TRU’s board of governors approved tuition, ancilliary and parking fee hikes Thursday after hearing a last-ditch plea from student union and CUPE representatives.
The tuition increase will cost individual students roughly $70 more a year, but it’s piled upon a 210 per cent increase in the last 10 years, said TRUSU president Dustin McIntryre. A doubling of parking fees means students will pay on average $6 a day.
“TRU has a real problem with their budget compared to other institutions,” McIntyre said later. “They’re balancing the budget on the backs of students.”
In a presentation before the vote, McIntyre told the board the university is overly reliant on fee revenue, receives comparatively less public funding than comparable institutions and generates less revenue from other sources.
McIntyre and research co-coordinator Alex McLellan presented a public opinion poll indicating most area residents are against a tuition fee increase. Thirty-four per cent favoured reduced fees.
“If the board votes in favour of an increase, you will be voting against nine out of 10 people in the community,” McIntyre said.
McLellan said TRU is caught in what he called a “tuition fee trap,” a cycle in which public per-student funding from the province is cut in relation to fee increases.
“Every time we raise tuition fees, we’re giving government a free pass to cut funding,” he said.
Raising tuition also produces a “financial attrition effect,” in which students are forced to increase their loan burden, which makes them less likely to complete their studies.
“Improving affordability can drive higher enrolment,” McLellan said. While TRU international enrolment has grown, its domestic enrolment is flat or falling, echoing a regional decline in K-12 enrolment.
Lois Rugg, president of CUPE Local 4879, tried to persuade the board to avert a parking fee increase in favour of an equitable parking fee scale for support staff.
“Support staff have had a zero increase since 2010 and the cost of inflation continues to rise,” she said. “We feel an increase in parking is unfair to our lower-income employees as well as to students.”
She said she sees merit in using the fees as a public-transit incentive, but that’s not an option for many students and employees.
Several members of the board sympathized with the student position but only Ruvimbo Chinyanganya, the student representative, voted against the omnibus motion.
Ancilliary fees — which include such items as lab fees, athletic fees and university activity fees —will also go up by two per cent.
“I’m very sympathetic to the barriers they perceive,” said TRU president Alan Shaver, noting that governments are cutting their education budgets generally. “We as Canadians believe in post-secondary education, but we don’t want to pay for it. I think that’s putting universities in Canada in an impossible situation.”
The board also heard a report from Cliff Neufeld, vice-president of finance and administration, indicating university revenue is starting to flat line. They also learned that enrolment growth has come from international students, but other institutions are competing for the same market.
“Our country and province have a decision to make about values, not just about cost. Students have a decision to make, not just about values, but about cost.”
Shaver said he feels it was the provincial education cuts that came first, forcing TRU to look again to a tuition hike. He suggested post-secondary institutions stand together on the issue.
“I don’t see unilateral objections to tuition increases as a way of convincing government we need more money.”
He said he reluctantly supported the increases because wages and benefits are the bigger picture, representing 63 per cent of TRU’s budget.
“We have to preserve our community… They have to be our priority.”
McIntyre expressed frustration over the board’s handling of the issues.
“For the past five years, we’ve tried to work with the TRU board but they’re becoming increasingly less interested in working with us.”
The tuition hikes for domestic and international students, parking increase were rolled into a single omnibus motion to limit debate, he said.