUSU student council meeting revealed Council’s concern over Athabasca University’s tuition hike. The proposed increase is said to cover new courses being offered by Athabasca University. The student council does not support higher tuition fees, especially when the quality standards of courses remain the same.
In traditional universities, students pay extra fees for their textbooks–at Athabasca University, your course fee covers the cost of course materials. In instance of a tuition raise, the council discussed several issues, such as whether it’s best that students are provided with course materials, versus the monetary and availability aspects of students finding their own or used textbooks (with a conceivable trading system on the AUSU website, of course.) One student guest at the teleconference made the suggestion that AU could offer reduced fees for courses in which students receive fewer course materials, or in instances of Challenge for Credit [ed. It is already cheaper to challenge a course than to register in one normally].
Since international students and those in remote areas may not have the resources or access to the materials they would need, it was agreed that instead, AU be advised that more materials be available for borrowing, and that if AU wants to increase its tuition fees, they should build their library to accommodate the quality of student education. For example, at the back of any study guide, you will find a page of suggested reading, yes one councillor noted that the majority of those books are not available through the AU library. The council is adamant that AU stick to its mission statement of an “open university”, and maintains that the many requests for AUSU’s Emergency Bursary are anecdotal evidence that students can’t afford increasingly higher tuition.
I asked what influence AUSU had on Athabasca University in terms of this proposed tuition hike. The council admitted their impact is low, and they were being informed of it as a formality only, the increase already being in AU’s strategic plan two or three years ago; which begs the question: what impact do students actually have on their education at AU, and what can the students’ union do for us, if the University isn’t willing to listen? I have had a chance to sit in on many student council meetings, and know firsthand that the AUSU has its members in mind–after all, the council is made up of students! Yet student’s union communication with Athabasca University seems to be strained; I often detect exasperation among council members reporting back on their contact with AU reps.
On a happier note, new scholarship information was relayed, with a plan to raise a quarter of a million dollars for the scholarship fund over the next five years. (to which one member joked the benefits would not be seen until after all council members have graduated.) Council member Lonita Fraser suggested that AUSU consider sponsored scholarships. (i.e.: Nursing Federation scholarships for AU nursing students.)
And, for those interested in debating, it was announced that a new AUSU Debate Club is underway. Although the club’s status is in its initial stages, keep your eyes open on the AUSU website for more information in the coming weeks.