The VIU Board of Governor’s proposed ancillary fee, which will cost students $6.27 per credit, and up to a maximum of $188 per 30 credits, is causing disputes among the VIUSU.Designated to provide “enhanced services in the Health and Wellness Centre,” “experiential learning for all,” and “access to a Technology Lending Library,” this fee is expected to create a total of $1.3 million of additional student fees in the 2016-2017 year.
Increased services at VIU’s Health and Wellness Centre will include things such as increased hours of service and psychiatry professionals to deal with mental health issues, said VIU President Dr. Ralph Andrew Nilson.
“What we’re finding is the demand is through the roof, and there is a significant increase in areas we aren’t currently providing service for,” he said. “We worked hard to get a partnership with Island Health, which funds the nurse practitioners, and to get it to campus. Students come from different jurisdictions and can’t always get into walk-ins or emergency.”
VIUSU Organizer-Advocacy representative Patrick Barbosa says the Students’ Union disagrees with the necessity of this.
“The university is actually trying to have their cake and eat it too; they’re double dipping,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure why students who already pay taxes for a health system in the province should also then be expected to pay a university fee to duplicate that service, especially when that service is already being funded by Island Health.”
“Experiential learning for all” is described as a co-curricular record to document involvement in things such as internships, practicums, and work-learning opportunities on students’ transcripts. “We have been working on this for a year and a half, and it’s something new that is very important to demonstrate their learning experiences,” said Nilson.
Barbosa stated that no one overseeing the process suggested there would be a mandatory fee of $1.3 million assessed to students to pay for the program. “We feel as though we have been misled in that process,” he said, “because to make a fair decision, you need both the costs and benefits. And unfortunately the university and student affairs did not provide that fair assessment.”
Barbosa also explained that the VIUSU researched the cost of the program. “The Board of Governors, the Director, and the Executive Director of Student Affairs suggested it is going to cost a little less than $50k,” he said. “So I’m not sure how a $47k licensing fee equates to a $1.3 million student fee.”
Finally, the proposed Technology Lending Library is catered towards the increase in digital needs in university programs. “More and more we are seeing students’ need to engage in the web and access info from online, and some can afford it, some can’t,” said Nilson. “Technology changes so rapidly. We know students can’t afford this. It’s important if we want to provide that high quality learning environment, and want students to choose VIU. We need these fees.”
Barbosa doubts the legitimacy of Nilson’s claims and states VIU has not provided evidence of what these alleged expansions will be. “I’m not aware of any occasion that a student has come into this office and said, ‘I really wish the university had more laptops I could borrow in the library,’ because most students have their own laptops,” he said. “If a student doesn’t have a laptop, it’s very likely they have an iPad. This is a decision made by administrators for administrators, and they should have evidence to support that the technology is being requested.”
The Ministry of Advanced Education has a Tuition Limit Policy that states the university cannot create new fees for existing programs over two per cent. “Because these are new services it does not apply, as the government limitation at two per cent applies to current fees in place,” said Nilson.
While the Board of Governors claims these enhanced services are new programs to VIU, the VIUSU believes they are pre-existing. “We have always had technology lending from the library; we’ve always had experiential learning, and we currently have nurse practitioners,” said Barbosa. “These programs exist, so that means, under the Ministry of Advanced Education’s policy, the university is literally not allowed to create these fees.”
Lack of funding from the Ministry of Advanced Education appears to be fueling the debate on ancillary fees. Nilson explained, “We don’t have other sources of income,” illustrating the fact that institutions in BC are underfunded.
As an attempt to solve this issue, the Students’ Union believes the Ministry of Advanced Education has been coaching the institution in creating these ancillary fees, said Barbosa. “What we have is a system where people aren’t creating fees to supplement services that students want; they’re creating fees because the Ministry says, ‘Hey, we know you’re underfunded.’ It’s a real challenge for university and college administrators, and so it’s a real challenge for us.”
The VIUSU is currently circulating a survey to retrieve students’ opinions on the proposed new fee. Contact the Students’ Union for further information.
Editor’s note: This article incorrectly cited Dr. David Witty, and has been amended since publication.