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September 23, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Victoria Cooking Up Fees

Fee rises for every student were approved at a highly guarded meeting of University Council last week, with the legal maximum rise of four per cent for domestic students approved for the fourth year in a row.

The decision was made at a meeting of University Council, held last Monday, to raise tuition fees for 2014 by four per cent for domestic students’ and five per cent for international students’ tuition fees, and to increase the compulsory Student Services Levy (SSL) by two per cent for all students. International Music students will face further increases of one per cent for postgraduates and two per cent for undergraduates. The rises will mean all students will pay between $192 and $324 extra next year, depending on their courses.

Last year, the University requested an eight-per-cent rise—twice the legal maximum—for Humanities, Education and Social Science fees, but was denied by the Tertiary Education Commission.

While fee rises each year have become the norm, this year’s meeting saw a number of non-student Council members speaking out against rises. Public Service Association National Secretary Brenda Pilott voted against the rises—the only non-student to do so.

Pilott said the fee-rise document did not address whether the rise would be affordable for students, despite requests at the previous Council meeting for such information. Chief Operating Officer Andrew Simpson said requests had not come in early enough, and the University did not have capacity to undertake such research, though it would be considered in future. Also airing their concerns regarding information provided to Council around fee rises were ministerial representatives Neil Paviour-Smith and Victoria Heine, both appointed by Minister of Tertiary Education Steven Joyce.

Student representative David Alsop, also voting against the rises, told Council he recognised the difficult financial environment the University operated in, but could not support tuition-fee rises as this would implicitly support the Government’s moves to make students pay more for their education.

The second student representative, VUWSA President Rory McCourt, said Victoria had failed to stand up to the Government—a point disputed by McKinnon—and that rises would affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds the most.

“At what point do we [decide to not continue] to mop up inequalities with services, when the structural inequalities of our fees are pushing those students away from our institution,” said McCourt, adding students were “paying more, but getting less”.

While “quality costs” was the excuse given by Chancellor Ian McKinnon and Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh both at the meeting and at the Student Fees Forum held last week, Council did not address how quality is measured, or what specific measures would be taken to turn the extra $5 million of revenue from increased tuition fees into increased quality.

“The University has a range of tools for measuring and monitoring quality. This includes feedback from students and regular rigorous academic reviews,” Simpson later told Salient.

The meeting was surrounded by a baffling degree of security, with security personnel cutting off all but one of the access routes to the Hunter Building’s Council Chambers, accompanying students to the Chambers, and asking all students to leave bags and coats outside. A member of the security staff also sat behind the four students present at the meeting.

When asked why the University considered such security necessary, Director of Campus Services Jenny Bentley told Salient security was for “safety” and to provide “emergency support for unforeseen events such as [earthquakes].” Bentley described the number of staff as “small”, though Salient encountered over five security staff, some plain-clothed, on our way to the Chambers—more than any other Council meeting this year.

Each year, two students speak to University Council on the effects of the proposed fee rises before discussion begins. Pasifika Students’ Council President Kevin Fagalilo, one of the students chosen to speak by McCourt and Alsop, was unsure what he was supposed to be doing at the meeting and had failed to prepare a speech for Council.

Fagalilo told Salient McCourt had given him just one day’s notice ahead of the meeting, and that McCourt had not clearly articulated what was expected of him at the meeting. McCourt sent the briefing document to Fagalilo at 10 pm the night before the meeting.

McCourt, who was tasked with organising the speakers along with Alsop, told Salient it was not their responsibility to brief the student speakers on what to say or on what format they should use to submit their thoughts to the Council. He refused to comment on Fagalilo’s contribution to the meeting.

“We organise and provide a platform, but we don’t screen what [the student speakers] say.”

Diana Osavyluk, a Ukrainian student living in New Zealand currently in her fourth year of a Biomedical Science degree, spoke on the issues faced by international students from fee rises. International students pay up to $25,000 a year for an undergraduate course, for which the maximum possible scholarship is $10,000, and faced added financial restrictions as study visas cap the number of hours international students can work each week.

Osavyluk said that fees were not a good indicator of quality, as each year fees had risen “not much has changed”, and that the quality of the education received at Victoria came down to the effort that a student put in. There are approximately 1683 international students at Victoria in 2013, meaning the five-per-cent rise will increase revenue by $1.2 million.

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  • Each member of University Council gets $320 per meeting, meaning the fee-setting meeting cost approximately $10,000 on its own—enough to pay for the fee rises of 50 domestic students.

  • The University is expected to have a 2.9-per-cent surplus in 2013. The Tertiary Education Commission requires a three-per-cent surplus.

  • Most of the surplus goes towards property maintenance and allowing for depreciation, with management describing the budget margins as “extremely tight”.

  • Fees for international students do not change to reflect foreign exchange rates. A Vietnamese student is effectively paying twice as much now as they were four years ago, due to currency fluctuations.
  • Total student loan debt currently sits at around $13 billion.
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