Students dispute Minister’s statements

Students’ Union says it has already given detailed and specific reasons for opposing a new university fee to the provincial government.

The Vancouver Island University Students’ Union says it has already given detailed and specific reasons for opposing a new university fee to the provincial government.

Countering Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson’s claim that students need to be more specific and engaged about their concerns (“Fee fight divides student and VIU leaders” Citizen, Feb. 12), VIUSU spokesperson Patrick Barbosa provided the Citizen a copy of an e-mail he sent to MAE Deputy Minister Sandra Carroll in mid-December and delivered by hand to Wilkinson in January of this year that provided detailed, specific reasons for VIUSU’s disputation of the proposed fee.

“The public record shows that VIU is trying to find mechanisms to offset costs for existing programs,” the e-mail reads, citing text from a Board of Governors agenda.

The e-mail then goes into detail about why VIUSU believes the proposed fee, which would kick in this April, runs counter to MAE legislation allowing a maximum two per cent mandatory fee and tuition increase per year. If the fee is for new services that are a clear benefit to students, it falls outside the limitation.

If it does not relate to new services of clear benefit to students it is not permitted by the MAE. VIUSU estimates that implementing the fee would constitute a 6.5 per cent increase altogether in costs for VIU students next term.

On experiential learning, Barbosa’s e-mail states that “Experiential learning and outside work opportunities have always been a focus at Vancouver Island University. To support this work we currently have an existing Centre for Experiential Learning, housed within our Campus Career Centre, that provides direct support to students.”

On health care, Barbosa’s e-mail notes “VIU currently has a broad health and wellness program” and goes on to say, “We understand that this service is funded through a partnership with [Island Health] and that the majority of the costs are not borne by VIU.”

In addition to offsetting costs such as these already partly covered by existing partnerships, Barbosa said he does not know why VIU needs to increase fees when it has a surplus.

Last year, audited financial statements for VIU show an accumulated operating surplus of $2.26 million, or $1.56 million with donations to the VIU Foundation removed from calculations.

On increased technology access Barbosa writes that two areas proposed to be created through the fee of “equipment and software support” already exist.

“VIU currently provides a comprehensive list of technological hardware for students and faculty to borrow through library services.”

These e-mail specifics appear to run counter to statements made previously to the Citizen by Wilkinson.

“It’s up to the student association and the student bodies to respond to my specific descriptions of the fees and the corresponding benefits so that we can be informed of it. They have not,” Wilkinson said last week.

Barbosa notes there is precedent for the MAE telling VIU an increase is not permitted. In 2005 the VIU board of governors tried to increase tuition above allowed limits and were made to reduce the increase as well as given government funds to offset costs.

“We want the ministry to enforce policy,” Barbosa said.

“We don’t expect the university to do it, nor do we expect the board of governors to do it. We just want the ministry to say “yes” or “no”. You are correct or wrong in your interpretation.”

An e-mail from B.C. Government communications director Rodney Porter said Wilkinson did not have space in his calendar to provide comment by press deadline.

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