Above: Photo via Russell McNell on Flickr
Following the implementation of a controversial new “student services fee” on April 1, VIU has been tight-lipped regarding what exactly students’ money is going towards.
VIU defers to an online fact sheet, updated early last month, for all information regarding the fee and the new services it will eventually cover. The new services are split into three focuses: “increased services” to the Health and Wellness Centre, including “mental health…and support for students with disabilities;” opportunities for “experiential learning,” such as “paid employment off-campus;” and the addition of a “lending library” which offers “tablets and laptops” with “voice-to-text, time management, [and] word processing” software.
In order to gather more information as to what exactly students can expect now that they’re paying a new fee—such as what kinds of mental health and disability services will be added; whether or not students in smaller programs will get off-campus employment opportunities; and the particulars of the laptops, tablets, and software mentioned—the Navigator reached out to VIU communications, but was told there was nothing new to announce and to follow up in September.
When asked if there was a timeline, or whether any of the services were closer to launching than others, the response was the same: Nothing to announce—check back in September. The VIU library did not respond to a follow-up, and the executive director of student affairs (and co-presenter of the fee’s initial proposal) was unavailable in time for a comment. The fee is now part of domestic full-time and part-time tuition, but VIU has only offered a vague idea of what’s to come, and an even vaguer idea of when.
On its own, VIU’s response wouldn’t be of note—there’s nothing wrong with getting your act together before you make an announcement—but due to the controversial nature of the fee, the cold shoulder is disturbing.
First proposed in November as a way to provide “new and enhanced supplemental initiatives for students and to sustain current service level,” the new fee of $6.27 per credit was met with concern by the VIUSU. In 2005, a Tuition Limit Policy was set by the BC government, restricting universities from raising tuition and mandatory fees by more than two per cent during a fiscal year in order to account for inflation. VIU has followed this limitation for 11 iterations of its Tuition Fee Schedule, raising tuition incrementally by almost 22 per cent in the last 10 years, per the policy. The addition of the new student services fee, along with the annual two per cent increase in tuition, marks a total increase of a 6.5 per cent in tuition and fees this year, as of April 1.
BC Minister of Education Andrew Wilkinson says that new fees are allowed so long as they provide a “clear benefit to students,” although this clarification of the policy is currently not available in the official literature on the BC government website. In response, the VIUSU made a freedom of information request on January 4 in order to gather any and all information regarding BC university tuition, fees, and their policies. The ministry asked for an extension to deliver upon the request, and the VIUSU is expecting a package of information within the month.
“This has been one of the more challenging things I’ve had to deal with here,” says VIUSU spokesperson Patrick Barbosa. “We’ve worked here for 15 years to make a meaningful and collegial relationship, and with this one [student services fee], they [VIU] never felt the need to fulfill any reasonable dialogue.”
Barbosa attended the latest VIU Board of Governors meeting last month with a group of Students’ Union members in order to present a package asking the Board to reject the new fee. The VIUSU polled 414 students, and Barbosa says that “students were universally opposed.
“They see the value in some of the services, but they [the services] didn’t meet the bar.”
He also says that there was neither a timeline, nor an expenditures plan regarding the new services presented by VIU at the meeting. As of writing, the minutes from the meeting are not yet online.
The initial proposal for the student services fee reads that “VIU is committed to transparency and accountability in the implementation of the Student Services Fee,” and that they would “provide clear information” on its impact and benefits. Those words were in the draft back in November. The fee is already happening—so when does the transparency and clear information start? Five months from now?