The University has not been lenient towards students amid a global pandemic
Last May, Concordia’s proposed budget was decided by the Board of Governors and was “long-term oriented to address post COVID-19 structural issues.” The 2020-2021 budget assumes the impacts of COVID-19 will go on for three years into the future. However, recent developments in clinical testing by Pfizer and Moderna have led the government to stockpile available doses. This means a return towards pre-COVID life might come sooner than expected. As such, a crucial reduction in tuition is justified despite the university potentially operating under a larger deficit for the current fiscal year.
Thousands of students have petitioned since the beginning of the fall semester to reduce tuition. Nearly 97 per cent of students who participated in the recent Concordia Student Union (CSU) by-elections of 2020 voted in favour of tuition reduction.
In a town hall meeting hosted by the CSU on Nov. 19, students considered mass organization and protests against tuition hikes, similar to the 2012 student strike. They stated that, “In the context of the pandemic, we need to do that now as well — enough is enough.”
Many feel as though the school is indifferent towards the plight of its students.
“I’m convinced that the university doesn’t really care. They’d let half of us die if it means that the other half will be filled with students, because what they’re really interested in is keeping us enrolled and keeping us paying,” said a student who was interviewed by The Link.
While students continue to voice their concerns, Concordia’s current budget leaves little to no room for financial leniency towards them.
According to Fiona Harrison-Roberts, the outgoing finance coordinator of the Journalism Student Association (JSA), “Concordia will be increasing the price of tuition this year as opposed to reducing tuition.”
“COVID-19[‘s] recurrent and structural impact will need to be integrated into the budget model for fiscal years 2021-2022 and thereafter,” as mentioned in the budget’s PDF document.
With a bulk of students shifting from full-time to part-time as well as a decline in first-year students, Concordia experienced an expected loss of revenue as a result of COVID-19.
“The drop is attributable to lost income from on-campus activities such as residence room rentals, parking and conferences, and diminished tuition revenue because of a decline in international student registrations, particularly at the graduate level,” said Concordia’s President and Vice-Chancellor Graham Carr in a public statement .
Currently, Concordia is operating under a deficit of five to eight per cent for the fiscal year.
“It is a large amount; however, the figures are similar to what the Government of Quebec has invested in proportion to its own budget to address the COVID crisis,” Carr added.
While Concordia is using the government’s actions to justify their current expenditures, the question to be asked is whether comparing themselves to a provincial government that has not done enough in the face of COVID-19 is a smart thing to do.
Regardless, as the student body grows more restless and with vaccines available this upcoming year, a “three-year financial plan” to combat the effects of COVID-19 becomes less pertinent. Students continue their uphill battle this year in paying rent and tuition, working, and studying through “Zoom University,” with little to no financial relief from their institution.
Concordia boasts of a “solid financial track record” in reference to their “balanced budget for 2019-20” after public funding cuts forced deficits for many years.
“In 2019-2020, before COVID, we had a balanced budget for the first time in six years,” stated Carr.
While it may be a commendable feat for some, Concordia’s members should ask themselves: at whose cost was this achievement realized, if not the students’?
Operating under a larger deficit to ensure the financial safety and security of nearly 50,000 students during a global pandemic is not an unreasonable demand. Especially when such an operation runs at the detriment of both the financial and mental health of its students.
Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab