The Henry Angus Tuition Fee

Commerce students are before the ballot now. There are some good backgrounders out there. We scrapped ours because frankly, it was too dry. The important lessons coming from the history are:

1. The rhetoric behind accreditation grew stronger with time. At first it was not being mentioned, then there were short references, now there’s direct citations from documents no one’s seen.

2. Fun accounting tricks took place. The development was “phased” and then a lot of the project was shifted into Phase 1 slowly in what is most likely an attempt to maximize funds from the first CUS referendum. This includes things that didn’t need to be there, like A/V.

3. Phase 2, in a sense, has to happen. If only Phase 1 occurs, its costs go up because building code and seismic improvements are in Phase 2. When you’re tearing down walls to upgrade to code, you may as well save money and make those walls pretty. It would be really stupid to not do Phase 2.

The fact that ‘phasing’ is irrelevant if you have to do both is beside the point. What’s important to note from the history is that there is this financial model that was created by the administration, and they’re relying on the inflexibility they built in to get a desired outcome. It’s like arguing “we shouldn’t stop the train, because I deliberately broke the breaks.”

This piece goes into the nature of tuition and student fee accounting, what’s wrong with this question, and the bad precedents it is setting.

Student Fees Are Not Tuition; This Is

Tuition is a highly politicized issue in Canada. The reason for this is that optically, it’s a big lever on determining who can and cannot attend university. Canadians widely believe that the basis of admissions should be based on merit, and political parties differ on how to make it as such. To achieve a more meritocratic university, and simply because there’s so much public investment, government keeps a firm grasp on the lever.

Main Image

The upcoming CUS fee is best accounted for as a tuition increase. Historically, the only financial onus on the student body is tuition, which goes towards recurring costs like salaries. Buildings are typically constructed from some combination of government grants (provincial and federal), UBC investment (endowment funding and donation-matching), and private investment (individuals and corporations). Students have never contributed. This is deliberate, as students contribute their share through tuition, and it’s the job of government and the University to come up with the finances for buildings. The government is clear with this.

Student societies, such as the AMS, exist to represent and service the student body in ways the University cannot. Needing some way to finance their operations, the law states they can levy fees off the student body via referendum. AMS fees fund services like the Advocacy Office, pay for renovations to the Student Union Building, and fund the salary of the AMS executive.

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  1. You need not look farther than the comments of two donors to the renovations about the importance of students not being on the hook here.

    Irfhan Rawji, BComm 2000.

    John Williams, BComm 1958.

    Posted by Alex Lougheed | March 10, 2010, 5:14 pm
  2. Good post. That’s the real issue here – the backdoor tuition hike.

    Three points I’d add.

    1) The principle behind “students pay tuition, government/universities pay buildings” is sound. Students’ time is transient; they pay transient expenses. Buildings that outlast any cohort of students are permanent and paid by the permanent tenants/beneficiaries.

    2) Yet another dangerous element to the precedent (in addition to those mentioned herein) is that this threatens to increase the ever-growing gap between have and have-not faculties. There are demographers and stats geeks who can make this point better than I.

    3) Finally, let’s dispense with the “we need a nice building so the world respects us” crap. I went to law school in a universally recognized dump of a building. That didn’t devalue my degree. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of the legal community and, quite frankly, to the faculty as well, in that it suggests that they are incapable of rising above the limitations of the physical plant.

    3a) By the way, law’s getting a new building. Why? Because the law community recognized that it was about damn time, and ponied up millions over millions of dollars. Strangely, the business community has declined to do the same. What does that say about the reputational argument?

    Posted by TLG | March 10, 2010, 5:33 pm
  3. Great article Alex. You hit all the issues. Hell, imo, you should be providing the debate for the no vote.

    Regardless of such, great article. I vote tomorrow, and I’m so torn behind the decision.

    Posted by Jeff | March 10, 2010, 6:45 pm
  4. I’m curious as to what you think about the point raised at the bottom of page 5 here:

    Basically they’re admitting that other business schools did not levy direct student fees due to provincial grants, but they also argue that those schools have higher tuition which makes up for the lack of an explicit fee.

    As far as I know, no school has had to raise tuition as a direct result of a new building. That was not the case in recent examples such as Queen’s, Ivey, and Rotman.

    Posted by Jason | March 10, 2010, 7:34 pm
  5. Interestingly, there are Tax Implications to the new proposal. Under the Dean’s original proposal, the “Building Fee” was going to be structured to be tax efficient, which likly would have made it as a tax credit for education.

    Under the new referendum the fee will be strictly a “Student Association Fee” which H&R Block says is not eligible to claim as a credit.

    Under the ITA Donations must be voluntary, and so one cannot consider this to be a “donation” and so again no credit.

    This works out to about $410 ($300 + $110)which would have been available in credits.

    We can all play accounting games…

    Posted by Annon | March 10, 2010, 10:24 pm
  6. @Jason – That last paragraph is pretty much a lie. It’s not as though it’s one giant pot that all money, including tuition, goes in to, and all expenses, including capital costs, come out.

    Capital costs are, and have always been, treated differently from tuition. Though I’m over-simplifying the extent to which they are in siloes, the paragraph you referenced is at best ignorant and at worst an outright lie.

    Maybe I’m just bitter. Let’s face facts – there’s nothing about a commerce degree that justifies a more fancy learning environment than, say, an arts degree. Nothing. Underlying this whole affair appears to be an underlying notion that a commerce degree is in some way special such that it requires a cutting-edge classroom. That’s a crock. Commerce students deserve leading-edge facilities just as much as every other student deserves leading-edge facilities; students in other faculties just haven’t been brainwashed into thinking there’s a high-paying glamorous job for them on the other side.

    Posted by TLG | March 10, 2010, 11:12 pm
  7. Now the Faculty has offered their own FAQ.

    If this was an actual student fee, the Faculty would have minimal interest in its outcome. Posting their own, independent FAQ, addressed to ‘concerned students’? Please.

    @Jason, TLG summarized well why that point contains “clearly faulty logic”. The opposition is coming from that the University is pushing to increase the overall cost of a degree to students, by manipulating some students and using a hole in the law.

    Also, there’s still a gaggle of issues surrounding referendum procedure.

    It would be foolish to acknowledge these precedents. I would highly advise anyone in Commerce to vote no on the fee, and let your renovations come off the back of all UBC students (myself included). I would much rather mismanagement be addressed as mismanagement and legal loopholes that undermine a well-functioning democracy not be acknowledged as legitimate.

    Posted by Alex Lougheed | March 11, 2010, 1:27 am
  8. Props, yo.

    Posted by ~*~Sexy Brunette~*~ | March 11, 2010, 1:28 am
  9. Alex, you of all people should know that this is not setting a precedent. In January of 2009, you personally moved a motion at AMS Council to approve a $300 increase in Architecture student fees. This fee increase was going to be transferred to the school to cover a deficit in the faculty’s IT budget, as well as to “create a buffer for the future” (See item #10:

    Even before that, the original $266 CUS fee was put in place to fund career services, as well as pay for computer labs in Henry Angus. Since then, the school has seen more resources become available and has been able to take on much of that responsibility as it rightfully should. The CUS still contributes to the Business Career Centre, however now it is based on performance for getting students jobs (this year it’s ~$58 per student; a far cry from the full funding that the CUS used to contribute).

    I would hope to see the same happen in the future with the fee currently being considered. As University resources become available in the future, the school will step up to contribute heavily to this initiative like it has in the past.

    Posted by Tom Dvorak | March 11, 2010, 1:49 am
  10. @Tom You of all people should know that such a motion was moved by me because the VP Academic has the responsibility to ensure the AMS’s very rudimentary electoral checks go through. In retrospect, I regret not keeping a higher standard of political scrutiny on whether or not they should have been voting on their fee. I do recall some of my sharper colleagues at the time voted against that motion.

    I think these votes /have/ set a precedent. You’ll note that you’re quoting precedent I established as a reason that I should be ok with it. Precedents are tricky like that.

    You’ll also notice the University is becoming more and more interested in pursuing this option. Round 2 for Sauder, round 1 for architecture, and in those same minutes, you’ll note Clare Benton mentioning the possibility of a $1000 student fee for the new law building. Same thing at UVic, but the Ministry seems to be catching on… All of this within the past two years, and before then, hardly any examples? It seems like there’s a rush to get through the hole before government patches it up.

    What concerned students /can/ do is help government patch it up.

    Posted by Alex Lougheed | March 11, 2010, 2:04 am
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