Oct. 13, 2016 was a big day for the University of King’s College, as the school’s board of governors voted against a $1,000 tuition hike for the Foundation Year Programme (FYP).
Last year, the McNeil provincial government removed the three per cent tuition cap, allowing post-secondary institutions to raise the costs of tuition by however much they want, over a three-year period, to establish a new base for the three per cent cap to apply. It’s called a tuition reset.
According to an Oct. 14 media release from the Kings’ Students’ Union (KSU), the University of King’s College is the only university to reject the reset.
The 2016-17 academic year is the first year of the three-year period. However, according to William Lahey – University of King’s College president and board of governors member – last year’s board of governors decided not to do a tuition reset for 2016-17, but reserved the option of doing a reset in either or both of the following two academic years.
Last Thursday’s vote means the university won’t be doing a tuition reset at all over the three-year period, Lahey says.
“The thinking (behind the board’s decision), I think, first and foremost, is that we’ve experienced a decline in enrolment – and in particular, a decline in first-year enrolment,” he said.
“We already have high tuition rates, compared to many of the universities that King’s students might otherwise go to… So it’s just not a good time to be adopting a significant increase in tuition, when we’re trying to stabilize and restore our enrolment.
Lahey added that the board was also influenced by knowing the university’s tuition levels are already high, the expenses students have in general are high and that those costs cause difficulty – “and in some cases, real hardship” – for students.
“If you think the reset is actually going to hurt the university – by discouraging people from coming here in the first place – why would you do it, if the consequence is to make things more difficult for your current students and students who have already chosen to come here?”
Lahey hopes this decision sends a message to students that their concerns and perspectives matter and that there’s an acknowledgement that tuition and students’ general expenses can pose a challenge for students.
Chris Pearse, a first-year student taking FYP at the University of King’s College, believes the vote result is significant, despite knowing the tuition hike wouldn’t affect his class this year.
“I think that, being a part of the program, it feels good to know that more people will be able to come because it won’t be as expensive,” he said.
Pearse also believes that this vote could help with the future enrolment in FYP, “and if it doesn’t increase the numbers, it will at least stop them from getting lower.”
“I think I can speak on behalf of the rest of my class that it’s a very special and unique program to be a part of and we would hate to see less people have the opportunity to be a part of it.”
Another tuition-related event is happening Nov. 2. across Canada. It will be a national day of action for free post-secondary education that is accessible to all.
Pearse is a supporter of the movement and recognizes the financial issues students have to go through to get an education.
“I have friends who maybe, sometimes, have to skip a meal to work, or have to choose in between working their job for money and working on their school work,” he said.
“I think it’s important to everyone to keep kids in school and to make it easier for more people, who don’t have that access, to have that access.”
Lahey encourages students to support these types of movements to have their voice heard.
“It’s not necessarily the case that, as a university, we can take the specific actions that students who protest would like us to take,” he says. “But I think students demonstrating their views on tuition, and advocating for more accessibility in education, is very positive for the debate and the discussion that has to happen, both inside universities and at the political level.”
KSU president Aidan McNally said, in the Oct. 14 media release, that the tuition hike being defeated is just the beginning and that students won’t stop until there’s free post-secondary education across Canada.