The VIUSU claims VIU’s proposed new service fee is a violation of government policy and believes the Ministry of Advanced Education has lost control on the issue.

Intended to provide “enhanced services in the Health and Wellness Centre” on campus, “experimental learning for all,” and “access to a Technology Lending Library,” this fee is expected to create a 6.5 per cent tuition increase. The proposed fee will cost all students $6.27 per credit, up to a maximum of $188 per 30 credits.

The Ministry of Advanced Education has a Tuition Limit Policy that has been in place since September 2005. It states universities in BC cannot create new fees for existing programs over two per cent, but “Institutions may introduce new mandatory fees for new services if there is a clear benefit to students,” said Andrew Wilkinson, Minister of Advanced Education.

VIU states the proposed new fee complies fully with the limitations. “Because these are new services, it does not apply, as the government limitation at two per cent applies to current fees in place,” VIU President Dr. Ralph Andrew Nilson said. Nilson also explained that the new services are in response to high demands from students.

The VIUSU disagrees that the services are new or necessary.

“Creating this new fee is nothing short of VIU attempting to bypass the limits on fee increases for students,” said Director of External Relations Alec Patterson in a press release.

The VIUSU claims that approximately five institutions in BC have proposed new fees that violate the policy. The VIUSU had sought a response to this since mid-December through emails and phone calls; when they met with the Minister in January, they were surprised when he told them he had not heard about these proposed fees, said VIUSU Organizer-Advocacy Representative Patrick Barbosa.

“The Minister [of Advanced Education] is supposed to be responsible for the actions of universities and colleges in this province. If it’s true that he isn’t aware of fee proposals that have been flagged to his staff, we must conclude that he has lost control of the post-secondary sector,” said Patterson.

According to the Cowichan Valley Citizen, Wilkinson said, “It’s a gross overstatement to say this ministry has lost track of the 25 institutions we fund to the tune of $2 billion per year. We have a very close working relationship with all of them and a very close accounting arrangement with all of them.”

Wilkinson told the Navigator, “Public post-secondary institutions are expected to ensure programs and courses are affordable and accessible for students. The VIU Board is responsible for approving fees—both mandatory and tuition—at the institution, ensuring the cap on tuition increases of two per cent annually.”

Barbosa said the January meeting changed their perspective on the issue. “Up until then, we were under the impression institutions were being coached by Ministry, but then we realized this is something totally different,” he said.

According to the Citizen, Wilkinson said that he has yet to have adequate input on whether or not the programs that would be enabled by the fee would have a clear benefit to students. But, countering this, VIUSU spokesperson Patrick Barbosa provided the Citizen a copy of an e-mail he sent to MAE Deputy Minister Sandra Carroll in mid-December and delivered by hand to Wilkinson at the meeting in January that provided detailed reasons for VIUSU’s disagreement against the proposed fee.

“The public record shows that VIU is trying to find mechanisms to offset costs for existing programs,” the e-mail reads, citing text from a Board of Governors agenda.

Barbosa says for the past three years, the BC government has cut various levels of funding so he understands that VIU has to look for ways to replace funding cuts. Patterson agreed, saying, “British Columbians elected the government—not university administrators—to manage the province. Unfortunately, this government appears to be asleep at the wheel.”

“We’re working hard to push back against this fee,” Barbosa said. “We are not anti-university by any means, but they are cautious against discussing this with us. It’s unacceptable that the president and his team can’t put together a basic cost projection.”