Restricted Access

restricted access I’m rarely on the University of Alberta campus anymore, so I only heard about the SU’s Restricted Access campaign fairly recently. The main event takes place tomorrow morning at 7 AM, roughly an hour before the U of A Board of Governors’ meeting. Students will be gathering to send a message that access to education is an issue:

The cost of a full educational experience is rapidly increasing. Mounting financial burdens are preventing a growing number of hard-working, qualified students from completing or even starting their university education. Join the Restricted Access movement and protect the right to an education that all qualified students have earned.

If ratified at the meeting, tuition will increase 4.1% next year while residence rent rates will increase 8%. Dave Cournoyer, who may be live-blogging the meeting tomorrow, says that “residence rates at the U of A will have increased by $220 per month since 2006” when the increase is approved tomorrow. That’s quite a bit!

It sounds familiar. I remember all the students protesting tuition increases back when I attended the university. And yet tuition always seemed to go up anyway. The university isn’t immune to the current financial crisis either. By March, it is estimated that the U of A’s endowments will have declined by nearly $100 million.

The increases don’t affect me directly anymore, but I still find the issue important. I’m one of many former students trying to repay student loans to the federal government:

Investments in post-secondary education must be part of the federal government’s economic recovery plan, and it must help relieve massive student debt, which on Wednesday hit $13 billion, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

According to CFS estimates, the average student graduates with a total debt load of $25,000 to $28,000. Big numbers, indeed.

Back to the campaign. The Students’ Union has distributed red scarves and handbills to students, hung posters, and manned information booths. They’ve also made use of social media tools to help spread the word. There are over 1900 members in the Restricted Access Facebook group, and nearly 400 have confirmed attendance at tomorrow morning’s event. The SU recently created a Twitter account, and they’ve been regularly updating their blog. The website also has a form that makes it easy to send letters to MLAs. Good stuff.

As this Gateway article notes, the campaign provides a platform for future discussions:

“This project is truly broader and deeper than the yearly tuition and rent increase debates that have happened. Access is a long-term project and it’s going to take a long-term push from a lot of students to make real, substantive, systematic changes,” [SU President Janelle Morin] explained.

They’re off to a good start, I think.

If you’re a student looking to participate tomorrow, meet at the tent in Celebration Plaza (outside the Admin building on the bus loop) at 7 AM for free hot chocolate and donuts, and don’t forget to wear your red scarf!

Tuition is not the problem, books are!

Post Image On Friday, the Board of Governors at the University of Alberta approved a 4.6% increase in tuition fees. That translates to an extra $215.55 for general arts and science students. Of course the decision made the local news and predictably the segments focused on the extra burden this places on students.

But more than teaching or deferred maintenance, it was the question of affordability that concerned Students’ Union President Michael Janz.

Janz stressed that every time fees are increased, the debt loads that students incur go up, as do the chances that someone will not apply to the U of A because they see it as financially unfeasible.

I mean, what do you expect the SU President to say? Of course he’s got to side with students on the issue, that’s his job.

I think the focus should not be on tuition, however. Looking back on my time at the university, I think the problem are textbooks. Sure tuition is expensive and I am repaying student loans now, but it was textbooks that were the real killer.

In my last two years, I avoided purchasing textbooks whenever possible. The idea of spending $175 for a 150 page book just drove me nuts. Especially since most of the content in the books can be found elsewhere. The other thing that sucks is when a professor requires the latest edition of a textbook, meaning students cannot purchase the less expensive old editions.

There’s no reason to force students to purchase ridiculously expensive textbooks. Hell, there’s pretty much no reason to have physical textbooks at all! Just offer digital versions instead. Or incorporate free materials.

I think getting rid of the expensive textbooks would help students far more than trying to prevent tuition increases.

Read: The Gateway