On October 13th 2016, the students of the University of King’s College breathed a sigh of relief after a proposed tuition reset was rejected. The reset would have allowed a $1000 increase in FYP tuition over the next two years.
On November 2nd, students once again rallied in support of the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) Day of Action—a day to campaign for affordable education nationwide.
Despite these causes for celebration, one must remember that the current tuition still ranks among the highest in the province and in the country, and tuition is a topic never far from the minds of King’s students.
Where is the money going?
Every year, King’s College releases their financial reports and operating budgets online to the public. A document titled “Public Sector Compensation Disclosure” is made available, containing the precise salary information for all board members, officers, employees, contractors, and consultants who are earning over $100,000 per annum.
Among the names listed is Fred Vallance-Jones, Journalism Professor and member of the Board of Governors at King’s.
Vallance-Jones expressed that the time for one-on-one mentoring makes King’s a unique scholarly community in comparison to larger institutions.
Brenna Thibodeau, a first-year FYP student, feels similarly to Vallance-Jones when she compares her experiences in classes at Dalhousie to those at King’s.
“I know barely anything about my (Dalhousie) teacher and compared to the conversations I’ve had with my tutors here—they’re way more in-depth,” she said.
Undoubtedly, many students and faculty have chosen to work or study at King’s due to the benefits that come with its small size. These appealing aspects of King’s, however, come with unfavorable consequences.
According to the Association of Atlantic Universities, enrolment at King’s has dropped 8.4 per cent in the past year. The instability of enrolment has resulted in fewer Faculty Fellows being required in the Foundation Year program. This means the opportunities to have conversations, such as those referred to by Thibodeau, may be fewer.
The Foundation Year Programme only requires five tutors with the current enrolment, in comparison to the eight required last year and eleven the year prior.
Fewer Faculty Fellows may result in larger tutorial sizes, compromising the intimate atmosphere in which students are able to engage more directly with faculty, and sacrificing one of the most unique and cherished attributes of King’s.
The repercussions of the decrease in enrolment stretch beyond the critical loss of revenue. Students are still paying tuition, which makes up 84% of the university’s operating income, but are facing what can be seen as a decline in the quality of the education they are receiving. Larger class sizes and departmental cuts directly impact the features of King’s that appeal to students to the most.
The significant drop in enrolment also adds an air of urgency to the financial issues that the university faces.
Although there will not be an additional increase to FYP tuition outside of the standard 3 per cent, operating costs may still rise. This includes professor salaries, which had previously been under a wage freeze. The agreement was disbanded on June 30th of this year.
The wage freeze was implemented in 2015 as part of a plan to repair the university’s financial position. Though it has now been discontinued, departmental budget cuts that were implemented at the same time are continuing this year. The cuts will total $800,000 over the two-year time frame.
According to Vallance-Jones it’s clear that there is no simple answer to the question of whether or not increasing professor salaries is justifiable given enrolment decrease and high tuition.
“It’s a very complicated question… A very black-and-white way to look at it would be ‘Oh! those professors sure are paid a lot of money while we pay a lot of tuition’—right? But on the other hand you’re talking about FYP and in the upper level programs on the humanities side of the university, these people are very highly trained scholars who would be able to find similarly paid positions at other institutions,” he said.
Thibodeau expressed a comparable concern regarding the difficult situation.
“I can’t begrudge them money because I know a lot of them have PhDs and that takes a lot of effort and time and they should be paid well for that work. But on the other hand I don’t understand where the money’s coming from and it feels like soon things will start to be stripped from other budgets,” she said.
Students and faculty alike are hoping this school year comes with an answer to the financial shortfall. Vallance-Jones remains confident.
“The president is committed to finding ways to make sure that the university is sustainable going forward,” he said.
Thibodeau also hopes the university can find a solution, but more importantly that they keep the tight-knit community of King’s aware: “I think that transparency is important especially even in smaller institutions,” she said.
Despite the complexity of King’s’ financial situation, Vallance-Jones agrees that it is important that the university publicizes the statistics.
“We’re spending taxpayers’ money here and we’re spending students’ money, so we ought to be accountable.”
All of the mentioned documents can be found online at ukings.ca, under the “Public Documents” link in the website’s footer.