New Brunswick

Mount Allison students push back against tuition hike for partly online academic year

Mount Allison students are urging the university to repeal a tuition increase planned for the upcoming school year, a decision they say comes when students and their families face financial hardship as a result of the global pandemic.

University cites increased cost because of pandemic as rationale for 4.5% increase

The university is dealing with uncertain enrolment numbers and higher costs for things such as cleaning and technology. (Submitted by Mount Allison )

Mount Allison students are urging the university to repeal a tuition increase planned for the upcoming school year, a decision they say comes when students and their families face financial hardship as a result of the global pandemic.

Students learned of the 4.5 per cent, or $395, jump when the Sackville-based university released the new tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year on Tuesday.

It was a surprise for students like Nick Lee, who was expecting tuition to drop after the administration laid out its COVID-19 prevention measures that will shift more learning online.

"I was expecting more of a decrease in the tuition seeing as we're not going to have in-class or those same resources we're used to having," he said. 

The fourth-year computer science student is among the group questioning the value of a virtual education, and now is bothered that he's facing another increase. 

Nick Lee is a fourth-year computer science student at Mount Allison University. (Submitted/Nick Lee)

The cost for a full-time incoming Canadian student will be $9,165. In the 2014-15 academic year, the price tag was $7,465.

"People are getting laid off. Parents are losing jobs. It's difficult for a lot of us and it's hard to get a good education," said Lee, who relies on student loans and his own savings to pay for school.

He lost hours at his job with Moneris, a financial technology company that was affected following widespread business closures. He said he's fortunate to see those hours begin to return because "a lot of other students can't find summer employment."

Pandemic cited in rationale

Dr. Jean-Paul Boudreau, president and vice-chancellor of Mount Allison, cited the pandemic as the key factor in a statement posted to the school's website Wednesday afternoon.

"Our response to the pandemic has required changes to many aspects of University operations and academic delivery," Boudreau said. "This includes our budget process and student fee setting."

Boudreau said the 4.5 per cent increase applies to incoming students from elsewhere in Canada, and New Brunswick students who started before September 2019 will continue to receive a discount, as set out in a memorandum signed with the provincial government. That means those students will see a two per cent bump in the fall.

"We know the University will have increased costs, irrespective of increased costs due to the pandemic, and, like other universities in Atlantic Canada there is an increase to tuition," he said.

The University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University already announced two per cent increases at their institutions.

Mount Allison will miss out on some revenue because of virus-prevention protocols, including accommodating fewer students in residences and making all rooms single.

'Profoundly disappointed'

The Mount Allison Students' Union said in a statement it was "profoundly disappointed" by the decision and urged the university to "immediately reconsider their stance on whether this is an appropriate time for an increase in tuition and fees."

The union also raised concerns for consecutive tuition hikes, following last year's 5.7 per cent increase for Canadian students and three per cent for international students. The latter group is in line for a two per cent bump this fall.

It launched an online petition that, as of Wednesday night, secured more than 1,000 signatures.

Two students also devised another plan encouraging others to speak out against the decision. Hannah Tuck and Molly Stott crafted a letter template outlining concerns surrounding the increase that could be easily shared by students.

"It was really disheartening to see the university take this stance  and say they're going to increase tuition by this amount when they know that many students are financially strapped right now," said Tuck, a fourth-year arts student majoring in English and drama studies.

Hannah Tuck, a fourth-year arts students at Mount Allison, helped draft a letter template for students to speak out against the tuition increase. (Submitted/Hannah Tuck)

She said the university pitches itself as providing a quality in-person experience and a low student-to-faculty ratio — features muted by the prevention measures.

"We're being charged more to take the majority of our classes online, and we're not getting that one-on-one interaction with the professors as much as we were able to," she said.

The New Brunswick Student Alliance said Wednesday it was "disappointed" by the decision.

"We recognize the financial struggles that PSE students are facing and how this in turn impacts their mental health and well-being," said director Wasiimah Joomun in an emailed statement.

"As an organization that works towards ensuring an affordable and equitable education for all, we will continue to work with our member institution on this."

Communication concern

Tuck said she signed the petition seeking to reverse the decision, but she's more troubled by the manner in which the administration announced the new figures. 

The tuition and fee numbers were posted on the university website this week but without any justification behind the increase. A link to the webpage was only posted on the registrar's Twitter page, which has 433 followers compared to the 7,740 on the university's main account.

The university released a statement explaining its rationale for the increase late Wednesday afternoon.

Tuck, Lee and the students' union all criticized the administration's communication methods. 

Tuck said it's another failure to be open and transparent with students following limited updates during the faculty strike earlier this year and no official announcement that the fall reading week will be cancelled and the December exam period has been changed.

The letter she helped write emphasizes that point.

"Ultimately, I hope this is holding the university accountable and we deserve more of a heads-up," Tuck said.

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