MRU student leaders react to tuition increases
By Noel Harper, Staff Writer
Upon returning from reading week, MRU students were greeted by major changes to tuition as well as a new group of student leaders who will be representing them in a few months.
On Feb. 24, the university’s Board of Directors voted to approve a number of fee increases for students in the upcoming academic year and beyond, including a seven per cent rise on domestic tuition and further increases in the next two years, resulting in a 22.5 per cent higher bill for the 2022-2023 year.
The board approved the motion in a 12-3 decision to help make up for budget cuts to the university from the Government of Alberta, which will only continue if their 2020 Budget is any indication.
“The alternative to these increases is a much deeper cut to operations,” said Annalise Van Ham, MRU’s vice-president of Finance and Administration, who voted in favour of the tuition hikes.
One-time increases to the student services fee and the recreation and athletics fee — of 25 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively — were also approved. International tuition will go up by 2.4 per cent, and any program-specific fees will increase by seven per cent as well.
According to Van Ham, without the added costs, MRU “would fall behind our counterparts and competitor institutions, with no means of catching up.”
In an effort to soften the blow, MRU opted to invest 25 per cent of funds acquired through the tuition increase — nearly $1 million — back into student bursaries that will offer financial aid.
“We are not aware of any other university directing this large a portion of their tuition increase to bursaries,” said MRU’s President Tim Rahilly in an email to students.
Several representatives and students alike participated in a silent demonstration against these fee increases — walking from Council Chambers in Wyckham House to Ross Glen Hall, where the meeting took place. Many carried signs featuring quotes from MRU students and held them up as board members spoke.
“I do not think it is responsible for the government to take a step back when the future is on the line,” read one sign. “Rather than budget cuts, why aren’t there policy changes?” asked another.
The notion of raised tuition at MRU has been promoted through literature, student consultations and the media for the last few months. “Students presumed the decision to be a foregone conclusion,” according to a memo from SAMRU.
One of the most significant signs that changes were coming was the government’s altered tuition and fee regulations, removing the ability for students to veto any raises in fees.
SAMRU President Shayla Breen was one of three to vote against the board’s motion.
The fee increases and MRU’s future with reduced funding were focal points of the following day’s SAMRU Representative Executive Council debate, where candidates for President, Vice-President Academic, Vice-President External and Vice-President Student Life took questions from students.
The winners of these races, each of them students from MRU’s Policy Studies program, were announced two days later. Turnout for the vote was 17 per cent, up from 6 per cent in 2019.
Spirit River Striped Wolf, a social entrepreneur and advocate from the Piikani First Nation, was elected as the first Indigenous person to be President of the Student’s Association. He is notable for challenging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “in a one-on-one debate” on Indigenous suicide prevention strategies through the Indigenize the Senate initiative.
In the SAMRU debate, Striped Wolf said he plans to employ a method called “systems leadership,” bringing together government officials and experts in a number of areas to talk about important issues and finding well-rounded solutions— similar, he said, to the Government of Alberta.
“I’m not coming to the table in a particularly partisan way, but I don’t necessarily agree with … their rationale on increasing the tuition cap for post-secondary.”
Luc Carels ran unopposed for a second term as Vice-President External and was voted in once again.
“We in Alberta — all students — not just Mount Royal students, face significant challenges that have just recently come down this year,” Carels said in regards to the Board’s recent decision. “I would like to continue to fight in response to those issues.”
Other winners included Carly Bullough for Vice-President Academic and Camille Rhose Tabacla for Vice-President of Student Life.