Editorial: Tuition or fees? It’s all the same

An unseemly money-raising scheme has shown its face at universities and colleges across B.C. If administrators are hampered by the current two per cent cap on tuition, they are now free to invent a whole raft of new charges.

Vancouver Island University and North Island College have both used this dodge in recent months. Students’ unions at the two Island schools say new mandatory fees, when combined with regular tuition and other price hikes, will boost overall costs for full-time students by more than six per cent, or three times the cap.

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In the legislature, Kathy Corrigan, the NDP’s advanced-education critic, accused the government of helping schools sneak past the tuition cap.

The NDP backed that claim by releasing a November newsletter, signed by North Island College president John Bowman, in which he states: “Earlier this year, the ministry advised B.C.’s colleges they had a new interpretation of the Tuition Limit Policy which enables institutions to implement mandatory student fees.”

A statement from the Ministry of Advanced Education says there has been no new “interpretation” of the policy, although the ministry does provide “clarification” from time to time. This is simply verbal gymnastics.

North Island College, for example, approved a $5-per-credit “learner resources fee” that will cost full-time students about $150 a year.

Vancouver Island University announced a new $6.27-per-credit “student services fee” that will cost full-time students about $188 a year.

It doesn’t matter if the thing that smacks you over the head is called a bat or a club — it hurts just the same.

And the reasons given for these and other such manoeuvres reveal the obvious truth of what is going on. North Island College assured students the new charge had nothing to do with balancing the budget.

But in budgetary terms, there is no difference whatsoever between a tuition fee and a learner resources fee, or a student-services fee or any other such novel device. All go into the same revenue fund.

Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson attempted to defend what amounts to a scam. He said the new fees are permissible where there is a “clear, enhanced benefit to students” such as creating a career-placement office or a health and wellness program. And the government, he insisted, will keep a close eye on the schools to make sure new fees bring new benefits.

But tuition fees already enable educational institutions to do all of these things. That’s what they’re for.

The generally accepted definition of tuition charges is “to assist with funding of staff and faculty, course offerings, lab equipment, computer systems, libraries, facility upkeep and to provide a comfortable student learning experience.”

Introducing new fees to cover expenses already provided for is double taxation.

That said, if institutes of higher learning are engaging in a game of semantics, they learned it from the B.C. government. The current administration claims it has not increased taxes, yet MSP premiums have been raised.

“Tax” and “premium” might be words that come from different sides of the mouth, but the money comes out of the same pockets.

Equally, Insurance Corp. of B.C. premiums and B.C. Hydro levies are not, in themselves, taxes. But when the government is siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars a year from those Crown corporations, even as rates increase, it’s disingenuous to crow about keeping the lid on taxes.

Students, especially those at institutions where critical thinking is encouraged, know double talk when they see it. Like taxpayers, they are more concerned about how much money they must pay than slippery wordsmithing.

Our advice to the minister: Put a stop to this nonsense.

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