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Memorandum misunderstanding

The King’s Students’ Union said university administration has rejected its request for help to lobby the government for more money.

The King’s Students’ Union said university administration has rejected its request for help to lobby the government for more money.
At issue is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) released this month by the provincial government, which cuts government funding to universities by three per cent and gives universities permission to raise tuition by three per cent, and to deregulate tuition for international students.
But students already are struggling, said KSU President Gabe Hoogers. Two KSU vice-presidents met with the Board of Governors’ Financial Sustainability Committee on Jan. 6, and Hoogers said its response wasn’t the support they wanted.
“Unfortunately what we’ve been hearing is that sort of lobbying is reserved for students only. As long as the university can get by, it’s not that much of a concern,” Hoogers told The Watch. “Tuition fees aren’t the concern of our administration at this point.”
King’s President Anne Leavitt said her job, along with the job of other administrators, is different than that of student unions, and instead involves “sophisticated negotiating.”
“You know, back in the day, I remember protesting in Queen’s Park in Toronto. The issue for us then was differential fees for international students,” Leavitt said. “I think those protests were great things and I think we were very clear about what we wanted, but I’m not sure it helps if the university presidents run to the barricades.”
King’s faces rising expenses and capital costs, Leavitt said, and the cut to the operating grants leaves King’s short about $230,000. However, should the board approve a tuition increase, Leavitt said the loss might be offset.
“We don’t have many sources of revenue; it’s the operating grant and tuition,” she said. Leavitt said she’s not surprised the KSU opposes a tuition increase, but she’d rather see them propose a way to prevent it.
“I take it, then, that the KSU would expect us to find those savings by either laying people off or by salary reductions or by cancelling facilities improvements. Now, they’ve sort of tossed out the number of 11 per cent reduction in administration costs, and my question to them was, ‘Which positions at King’s were not needed at King’s?’… 80 per cent of our expenditures are in salary, and those are the only places where you can get on-going savings.”
CBC recently reported the salaries of Nova Scotia university presidents, as well as salary increases from previous years. It reported that President Leavitt makes $170,000, the same amount as former president William Barker did in his last year at King’s. To compare, her salary is significantly smaller than that of Dalhousie President Tom Travers, who reportedly pulls in $393,264.
But the MOU has more in store than increases for international students and the three per cent jump, said Hoogers.
Next year, university presidents and the government will decide whether or not to remove the limit on tuition fees for out-of-province students, which would effectively deregulate their tuition by 2013-2014.
“For King’s, that’s horrible. King’s has the highest proportion of out-of-province students in the entire province, so we’re going to lose our competitive edge,” Hoogers said. “We’re going to ensure that the only people who come to this school are privileged people who don’t have to take out student loans, and that will greatly affect the diversity and culture of King’s, I’m sure.”
Hoogers also said that the two union vice-presidents at the Jan. 6 meeting reported that members of the committee felt King’s students wouldn’t be as negatively affected by a possible tuition increase as would be students at other schools.
“A number of people on the committee—some senior administrators, in fact—suggested that ‘only three or four students’ in total at King’s are on student loans, and King’s has a disproportionately high number of well-off students attending, so increasing tuition fees by whatever wouldn’t be a burden to the population,” he said, estimating the number of students with loans is around 30 or 40 per cent.
“President Leavitt and upper administrators may be correct that we don’t have many students on student loans, and that’s specifically because we’ve targeted schools, you know, private schools in Toronto and whatnot,” said Hoogers.
But for Hoogers, the reality of student financial problems isn’t represented accurately by the relatively low numbers of student loans.
“Moreover, students are forced to take on more part-time work, like myself,” he said, “and sometimes prolonging their degrees. That’s a common symptom at King’s, with people taking five and six years to finish a four year program, often simply because they can’t afford to do it in four years. So we definitely have our own issues to address.”
Leavitt appears to agree. She said that while she has seen data showing that King’s isn’t as reliant on loans as other schools, it doesn’t paint a full picture: “That doesn’t mean they’re in better financial health by any stretch,” she said.
Leavitt said she has read briefing documents showing that modest increases don’t limit student accessibility, but she noted that any increase would have to be discussed and decided on by the Board of Governors, which has student representatives.
“My understanding is that there are a number—I wouldn’t know if it’s a majority—of students who are in a position of my own kids and that is that their parents are helping them out a great deal,” she said. One of Leavitt’s children is in first year at King’s.
“You know, as somebody who is the parent of two university-aged children and certainly contributes to their education and also supports them finding summer work and other things, I’m not insensitive to the plight of students. I have an intimate knowledge of what that’s all about.”

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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