A new student payment program has some Concordia students seeing red and has the university scrambling for alternatives to offer students currently enrolled in graduate programs.
Concordia announced changes to its graduate payment structure in mid-April. Under the new system, graduate students would have less time to pay off the balance of their tuition, and if they don’t complete their program in a new time period, a continuation fee would be charged for the remaining semesters.
Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota explained that the change in billing systems was necessary.
“We are the only university in Quebec that does not bill our graduate students based on the funding that comes from the Quebec government. Using the masters program as an example, we would bill our students over six terms and the government would give us the subsidies for the masters students for four terms,” Mota said. “The government felt that students should be done in four semesters so it was costing the university roughly $600,000 a year that we were not getting in funding.”
An estimated 200 students attended the first ever ‘Angry Week’ to protest the new graduate billing schedule and Concordia University’s short notice about the changes to the fee structure. From May 25 to 28, protestors participated in a variety of events including a shoe-throwing contest, an angry face contest, numerous workshops, and a final demonstration on Friday. The event was organized by the Graduate Students’ Association and Free Education Montreal.
“I think the breaking point is when the university changed the fee billing structure, which now front-loads the payments on the students,” explained Erik Chevrier, one of the event’s organizers. “Many graduate students, especially international students, were upset and couldn’t do it, so we held a series of meetings and this is where the Angry Week idea came about.”
In late May, Concordia sent an email to graduate students explaining that the school would not charge the continuation fee to students currently enrolled and on schedule to finish their degrees. According to the email, graduate students would have three options in converting to the new system: switch immediately to the new payment program, continue paying their tuition for the next year using the previous rates but then switch to the new program in September 2011, or consult Student Accounts to work out a customized billing plan that would gradually increase. In addition, the university wouldn’t charge graduate students interest or late fees from September 2010 to August 2011.
The accelerated payment schedule is proving to be a challenge for international students. One international student, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of losing a research grant, said that international students “expect to pay a certain amount of money, but when they raise the tuition it limits [their] choices.” In order to make ends meet and pay for his tuition the international student worked approximately 40 hours a week, in addition to the 25 to 30 hours spent on research last summer.
“My experience has been bad,” he explained. “I was vulnerable, but everyone is.”