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BoG approves six per cent tuition increase for incoming international students

Following the recommendation of APC and BFPC, BoG has approved a six per cent increase to international students' tuition in the 2023-24 cohort.

A six per cent tuition increase for international students in the 2023-24 cohort has been approved by the University of Alberta Board of Governors (BoG).

Following the recommendation of General Faculties Council (GFC) Academic Planning Committee (APC) and the Board Finance and Property Committee (BFPC), BoG discussed and passed the proposal, meaning it will now come into effect for incoming international students next year.

Steven Dew, provost and vice-president (academic), opened the discussion with acknowledgment of letters that students have sent to BoG expressing their concerns. Amongst those letters, there was also one from the International Students’ Association (ISA).

“[I] very much appreciate the input of students on this proposal,” Dew said. “I understand any tuition increase is difficult for our students to bear.”

Dew also added “one of the points that was raised [in a letter]” was around the university’s reported $7.7 million operating budget surplus in the university’s last fiscal year.

Todd Gilchrist, vice-president (university services and finance), explained that although this money is in surplus, it’s money that was allocated out in 2022 and not spent due to COVID-19 related spending challenges. This money is an ongoing source of funding and is “one-time in nature,” Gilchrist explained.

Abner Monteiro, president of the UASU, raised concerns that international students may not feel comfortable reaching out for financial aid, even in unexpected circumstances that cause them to require it.

“Many [international students] don’t feel, due to their cultural backgrounds or where they’re coming from … [that] request[ing] that need is something they feel comfortable doing,” Monteiro said.

Monteiro added that food insecurity is twice as high for international students as domestic students, a fact that Anas Fassih, president of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), said is increased for international graduate students. Monteiro asked for the board to address the “holistic” challenges that international students face.

In response, Dew mentioned that a portion of international students’ tuition is set aside for international student aid, and that in the past year the university has “significantly raised” the amount of financial aid available to address more circumstances.

Dew noted that because of the turnover time of the U of A Students’ Union (UASU) being in April, there may have been confusion for the new executive team. The consultation sessions would plan ahead of that turnover time in the future.

Alex Dorscheid, undergraduate BoG representative, brought up the Student Participation Handbook, noting that it felt like the procedures outlined in the handbook were not followed.

“It felt like there wasn’t proper consultation with us,” he said. “Nobody was really aware that this increase was happening until about three days before the APC [meeting].”

“I think that students are aware that inflation’s a problem and that costs are rising over time for the university, but I think going forward in the future, I’d like to see more of a commitment from administration to follow this handbook better and really learn from students to understand how these increases are going to affect them.”

Dew said that he felt that the consultation followed the processes laid out in the handbook, but reiterated that the issue with this year was continuity between teams during turnover.

Kate Chisholm, chair of BoG, added that it should not be the U of A administration’s job to ensure that continuity.

“I would point out that it’s not entirely administration’s responsibility to make sure the new team is informed,” she said. “It is incumbent on [the UASU] to make sure that incoming representatives are informed in respect of what’s going on and are kept right abreast.”

Andrei Tabirca, a representative on BoG for the Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA), commented that the tuition model is confusing and “not transparent.”

“My concern with the international tuition model is that it is not transparent with the students,” Tabirca said. “For example, there’s no detail in the offer letter about spring and summer term fees.”

“For this reason, I cannot support this motion unless we make some tweaks with the tuition model. I think we’re trying to do a very good thing for students — giving them that assurance about the cost of a degree, but we’re not doing a very good job in explaining to them how much they have to pay per year depending on their registration [times].”

Chisholm thanked Tabirca for his comments but noted that the motion at hand dealt with the tuition increase, and not the model.

During the vote, four governors voted in opposition. The motion carried.

BoG discusses revisions to Sexual Violence Policy and new clauses to Student Conduct Policy

Deb Eerkes, sexual violence response coordinator, introduced revisions to the Sexual Violence Policy and a suite of new clauses for the Student Conduct Policy to replace the current non-academic misconduct section. She explained that these revisions are in response to provincial demands for institutions to review their sexual violence policies.

She explained that BoG has to approve the appeal procedures for the policy, while GFC deals with the discipline of students.

Monteiro asked about the appeal policy, noting that the proposal seemed to offer more opportunities for appeal for the respondent.

“It just seems like respondents or perpetrators have a broader range of potential grounds for appeal than complainants do,” he said.

Eerkes responded that the according to the Post-Secondary Learning Act, the student who has a complaint raised against them will have unrestrained opportunity to appeal, and the U of A cannot limit the grounds on which the respondent will respond. She added that this process mimics a judicial review on a smaller scale.

Following up, Monteiro asked about the long-term plans for the complainant on campus if the appeal should be approved.

“In the event of an appeal being done and sanctions getting changed, what happens for the complainant in that case? What is the recourse for somebody who still feels uncomfortable [and] unsafe in that situation?”

Eerkes responded that if a situation like that were to occur, there are still modifications that can happen to keep students safe.

“We have the obligation to provide a safe learning environment,” she said. “And that will continue to be an obligation regardless of the outcome of a disciplinary procedure.”

Dilini Vethanayagam, a professor in the faculty of medicine and dentistry, asked about the policy’s guidelines around faculty-to-student sexual and gender-based violence, noting that it is very different than student-to-student situations due to the presence of a power difference.

Though not fully developed yet, Eerkes added that procedures for complaints against faculty and staff are not under her, or the board’s, control. However, the Sexual Violence Policy applies to all, and the obligation to provide support for survivors applies to all as well.

In response to another question, she added that there is currently a national study being undertaken about relationships that include a power differential. There is a white paper being developed by Courage to Act, a national body that Eerkes is a part of. She hopes the paper will be released by the end of summer.

The proposal is currently in its consultation phase and will return in the fall for approval, along with a proposal about the appeal procedure.

Jin He

Jin previously served as the 2021-22 Production Editor at The Gateway. She also had a brief stint as 2022-23 Production Editor. She is in her first year studying pharmacy. If not sleeping, she can often be found supporting local artisans, obsessing over e-sports, and sporting some wicked earrings.

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