On December 5th, 2022, the UBC Board of Governors — the highest governing body at UBC — approved a tuition increase of 2% for domestic students, 3% for international students, and 5% for new international students, despite the majority of students who opposed the increase in the UBC Tuition Engagement survey. Promptly after the announcement, the SUO addressed a public statement to the Board of Governors condemning the tuition fee increase. The Phoenix News interviewed Vice President External Cade Desjarlais, who initiated this statement.
The yearly tuition increase has never been favoured by students, both international and domestic. Rising inflation has already made it difficult for students to manage their finances, and food insecurity is on a rise. Many international students have to pay large amounts of money, with tuition for international students being 4-8 times more than that for domestic students, which adversely affects their mental health. The UBC Board of Governors fail to take into account the student's voices, and students express that the survey mainly acts as a flimsy effort by the Board members to include the student’s voices.
The recent trend of increasing tuition fees for higher education is concerning. This practice is creating a financial burden on students who wish to pursue higher education and ultimately, dampening their academic aspirations. With increased tuition fees, students are forced to take on additional debt or work multiple jobs to meet their financial obligations, resulting in negative impacts on their academic performance, mental health, and overall well-being. For international students, these fees can be particularly daunting, as they are often already struggling with the high cost of living in a foreign country.
Mashal Narsi: The statement by the SUO regarding the Tuition Increase in 2022/23 was appreciated by many students around campus. What led you to advocate for the students? Any personal experiences of students raising concerns, especially international students?
Cade Desjarlais: For as long as I have known, I have always been involved in the community, advocacy, and student governance. I have participated in social justice campaigns, worked on mental health campaigns, and paid close attention to the world around me. With this deep value in leadership and social justice, as well as my interest in politics, advocating for students and my peers seemed to be the perfect fit. I’m tired of seeing students and young people being left behind by the institutions we are told to trust, and so I’ve decided to try and do something about it.
MN: For the readers that are not aware of the statement, could you please give a description of what it was about, what impacts it can have on the students, and what possible changes can take place after the statement was released?
CD: On December 5th, 2022, the UBC Board of Governors — the highest governing body at UBC — approved a tuition increase of 2% for domestic students and 5% for [new] international students, despite desperate pleas by students. The yearly Tuition Engagement survey further found that over 95% of respondents did not want a tuition increase or could not afford it. The Board of Governors voted 12-6 in favour of this increase for the 2023/24 Academic year.
Students are facing financial pressures from all sides, and this frustration needed to be voiced. The SUO and I published a public letter in response to this increase to ensure that students’ voices were still front and centre.
The purpose of the letter was to first respond to the impersonal, blanket email that all students received notifying us of the increase. Second, the letter was supposed to highlight to the Board of Governors a recommendation made by the UBC Student Affordability Task Force. This task force outlined many recommendations that are being worked on, with one of them being a multi-year tuition framework. This simply means that when students accept their offer to UBC, any tuition increases will be stated out front so that students can budget accordingly. Hypothetically, this could look like a 2% increase after two years, and then a 2% increase in your final year of study. When we accept an offer from UBC, we are essentially signing a contract. With tuition changing year to year, UBC is breaking this contract. This tuition framework would remove tuition increases as the main tool UBC uses for budgeting, and allow for a truly transparent and fair relationship between UBC and the students.
MN: Advocating for students and making a long-term change is a lengthy process. Do you see a decrease in tuition fees happening anytime soon?
CD: The short answer would be no. I wish I could say otherwise, but that’s the reality right now. That is why the SUO is working on other initiatives like food insecurity, public transit, parking, and other affordability issues, to hopefully reduce costs where we can. I think though this year, we have seen lots of progress and the beginnings of some really dramatic shifts, and it is really promising. UBC has been responsive, as well as our other government and external
partners, and this opening up of communication is vital. It also is important that our team this year works on a fulsome transition to ensure all information, learning, and progress has been shared.
MN: How has your experience been advocating and raising the student voice on the table with the Board of Governors and other provincial stakeholders?
CD: My experience advocating for students and being in my role at the SUO, I won’t lie, has been quite stressful. It can be hard to feel as if the entirety of the student body, even if they don’t know who you are, rely on you to make their frustrations known. Although there is some inherent pressure to this job, it is extremely rewarding and a valuable experience. I have been able to engage with students, expand our network, and move the dial on student issues in our own student movement; this is an experience that will benefit me for the rest of my life.
I always will be working on improving parking and public transit, but I also am excited to promote the upcoming SHAG (Sexual Health Awareness Gala) happening on March 23rd as well as a new mental health campaign with the goal of connecting students with the services available on our very own campus.
It is vital that the Board of Governors takes into consideration the adverse effects of tuition fee increases on all UBCO students. We can remain hopeful that they will take the necessary steps to support students' academic journeys by finding ways to reduce the financial burden on students, such as offering more scholarships and financial aid programs.