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Anne Kessler’s Teach-In Speech: ‘We must hold the university to account’

Hi UBC, My name is Anne Kessler, I’m your AMS VP academic and university affairs, and I’ve been asked here today to give you some background information on the proposed tuition and housing increases. I’m going to be giving a recounting of our meetings with the university so far and some sense of how the AMS is responding so far.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam people. It is important to acknowledge this because as we talk about affordability it is important to recognize that aboriginal people have and continue to be systematically excluded from institutions of higher learning.

Last Tuesday, the AMS exec and the graduate student society exec were invited to a meeting with Louise Cowin, the UBC VP Students, and David Farrar, the Provost and VP Academic. At this meeting we were told of two proposals in increases that UBC is making.

As I’m sure you know, the first one of these was around raising international student tuition for new incoming students by 10%, and the second was about housing fees, raising Winter Session housing by about 20%, and an increase in the capital fee for meal plans. The slides we were provided at that meeting have been posted publicly online on the Ubyssey and the Talon websites if you’d like to see more about their proposals.

They also proposed a consultation period of 30 days with two town hall meetings for students and meetings with student leaders. This consultation is only for the tuition increases. This is because the university has a policy, called Policy 71 that says that they must consult students on tuition increases.

Their overall justification for the increases was to bring us up to market rates in both cases. For tuition, this meant comparing us to U of T and McGill and for housing to other areas of Vancouver and to U of T and McGill’s residences.

At a second meeting last Thursday, Anji Redish, one of the university’s vice provosts, and the member of the VP students office who oversees their consultation process, Ben Pollard, met with a group of students representing the AMS, GSS and international students association and we discussed the international tuition issue in more detail.

When asked directly why 10%, not say, 9% or 11%, we were told that this would approximately bring us in line with U of T and McGill, otherwise, the market. I think this is a totally inappropriate response, tell us what it actually costs, not what it costs at other universities with totally different revenue streams and costs.

We pressed them for details on how this revenue would be allocated, since they had talked a lot about increasing student services and financial aid. No numbers were given except to say that typically 65% of tuition goes straight to the Faculty. We pressed for a detailed breakdown, and they said they would give us an answer by next week. We also pressed the university for details on how they have been making sure they are as efficient as possible, and they also said they would provide this. When we receive their answer we will share it publicly so that you can also see their justifications.

All in all, we think it is unacceptable that the university started the consultation period without all the information available, and also without sending out a broadcast email to students. I don’t think it should have come as a surprise to the university that we would ask for how the money would be spent.

We also at this time expressed concern about the 30-day window for consultation. It’s midterms, everyone’s busy. They have since responded saying they will extend it until November 21st. They have also promised as many official consultation town halls as are necessary to ensure every student gets their voice heard.

We are later today meeting again with the university to discuss accessibility and financial aid, and soon to discuss the housing increases. Again we will be pressing them on details and real numbers about how much they will be putting towards aid and services. At this time it does not seem as if there is any consultation with students at large around the housing increases, and we have really big concerns about that.

Overall, the AMS has a lot of concerns about the proposals. With tuition, Students last year voted more than 90% in favour of the AMS advocating for lower tuition for domestic and international students, and recent AMS tuition policies have opposed any tuition increases above 2%. In our regular cycle of reviewing policies, our tuition policy is up for review, and at an emergency AMS council meeting this evening, we will be discussing it, and the overall AMS response. As always, all students are welcome to attend AMS council meetings.

And with housing, We also know that housing affordability is a huge issue for many students, and are utterly unconvinced that the university has properly justified the need for these increases. They have not stated what they will be spending it on. We also have not yet been provided the report that lays out their data that shows that their rates are below market rates, and their numbers do not match up with research that we have done.

It is also important to note how in both these proposals we see a philosophical shift away from simple cost recovery to subsidizing the overall university budget.

In the next coming days and weeks, myself and many others at the AMS will be holding our university to account on these proposed changes, demanding clarity on how the university will spend this money, and expressing our opposition to the proposals when it is warranted. We will continue to work with other student groups to ensure you have your voice heard by the university.

I hope that every single one of you will be engaged in this issue. Come tonight to the AMS meeting and speak to your elected officials about how they will respond. Attend a town hall or submit feedback online to have your voice officially heard by the university. Continue to be active on campus and tell all your friends to do the same.

Thank you

Anne Kessler is the Vice-President Academic and University Affairs of the Alma Mater Society