Are B.C. colleges and universities cheating the system?

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This article was originally published in The Other Press, Douglas College’s student newspaper, on March 23.

NEW WESTMINSTER — To most post-secondary students, money is a valuable and rare thing. Besides taking, on average, three to five classes a week, many students work a part-time job and involve themselves in extracurricular activities, all the while attempting to thrift their way to the next paycheque. Recently, a letter from the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education has played a hand in allowing colleges and universities to clench a tighter grip on students’ wallets.

“Tuition and fees for existing programs and services must not increase more than two per cent per year,” the letter explains. “New mandatory fees may be introduced for new services if there is a clear benefit to students.”

This clarification has been scrutinized by the NDP as a means to subtly “sneak” extra fees into students’ tuition by a means of “new mandatory fees.”

“It’s a sneaky move,” Kathy Corrigan, the party’s education critic, said to CBC News. “They are trying to say they have a two per cent cap at the same time they are sneaking around the corner and allowing them to add a whole bunch of fees that are very clearly not allowed under the policy.”

A handful of colleges and universities have recently come under fire after announcing their plans to add mandatory fees in upcoming semesters. According to the Vancouver Sun, five schools have proposed student fees that are above and beyond the two per cent cap—North Island College’s $5 per-credit learning resource fee, Vancouver Island University’s specific $6.27 per-credit student services fee, and Vancouver Community College, with a $26 per-term fee for all students and a staggering $2 000 lab fee for Pharmacy Technician students.

While Andrew Wilkinson, Minister of Advanced Education, denied the added fees as a suggested way of bypassing the tuition cap, he claims that they are to be only implemented with an evident intention to benefit students.

“We’re keeping a very close eye on this to make sure the institutions can justify the fees, because the fees are not permissible where an existing program with an existing cost structure has an existing fee arrangement,” he said to the Times Colonist. “It has to be a new benefit to students to justify a new fee.”

While North Island College has been able to provide evidence that their students’ money is going towards new counselling, workshops, and recreational activities, Vancouver Island University is battling a war of the words with their student union.

Connie Graham, a member of the union, proposes that the university is claiming new services that are being currently provided, with mere expansions. Additionally, Graham said the university is attempting to increase the flow of money to counter the lack thereof from the B.C. government. “They’re getting funding cuts more and more,” she said to the Times Colonist.

“They’re trying to find a way around it. It’s yet another user fee. It’s things that should be publicly funded being offloaded to students.”

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