Grad school fee hike faux pas

University of Manitoba’s plan to raise ‘continuing fees’ shut down

The University of Manitoba is backing down from a plan proposed to raise continuing fees for graduate students after a swift response by the University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association (UMGSA) and the provinces’ Minister of Education James Allum.

The faculty of graduate studies had drafted a five-page document to present to the Council on Post-Secondary Education (COPSE) on May 16, in which they outlined a plan to raise the continuing fee paid by grad students from it’s current cost of $703.15 to $3,000 in 2016. In the document, the faculty argued that the rising fees were necessary to keep up with the rest of the U15, a group of Canadian research universities.

According to the figures provided, U of M graduate students, on average, pay less tuition over a longer period of time for a master’s or PhD than the other U15 institutions.

The fee hike was brought to the attention of newly-elected UMGSA president Laura Rempel on her first day in office, when she received a call from the office of the dean of graduate studies, Jay Doering, to set a meeting with UMGSA executives for May 6.

“He informed us of this proposal, and answered some of our preliminary questions,” said Rempel. “They had been requested to consult with students by the Minister of Education [James Allum].”

Rempel doesn’t believe that graduate students would have been consulted if not for Allum’s request, as COPSE decisions do not specifically require direct student consultation for these decisions. After UMGSA’s meeting with the administration, Rempel explained one of the biggest issues that the UMGSA had with the proposal.

“The magnitude of the increase was unprecedented. The reasons given were to be more competitive with the U15, and to attract the best students [to the U of M]. There wasn’t a specific plan on how to allocate the funds that were being suggested,” said Rempel.

“In the proposal the university asked for our feedback on how to allocate those funds, but given the six-day turn around on feedback that they were requesting, that was not a very realistic request.”

In response, the UMGSA sent out a questionnaire to graduate students regarding the fee hike. About one third of the university’s 3,669 graduate students responded to the survey, with 95 per cent of respondents agreeing that a “lower continuing fee was not delaying or discouraging them from graduating in a timely manner.” Also, 89 per cent of respondents said the $3,000 continuing fee would deter them from registering if they were a new student considering the U of M.

An emergency rally was planned for the morning of May 16 outside the COPSE offices. Included in the rally call was a statement from Allum, in which he reaffirmed the province’s dedication to affordable, quality education for Manitoba’s post-secondary students, and commended the reaction from the UMGSA and graduate students as an indication that more discussion is required between administrators and graduate students.

Unused protest material from the cancelled grad student rally.
Unused protest material from the cancelled grad student rally.

With just over 24-hours until the rally, the UMGSA was informed by COPSE that the university had backed down and would not be presenting to the council. According to Rempel, there is one more COPSE meeting in June before the council is dissolved and eventually merged with the Manitoba’s Department of Education as a result of budget cuts in the province’s budget for 2014, released in March.

Rempel is looking for more transparency from the university in the future, with graduate students granted a “genuine voice” in future consultation.

“To get [Education Minister Allum’s] request to be consulted was great, and we thought that was a good first step,” said Rempel.

“And then for him to come out so strongly and publicly was more than we could have hoped for. We hope that this means we can start a new relationship with him as a new executive and work together on proposals in the future, or being more proactive rather than reactive.”

This article was originally published in the Gradzette.