Last week, the UVic Board of Governors approved a $356-million balanced operating budget for the next year. As part of that budget, the university is implementing a six per cent increase to residence fees (on top of previous increases in 2015 and 2016), a two per cent increase to domestic tuition fees, and four per cent to international tuition fees.
Increases to domestic and international tuition in previous years were kept at the same annual rate in practice, but the university says rising operating costs outmatch dwindling revenues. And with the increase to domestic tuition being capped at two per cent annually by law, that means international students have to pay up.
With the increase set to take effect May 1, students are angry, and rightfully so. This tuition hike is the latest instance of the board standing in the face of protests from the students they’re beholden to and saying “choices are constrained,” or “choices are difficult,” or that we need to “find balance.”
International students are already put in a tough situation when they come from across the world to study at UVic. An unfamiliar environment, far away from any friends or family support systems, can be daunting enough without having to worry about whether or not you can continue to afford your already overpriced education. Having the extra financial burden of a hike in tuition placed on students, especially when this increase could come in the middle of one’s degree, is unfair at best, and cruel at worst.
Not only that, but UVic puts a considerable amount of money into presenting itself as a destination for international research, with a reputation for inclusivity and diversity of its student body. But trying to curry favour with an international demographic while simultaneously asking them to pay more than their domestic counterparts creates a tension that’s hard to ignore.
The problem is, no matter how loudly students protest, no matter how many letters of correspondence are sent to the administration, and no matter how many signs are waved in the board’s faces, they refuse to listen. Not as long as the system that perpetuates inequity in post-secondary education remains in place: a system where universities are treated as a business, where ensuring revenues are plentiful is the norm, and where students are seen as a means to an end.
The underfunding of university education is a systemic issue that must be addressed, or else students near and far will continue to bear the burden of ever increasing fees. But until then, it seems that students will have no choice but to suck it up.