Facing a multi-million dollar reduction in the university’s provincial operating grant, Dalhousie’s Board of Governors voted Tuesday to increase tuition fees across most programs, while asking for more time to review a proposal for more significant increases in medicine, law and dentistry.
Most programs will see a three per cent increase next year, the maximum allowed by the provincial government. The differential fee paid by international students will also increase, but by 10 per cent. The seven per cent of that increase beyond the basic three per cent is specifically allotted for improvements to international student services and support on campus. (Though approved by the board, that seven per cent must also be approved by the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education.)
The university has also proposed larger increases in professional programs where the government cap does not apply: six per cent in law, 10 per cent in medicine and 14 per cent in dentistry. However, after feedback from board members and student leaders requesting more detail and time to consider the motion, the university agreed to briefly hold off on the vote. The executive committee of the board is expected to vote to confirm those increases within the next two weeks.
Ken Burt, Dalhousie vice-president finance and administration, explains the increases are necessary to maintain the quality of education at Dalhousie and the competitiveness of the university’s programs in the face of government cutbacks.
“Even with increased tuition fees, we still have big cuts to make in the university budget,” he says, adding that the $3.6 million in projected revenue from the increased fees—provided the professional program increases are approved—still falls far short of the $7 million cut from the provincial operating grant and is not enough to offset rising costs.
“It’s vital for us to maintain the quality of our education and our services to students in a time of cutbacks and budget reductions. Raising tuition fees is crucial to ensuring we can continue to deliver our university’s mission to the best of our abilities under the circumstances.”
International student services
At the meeting, President Tom Traves explained how the university’s welcome increase in international students—up almost 50 per cent in the past five years—requires more on-campus services than are currently offered and that provincial funding alone is not sufficient to meet that demand. A few of the proposed uses for the fee increase include new staff for the International Student Services office; new orientation programs; and a “Pathways program” helping students seeking stronger English language skills.
Before the meeting, approximately 25 international students gathered outside the Henry Hicks building to protest the 10 per cent increase to the differential fee. Many also attended the board meeting itself as student members of the board shared concerns about the consultation that went into the proposal and whether the increase was truly necessary.
“We understand the concerns that come with any increased fee,” explained Dr. Traves. “However, we’re strongly committed to significantly increasing our support and services to international students, because we believe they require those services to succeed.”
Mr. Burt adds that Dalhousie’s differential fee is extremely competitive when compared to other Canadian universities, where it can often reach upwards of $10-15,000.
Sustaining professional programs
As for the proposed increases to medicine, law and dentistry, Mr. Burt explains that the Board of Governors has standard guidelines for considering tuition increases in specific programs. The factors taken into account include:
- the relative cost of the program
- the earning prospects of graduates
- fees for similar programs at other Canadian universities
- student demand for admittance
- the availability of financial assistance and support for students
It’s on these grounds that the university is proposing increases for law, dentistry and medicine. Each of these programs actually saw a net decrease in their tuition rates over the past five years as a result of improved provincial funding—a rarity in Canada, as similar programs across the country saw net tuition increases of upwards of 30 to 40 per cent. While not insignificant, the proposed increases avoid those more extreme adjustments while keeping tuition in all three programs below the national average.
“If you look at dentistry—the largest increase at 14 per cent—we don’t even move to the middle of the pack,” explains Mr. Burt. “Presently we’re ranked seventh of eight in terms of basic tuition, and even with the increase, we only move to fifth – well behind programs at schools such as Saskatchewan, Western, Toronto and Memorial.”
The provincial bursary program that Mr. Burt speaks of, which provides extra funding to both students from Nova Scotia as well as other Canadian students, remains in effect in 2011/12. Students from Nova Scotia who attend Dalhousie will receive a bursary of $1,283 next year, while other Canadian students will receive $261.
In addition, the Board voted Tuesday to increase the facilities renewal fee paid by students by $30, to support the continued upkeep and maintenance of the physical campus, particularly classroom and research space. Increases were also passed for residence (three per cent) and food services (2.4 per cent), as well as small increases to the Student Services fee and U-Pass fees totaling $9.70 a year per full-time undergraduate student.
Rough financial seas ahead
Mr. Burt says both the tuition increases and the pending budget cuts are not as bad as they could have been; expecting a challenging year due to suspected cutbacks, the university began to prepare by minimizing new hires and leveraging term position employees. Still, he cautions that both the forthcoming budget—and likely next year’s as well—will present tough scenarios for the university community.
“It’s that ‘perfect storm’ situation. We’re in it now, and we have to all work together to find our way out of it.”
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