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Provost recognized that the university’s planned out-of-province tuition increase would have disproportionately affected students from Quebec. Image: Charley Dutil/Fulcrum

Provost points finger at lack of framework from provincial government and technological challenges as reasons for cancelling tuition hike

The University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors announced on Monday afternoon that it has cancelled plans to increase tuition by three per cent for out-of-province students. This follows a report on Sunday from the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) that the hike, which was first announced in the BOG’s embargoed documents sent to media and members on Friday, had been scrapped.

“This is a huge win for students and for student organizing,” wrote UOSU president, Tim Gulliver in a message to the Fulcrum. 

“It is because of all the student associations and 1,800+ emails to the [BOG] on a weekend that we were able to stop this tuition hike, and I thank everyone who gave up their weekends to force the university into backing down.”

Addressing the BOG on Monday, Jill Scott, the university’s provost and vice-president, academic affairs said the university’s decision to cancel the tuition increase was due to the provincial government not providing a clear framework for how to apply the increase and issue with the university’s tuition management software. The board’s chair, Kathryn Butler Malette, confirmed that the proposed increase had been taken out of the budget following a meeting this morning. 

The provost recognized that the university’s planned out-of-province tuition increase would have disproportionately affected students from Quebec. She also noted that given the circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic “it isn’t the right time to make such changes.”

She originally did not give credit to the UOSU or any other student advocates who campaigned over the weekend to pressure the university to reverse course on the proposed tuition increase. 

It was only when pressed by professor Donatille Mujawamariya on how the university planned to appease over 1,800 students who sent the board emails, that she had no choice but to address the student-led effort. 

“We have heard and we have listened to the voices of students, we have taken into conscience the students’ voice for the changes,” said Scott, before further pointing the finger at the provincial government and the technical issues. 

The change would have generated an estimated $1.4 million for the university this year. A material change in a $900 million budget according to the provost. 

Scott warned students that there will be tuition increases in the future. 

“We want to take the time that we need to prepare for that kind of an increase, understanding that in the future, we will need to have increases to student fees.”   

Although Gulliver chalks the university scrapping the tuition increase for out-of-province students a win, he recognizes that this is only one of the many fronts in the battle to reduce tuition for all students. 

“Although we’re celebrating this amazing victory — the first time we think that students have stopped a tuition hike at the U of O — the fight must continue for international students, whose tuition continues to soar from year to year.”

“We must keep up the momentum and fight for cheaper international tuition.”

Budget approved after heated question period 

In a rarity for the U of O Board of Governors, there were a number of heated exchanges between members. Sunni Yaya, the U of O’s vp, International and Francophonie, Jacques Frémont, the university’s president and Scott had to answer a number of tough questions from governors. 

There were a number of very critical questions on the university’s decision to eliminate the tuition fee exemption program for global Francophone students. Leading the way were Christine Dallaire and professor Mujawamariya. 

Dallaire pointed out that the change from the exemption fee to a scholarship will lead to an extra $600 in tuition fees for Francophone international students. In the grand scheme of things, this will generate an extra $600,000 for the university. 

Mujawamariya reminded the board of the potential impact that $600 CDN could have on the wallets of international students who may already struggle to afford the high cost of living in Ottawa. She made the point that $1 CDN is the equivalent to $800 Rwandan francs.

“That’s a lot of money, when you consider the average person in Rwanda lives on $3 RWF a day.”

The provost acknowledged that it will be hard for some to afford this increase especially in less developed countries. Scott insisted that money will be put aside from the new revenue for those who need it the most. There was no information on how those who need this money will be able to access it. 

Scott and Yaya explained that they “did very precise analysis and there are markets where there are the resources to pay higher tuition fees.” Yaya pointed specifically to France and Belgium. 

Yaya also said that the university is charging less than other similar institutions it is competing with such as McGill and that the university has been working on this project for 18 months and has considered the consequences and how it can help students affected.

There were also heated exchanges between Scott and new undergraduate student representative Hannan Mohamud who pressed the administration on its lack of consultations with students before deciding to propose tuition increases.

When asked if students were consulted, Scott once again stated that current students are not impacted by the 10 per cent tuition increase for international students. Scott said the university looked to “their partners to understand what the impact would be.” There was no clarification on who these partners are. 

In regards to the three per cent increase for out of province students, Scott reminded Mohamud of the provincial tuition freeze which has greatly impacted the university’s bottom line. 

“We would love to work with our students to lobby the provincial government to work together with us to increase OSAP as they increase student tuition … To help us in any which way possible either by increasing our government grant or by allowing us some tuition flexibility for profession oriented programs,” said Scott. 

“Going forward we need to understand that we will need to work with student groups to socialize, explain and listen [when it comes to increasing tuition].” 

Frémont then pointed out that Ontario is the province that supports its universities the least. The president said that going forward the university desperately needs help to sustain its duties to uphold mental health services and student experience. 

“When a government sustains to less than 30 per cent of the functioning of a university we are in big trouble, we were over 50 per cent just a few years ago. That money needs to be found somewhere, it is not found in tuition and to my knowledge it can’t be found left and right. Objectively, students and administration have to work together to convince the government that underfunding universities is to not pay service to students, their experience and their training.”

“We are all losing with these policies.” 

Following these interactions, a motion was put forth to pass the budget and it passed. In 2021-22, the university expects to run a “very modest operational deficit of 9.4 million,” said the provost. 

The budget includes a projected $14 million deficit for the university’s ancillary fees. This is down from the $26 million deficit the university’s ancillary fees ran in 2020-21. Ancillary fees include the university’s residences, the library, food services and on-campus parking. 

Another important financial deficit for the university is its bilingualism mission which is also costing it over $80 million.

According to Scott, balancing both means “the University of Ottawa is doing a miraculous job of staying afloat despite the circumstances.”