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October 2, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Fees Rise 2% Despite Student Opposition

The VUW Council passed a motion ten votes to two in its public meeting on September 25 to increase domestic fees for undergraduate and postgraduate courses by 2% for 2018.

International student fees are also to rise 2% in 2018, a decision that was made in November 2016.

For the average full-time student (120 points), a year of a Bachelor of Arts degree, the cheapest course of undergraduate study at VUW, cost approximately $5,360.40 in 2017. The fee rise adds just over $100, bringing the cost for a year of study up to $5,467.20.

For the average full-time student a year of a Bachelor of Engineering, the most expensive undergraduate course of study, was $7,845.60 in 2017. This will increase to $8,001.60 in 2018.

The increases were limited to 2% for 2018 at the direction of the government, which sets the annual maximum fee movement for tertiary institutions.

At the recommendation of the VUW Council Finance Committee, which considers the budget and VUW’s obligation to make a 3% surplus under the current tertiary funding model, the fee increase was passed to “enable the university to maintain quality and continue to invest in initiatives to support the Strategic Plan.”

Published in 2014, the Strategic Plan lays out a vision for VUW to be a “world-leading capital city university” and to “enhance research quality, quantity, and impact” — aspirations that the Council Finance Committee felt would be at risk if the fee increase was not implemented, as “a decision to increase fees by less than 2% would reduce resources for essential income in 2018.”

The student representatives on the Council, Alexandria Mark and Jacinta Gulasekharam, opposed the increase, and believed that VUW had not been transparent about the process and reasoning for raising fees.

Gulasekharam said “I can not vote for fee increases until we tell, by email, every student how much their fees are going up by and why.”

Mark went further, pointing out the tension that in a “society that now insists upon tertiary training, whether it be university, trade school, apprenticeship, or wānanga, even for the most basic of jobs, it’s becoming increasingly hard to justify the cost of education as a personal choice.”

She highlighted that the financial barrier to study “did not always exist. It was created and exacerbated by the generation who came before us who were happy to climb the ladder and pull it up behind them.”

Since the introduction of the user pays tertiary model in 1989, fees for tertiary institutions have increased steadily, often by the maximum amount permissible by the government.

Five years ago a full year of a Bachelor of Arts degree cost approximately $4,500, compared to $5,360.40 in 2017.

Mark’s speech at the meeting prompted a response from the chair of the Council Finance Committee, Roger Taylor, who said “there’s no such thing as a free lunch or free education,” despite admitting that “when [he] went to university the state paid for it.”

He said that when he started working “the maximum tax rate was about 67% […] so what we’re talking about here is who pays.”

This sentiment, that the current tertiary funding model is inadequate and therefore student fees are a justified necessity, was reiterated by Guilford, who told Salient that “neither student fee rises or government tuition subsidies have kept pace with rising costs over this period, meaning year after year staff have to deliver the high quality education they do with less money in real terms.”

“The numerous improvements made to the quality of learning and teaching and student services during this period are primarily due to staff working harder with less.”

However, despite Guilford pitting the interests of students against staff, VUW’s Strategic Plan also contains a key strategy to “provide a holistic learning, teaching, and student experience that is second to none.”

This was touched upon by VUWSA President Rory Lenihan-Ikin, who spoke at the meeting and described “a sense of powerlessness” among students regarding their voice within the institution.

He said that there is “a sense that no matter what, the system is set up in a way that requires maximum fee increases every year and no degree of student voice within the institution could change this.”

This was reflected in statements by Council member Therese Walsh who, in response to the students who spoke at the meeting, said, “I think that today is not the right day to be having these discussions and speeches, because in fact actually the decision is really taken, in the sense that we’ve put together and spent a lot of time on financial planning for 2018 — what needs to be done operationally, what needs to be done from a capital perspective.”

Salient asked Guilford if Walsh had meant that the fee increase is taken as given by the Council when budgeting prior to the fee-setting meeting; he said the question would need to be answered by Walsh.

At the time of print, Walsh had not replied.

However, a response to the comment was received from VUW Chancellor Neville Jordan, who appeared to deny that this was the intention of the comment. “The discussion was about how to enhance engagement with students.”

Despite Guilford’s participation in an event in the Hub on September 13, where students could ask about the fee-setting process, the overall message from the students who spoke at the Council meeting was that there was a lack of transparency and student involvement in the fee-setting process.

Guilford told Salient that a student member of Council participates in the Council Finance Committee and added that the meeting where the recommendation to increase fees was presented was open to the public.

However, only two of the twelve-member Council are students, and all non-student members voted for the increase, raising questions about democratic accountability, a sentiment shared by Lenihan-Ikin.

“We feel students deserve more direct communication about fee-setting — what that looks like isn’t yet clear, but we are having conversations about how VUW, and VUWSA, can do that more effectively. Of course, we do host a fee forum each year (the “Rant with Grant”) where the VC explains VUW’s position on fee rises and where students can ask questions.”

“But VUW budgets are decided early on in the year, so we are working with them at the moment to try and enable student views to be fed into the budget-setting process earlier from next year.”

In the meeting, the Council also voted, twelve votes for and zero against, to raise the Student Services Levy by 3.5% of the 2017 rate, bringing it to $756.00 for full-time students in 2018.

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