Random. Precedent Setting. Undergrad. Cash Grab.

Another year, another attempt at a random precedent setting undergrad cash grab from UBC. This year’s version is the proposed Bachelor of International Economics (BIE), a new degree program in the Vancouver School of Economics (VSE), a new school in the faculty of Arts.

The proposed annual tuition is $10,000 for domestic students, and $29,000 for international students. Currently for a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, it’s $4,700 for domestic, and $22,622 for international. A tuition consultation held Tuesday was like stepping into an alternate reality constructed in the presence of too many economists. Angela Redish, recently annointed Vice Provost and UBC Economic professor, did most of the explanation of the pricing behind the proposal, along with Provost David Farrar, UBC Econ head Michael Devereaux, and UBC Econ Prof David Green. VP Students Louise Cowin sat in the audience and did not take part in the dialogue.


Although not mentioned in the consultation, the original tuition proposed by those developing the BIE program was less than the current proposal. Originally it was pegged at 7% above Sauder tuition, which would have meant about $7,500 for domestic students and $27,000 for international. But then the university’s internal consultants at Strategic & Decision Support took a look at the plan and the end result was a higher tuition proposal. For no reason except that they can. To make a little more money.

In 2010, the university had a set of tuition principles, which included: “The proportion of institutional education costs covered by tuition in 2010/11 will be in the range of 25%-30%.” In the case of the BIE, the proportion of institutional education costs covered by tuition is 130%. Why? Because they can. To make a little more money.

Precedent Setting

The VSE creates a two-tiered economics undergraduate program at UBC. The traditional BA will still exist and be available. But for those who can pay more than double, the BIE promises a program with smaller classes, more attention, and more resources, and one that UBC will tell the world is more prestigious than a regular old BA. The BIE was called an “elite” program a few times before backtracking after realizing that word didn’t carry the best connotations. Despite this, in the proposal to Senate about the establishment of the BIE, the UBC Economics department crowed that a strength of theirs was that “Faculty members take an active part in public debates – for example, in December, 2011 the Vancouver Sun commissioned a set of 4 op-eds from department members on inequality in Canada in response to the debates raised by the Occupy Movement.” No doubt those op-eds extolled the virtues of two-tiered education as a way to deal with inequality.

The VSE model is a blueprint for any other department to create a two-tiered undergrad degree program, with tuition levels that put money back into UBC’s coffers. The blueprint should recognize that tuition shouldn’t be set arbitrarily by consultants at UBC Treasury.


While there are some programs at UBC that bring in more in tuition than it costs to provide, they are very rare. Even then, those few programs (Executive MBA, probably some continuing Ed.) are all professional/graduate programs. The BIE is the first to try to profit off of excessively high tuition for domestic undergraduate students.

Cash Grab

Based on the budget that the VSE has developed for the BIE program, the amount collected in tuition will be $6.6M. The cost of providing the program is estimated at $5M. The program turns a profit of $1.6M each year, and that money will be paid back to the VSE, Faculty of Arts, and to UBC. Administrators bristled when it was suggested that this $1.6M is “profit” because there are no shareholders (in the corporate sense) and that the cash is going to cover university expenses. Bullshit. The BIE’s revenues are more than its costs. The extra money is paid out to VSE, Arts, and UBC. Profit to shareholders.

In a few instances, Redish pointed to the fact that Sauder profs teach some courses and that Sauder profs are expensive. Yet, Sauder manages to use Sauder profs exclusively and still not charge $10,000 tuition. They don’t even charge “Sauder + 7%”, the original proposal for BIE tuition. The original tuition levels still resulted in more tuition revenue than expenses for the BIE program. Committing to BIE tuition that is at “Sauder + 7%” level or lower should be a no-brainer for UBC, while giving them some more time to give the program budget another look.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

Comments are closed.

Please vote for us in the Continuous VoterMedia Contest