At its meeting last Thursday, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council saw discussion on tuition deregulation and a proposal to add a seat for an Environment councillor. At the meeting, President Courtney Ayukawa introduced the new SSMU General Manager, Jennifer Varkonyi. Council also passed a motion regarding interim provisions with respect to elections and referenda.
Interim changes to bylaws, decoding McGill’s assessment policy
Council passed interim provisions to its bylaws, which will temporarily add General Assembly (GA) ratification provisions to the bylaws and delineate unfair campaigning practices, alongside other minor changes to the constitution. The approved changes will be in effect until the end of April, by which point a more comprehensive set of bylaw changes will be presented.
Council also heard from Arts Senator Jacob Greenspon, who is working on creating a website that would summarize and ‘de-jargonize’ McGill’s University Student Assessment Policy for students. “It’s written in very heavy policy language,” he said. “We want to break down that barrier to the policy.”
The website would help students facing unfair assessment practices instituted by professors by providing them with the information necessary to understand and assert their rights.
“We know that in 2008 when the [six] programs were deregulated, for example, doing an MBA went from around $13,000 a year to $30,000.”
Various councillors added examples of unfair assessment practices that students commonly faced. “Profs can deny students accessibility requests even after the OSD [Office for Students with Disabilities] has approved them,” noted Arts Senator Kareem Ibrahim.
Arts and Science Senator Chloe Rourke raised the point that if a student is ill or has two conflicting midterms, professors sometimes interpret it as the student “forfeiting” their ability to take the midterm, and implicitly consenting to a final that constitutes 100 per cent of their mark.
Greenspon also noted the potential for the website to be used for advocacy for students who have been subject to unfair assessment practices.
Provost backs total deregulation of international programs
Provost Anthony Masi presented an update on the University’s budget and strategic plan. He also voiced his support for the deregulation of tuition for international students.
Since 2008, deregulation has been in effect for Law, Management, Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics, and Applied Sciences.
“Deregulation means that the government of Quebec provides zero subsidy for international students studying in those disciplines,” Masi said.
“The concern that some students have expressed is whether or not deregulating would automatically mean a huge increase in tuition,” noted Masi. He addressed this by stating that tuition would be fixed for the four-year period during which a student attends the university.
VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette told The Daily that, despite Masi’s reassurance, many councilors were unsure how to view the University’s stance on deregulation.
“We know that in 2008 when the [six] programs were deregulated, for example, doing an MBA went from around $13,000 a year to $30,000, so that’s what precedent tells us,” she said.
At the meeting, Masi explained the process of regulation currently in place. “The government of Quebec sets a tuition fee, the University collects that tuition fee, and then remits to the government everything except what a Quebec student would pay,” Masi said. “In exchange, the government gives us a subsidy that is equal to what they would have [given], had they been a Quebec student.”
“International students pay more than we get to keep for their tuition,” said Masi. However, under total deregulation of undergraduate and professional graduate programs, the university would only gain about $7 million – approximately 1 per cent of the University’s operating budget.
“Additionally, if we were to deregulate all of our other programs, it would be very difficult to raise the tuition rates in the presently deregulated programs because students might not pay $30,000 to come study Arts, but they would pay that to come study Commerce,” he added.
Masi also spoke about McGill’s deficit, citing government cuts as the reason for McGill’s money-saving procedures. Between 2014 and 2016, the Quebec government will have cut a cumulative $45 million from the subsidies provided to McGill. “But saving can only take you so far,” said Masi. “We have to have alternative sources of revenue.”
Jonathan Bouchard, the president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) was invited to speak to the councillors about what the organization represents. FEUQ is a federation of student associations, and represents over 125,000 students.
Bouchard stated that FEUQ opposed the administration’s stance on deregulation, and was concerned about “propositions on the table to deregulate all international student tuitions.” He went on to discuss the ways in which FEUQ had influenced post-secondary education in Canada, including calling strikes in 2005 and 2012, and staging protests against austerity.
Direct representation in Council for Environment students
Benjamin Ger, a representative from the McGill Environment Students’ Society (MESS), spoke about an amendment that would add a Council seat for the School of Environment. “Our needs are very specific,” he said. “It’s very hard to get our voices in.”
“I think we have not just a voice that needs saying, but a voice that’s worth saying,” Ger said.
Although most councillors were supportive of the proposal, some were concerned as to whether adding a seat for an Environment councilor would mean the removal of another councillor’s seat. Adding a seat for the School of Environment would necessitate a constitutional amendment, which would involve a referendum.
While the constitution could be amended by a referendum initiated by Council, Ger noted that a student-initiated referendum was already in the works. “It should be coming from the students and it shouldn’t be coming from the Council,” Ayukawa agreed.