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Tuition austerity showdown

by The Concordian October 21, 2014
Tuition austerity showdown

Why increasing tuition would have made a difference
by Nathalie Laflamme

In 2012, tens of thousands of students marched in the streets to protest the Liberal party’s increased tuition fee plan. The rest, as we say, is history. Or is it?

The Parti Québécois’ promise not to increase tuition fees led to them to 2012 victory. During their (very short) time in office, they indexed tuition fees at 2.6 per cent for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, and 2.2 per cent for 2014-2015, and lowered student tax credits from 20 per cent to 8 per cent. Together, these changes represent a major indirect tuition increase.

We must also keep in mind that, on average, costs at the university increase by four to five per cent in Canada. “So lets say that inflation is four per cent and you have two per cent, you’re already losing ground,” Concordia President Alan Shepard told The Concordian in March.

Today, the Liberal Party is back in office. Severe budgetary cuts have been made across the spectrum of public-sector institutions. Tuition fees have not increased under the sitting government, but record-breaking cuts to post-secondary education were made this year, totalling at $173 million. Concordia alone has had to cut $15.7 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, meaning a total of $29 million in two years.

Concordia was the first university to announce how they would deal with the cuts this year: with a voluntary departure program (VDP). This will mean that 180 staff and administrative positions will be cut this year.

Obviously, cutting 180 positions will have a significant impact on how the university runs. The school did their best in order not to impact the student experience while still making the cuts they had to make.

Still, the VDP does not cover all the cuts that need to be made, and the departments are currently working to find anything that could save the school some cash. Concordia will, for example, save $1 million by postponing the replacement of office equipment, like computers.

All of this begs the question: would things be different had the original tuition hike plan been implemented?

Had the original tuition increase plan gone forward, universities would have received a projected additional $190 million in 2014-2015 from tuition increases alone, according to a budget released by the provincial Ministry of Finance in 2010. Therefore, it would not have been necessary to make cuts to education funding at all had tuition rates increased; in fact, schools would have received substantially more funding.

Of course, this is just a projection. There is no way of really knowing where today’s universities would stand. After all, Quebec has one of the highest deficits in the country. At the time of writing, Quebec’s debt was totaled over $270 billion, according to the Fraser Institute. For all we know, the same cuts would have been made.

Still, the fact remains that universities were underfunded before the government’s budgetary cuts were even announced.

Students don’t want tuition to increase, but is it realistic to expect tuition to be this low forever, when every year, the cost of living increases? Is it time to store away the ideal of free post-secondary education for Quebecers? These are questions worth asking.

For every year that tuition remains this low, universities lose money. We need to remember that, with education, we are getting what we pay for.

 

Tuition hikes: student’s can’t afford it, but Concordia admins sure can
by Laura Marchand

Quebec is in desperate need of austerity, I won’t deny that. The compressions are hitting everyone in the public sector, and it would be naive to assume that the universities would (or could) be kept out of the firing range. Obviously, Concordia will need to find the money somewhere to continue its operations.

But that place isn’t the pockets of its students—it’s with the administrators.

Let’s start with the obvious: university students simply can’t afford a higher tuition. Students are consistently the poorest bracket amongst Canadians, in part due to the combined cost of tuition, the loss of viable work hours, and the cost of housing and food, among other things. In fact, a 2012 Globe and Mail article states that tuition has been rising at a rate of 6.2 per cent annually—almost three times the rate of inflation, and hence, our paychecks.

As it is, many Canadian students owe about $37,000 in combined public and private debt by the time they finish their education—and 60 per cent of recent graduates have at least $27,000 in debt by the time they enter the workforce.

Frankly, we’re between a rock and a hard place. We can choose not to go to school at all, but in an economic climate where 75 per cent of new jobs in the next decade will require a university degree, being “uneducated” means you’re flat-out unemployed.

However, the meat of the argument doesn’t lie with the circumstances of students. In fact, it lies with Concordia itself.

How often have you tried to find an advisor, or tried to speak to someone in your department, only to be lost in a maze the minotaur would be proud of? You’ll find yourself face-to-face with vaguely-titled administrators and advisors, and will leave feeling bewildered and no closer to finding answers to your queries.

In fact, the VP of Development and External Relations, who also acts as our Secretary General, has nine people reporting directly to him—and all but one of them has an entire office that reports to them, in turn. Combine this with the mind-boggling amount of people we see crammed into each department’s office quarters, and it becomes shockingly clear: Concordia University is top-heavy.

According to Concordia’s own Financial Report to the government of Quebec, $53,028,000 was spent on “Administration”—not to be confused with “Operational services,” which is its own category, and is awarded approximately $34 million.

Our beloved President and Vice-Chancellor Alan Shepard, in 2012 (the year he joined Concordia), earned a staggering $357,000—which is amazing, considering that was only for nine months of work.

I think it’s safe to assume that, in the years since, that figure may have gone up — not to mention the potential bonuses and expense account that go with it. In the case of McGill’s former principal, Heather Munroe-Blum, over $200k was added to her base salary in the form of “other compensation”— and she’s not the only one, according to Maclean’s.

It’s a bit odd that this isn’t anywhere on Concordia’s website, isn’t it? The fact that the only way to find such information is to dig through a 98-page document hidden deep in the archives of the Government of Quebec is, to put it mildly, suspicious.

Why not post this information on your website, Concordia? It’s interesting, because you actually do have a Financial Statements document posted for everyone to see—but it’s a mere 30 pages long. Where did the information on your salaries go? They seem to be omitted from the version you proudly posted on your site.

Yes, the Government of Quebec is compressing our school. But the government should only touch the tuition of its students as a last resort, and not until it has done a little introspection of its own—especially where university administration is concerned.

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