For the third time this year, students protested and demanded that the University of Alberta reverse budget cuts and fee increases to international tuition and residence meal plans.
On Friday, April 6 students took turns voicing discontent about the fee increases with a microphone set up by the door of the South Academic Building. Unlike the protest last week outside U of A president David Turpin’s office, students were joined by the presidents of the two staff unions that represent staff at the university.
The protesters were angry with the four per cent budget cut to the institution, 3.14 per cent increase in international tuition, the four per cent increase to residence rent, and the more expensive Lister meal plan for next year’s residents. Representatives from the Association of Academic Staff at the U of A (AASUA) and the Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA) singled up their grievances four per cent cut across the budgets of all faculties.
“Every time, they take the cuts. Every time, they take people… it means one thing, that I have to do more administration, and I get to spend last time teaching you, the students,” said AASUA president and Agriculture, Life, and Environmental Science professor Heather Bruce.
David Turpin, president of the U of A, was not on campus during the protest and said he was undergoing a medical procedure that afternoon. In an interview, he maintained that the university’s budget cuts and fee increases are being made for sustainability in the long term.
“The message we get from the (offices of the Minister of Advanced Education and Premier) is that they understand the University of Alberta’s need to increase international student tuition, residence rates, and meal plan rates because they don’t fund those specific functions.”
While this is the third protest that’s been held against the fee increases and budget cuts, this is the first protest that’s been directly organized by the Students’ Union, along with AASUA, NASA,the Graduate Students’ Association, and the post-doctoral fellows association.
During the protest, students voiced their frustrations with Turpin, saying they feel they’re being ignored by the university. Other protestors were also saying students should not have to pay for the financial burden of mistakes made by the university administration.
Students used many chants, including “Not public good,” “U of A not okay,” and “Eat your plan.”
First rally organized by the Students’ Union since 2014
While this is the third rally that’s been held against the fee increases and budget cuts, this is the first one that’s been directly organized by the Students’ Union. The protest last week outside Turpin’s office occurred spontaneously following a town hall event and the protest held at Lister was organized by the Lister Hall Students’ Association and the International Students’ Association.
“Today is monumental,” said Students’ Union vice-president (operations & finance) Robyn Paches. “This is the first time that all associations have come together on campus to unite against administration. It’s also the first time that students at the U of A have protested in over five years.”
Prior to today, the last rally directly organized by the Students’ Union was held in November 2014 where around 300 student marched from campus to the legislature demanding that the Progressive Conservative government government keep tuition capped and freeze market modifiers (non-academic fees). The rally took place the same day as the Legislative Assembly started their fall session.
Board looking out for university’s future, Turpin said
Prior to the protest, Turpin reiterated the need for the university to fix its financial problems, and maintained that the university’s long-term health needs to be considered.
“I think the issue to remember here is the role and responsibility of the Board of Governors of the University of Alberta is to look after the long-term financial sustainability of the institution,” Turpin said. “To consider not only the needs of student, faculty, and staff today, but how to ensure that this institution is in a strong financial situation going forward and is there to support students for future generations, and I think that’s the issue that has to be addressed.”
While Turpin said that the fee increases and budget cuts are necessary, he said that students have a right to be frustrated about the decision.
“Students don’t like it when the cost of residence fees go up or when tuition goes up , and it’s understandable that people aren’t happy and we recognize that and we respect people’s right not be happy with cost increases,” he said.
This article was updated at 5:00 p.m.