Blog Post by Terry Project Researcher Eric Bing
UBC’s proposed tuition and residence fee increases have been met with significant outcry from students, and triggered the birth of the “I Am A Student” movement. Those students are concerned about post-secondary education becoming increasingly unaffordable for students from low-income and middle-income families, who then become burdened with huge amounts of debt.
However, such sentiments are not confined to UBC; on the contrary there are students at schools all around the world who are facing very similar challenges, and are fighting to have their voices heard by governments and university administrators. In the past two weeks alone, there have been tuition-related demonstrations in Alberta, California, and London, to name just a few.
Check out our recent BARtalk about tuition protests at UBC here!
On November 16th, hundreds of Albertan students marched in front of the Edmonton legislature, demanding more provincial funding for education. In Alberta most tuition increases are tied to inflation, but after several rounds of provincial budget cuts the government has opened the door to “market modifiers” where universities increase tuition for particular programs by much more, to match the prices charged in other provinces. For example, the University of Alberta is looking to increase tuition for its MBA program by 50% this year, and increase law school tuition by 58%, while the University of Calgary is hoping to increase engineering tuition by 32%. A fourth-year history student from the University of Calgary commented that “this is a national issue and I really think everyone needs to know about these tuition hikes.”
An interesting parallel to UBC’s situation is that increases to the price of education are once again being justified by comparisons to other Canadian universities. UBC rationalizes its increases to residence fees and international tuition fees by citing examples of higher fees at particular universities in other provinces. Meanwhile, the Albertan government encourages tuition increases for certain programs, in order to match higher fees at universities in other provinces. In terms of educational affordability, it is apparently a race to the bottom.
At University of California campuses, students have been using civil disobedience for weeks to express their frustration with tuition increases that were approved by their school’s governing board. Tuition is slated to increase by 5% each year for the next five years, meaning for California residents it would increase from $12,200 to $15,600 by 2019, while it would rise from roughly $35,000 to $45,000 for students from out-of-state. Many of them are concerned that UC is becoming more like a private school, and that it has strayed too far from the 1960 “California Master Plan for Higher Education”, which was supposed to provide affordable educations to every motivated student in California, regardless of income.
In response to the tuition hikes, students at the Berkeley campus held a sit-in, where they occupied a building called Wheeler Hall for an entire week, with 200 students sleeping there each night. Then on November 24th, thousands of students across the state walked out of their classrooms to march in protest of the tuition hikes. Their hope is that the state government will increase funding, so that tuition fees would not need to rise.
On November 19th, nearly ten thousand students in London marched in the streets near Parliament, protesting against government education cuts. Tuition fees in England have increased dramatically in recent years, now costing £9000 per year, which means that many students must take on incredibly large amounts of debt to pay for their education. Although it was mostly a peaceful march, the police got involved and made four arrests when a few of the demonstrators tried to break into the Conservative Party’s headquarters. The student organizers involved in this march say they plan to continue staging protests over the next six months, leading up to the country’s 2015 general election.