When UBC shifted to online instruction in March and later announced Winter Term 1 would be primarily online due to COVID-19, some students—both international and domestic—started petitions demanding the university reduce tuition.
Last December, the board of governors set the tuition rate that the university began charging in May for the 2020-2021 academic year. Many students wondered why they should pay full tuition when their educational experience had so significantly changed.
UBC Vancouver Provost Andrew Szeri acknowledges that many students may feel frustrated and have questions about where their tuition is going—particularly when they are facing significant financial hardship in their own lives.
“This is a difficult time for many of our community members. We can well understand why students have questions. It’s crucial for everyone to understand that tuition is vital to the ongoing operations of UBC. Without it, we cannot continue to meet our academic mission,” Szeri said.
Szeri encouraged any students experiencing financial hardship to contact their enrolment services advisors for information on available financial supports.
He also encouraged students and their families or loved ones to review helpful approaches to online learning outlined at keeplearning.ubc.ca.
Szeri says reducing tuition rates at this time is not an option. The university is projecting a financial deficit, and a tuition reduction would significantly impact UBC’s ability to continue to meet its academic goals for years to come. A tuition reduction would also constrain the university’s ability to support its students with financial aid and other quality student services and programs. For example, emergency bursaries and other financial supports total in excess of $100 million.
“UBC is fortunate that the provincial operating grant is a firm foundation for enabling UBC to deliver high-quality education and to provide a wide array of supports for students. However, this operating grant alone is not sufficient to meet all our financial needs and obligations. Tuition is a necessary source of revenue, now more than ever,” he said.
Coupled with the provincial operating grant, tuition supports the university by jointly funding the university’s core expenses, including:
- Faculty and staff salaries
- Student financial aid
- Student services
- Information technology
- Infrastructure investment
- Administration across both campuses
Even as revenues from cancelled events and programs from March to the present dropped, UBC has seen a wide range of new expenses that require funding. The university has invested heavily in online education supports, training, and systems for faculty, teaching assistants, and students. The university has also invested in expanded emergency student financial aid and many other areas designed to assist faculty, students, and staff through COVID-19.
These additional costs coupled with marked declines in revenues of UBC ancillary services (such housing and residences, conferences, and food services), as well as the ongoing expenses related to keeping programs and facilities running, have put the university in a challenging financial position. The impact of these new expenses and revenue declines is shown in the university’s recently announced projected $225 million deficit for the 2020/21 fiscal year.
However, despite the evolving financial challenges faced by the university, UBC’s commitments to its community and quality education have not changed, said Szeri.
“UBC’s first priority is the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff—while providing the highest quality of teaching and learning,” Szeri said. “The university needs the resources provided by tuition to be able to adapt to this changing learning environment and to ensure we can continue to offer a world-class educational experience, and exceptional online learning, notwithstanding the current restrictions.”
With this in mind, Szeri says the university has launched one of the most meaningful digital learning transformations in its history—all in a few months.
“When UBC students graduate next year and in the following years, they’ll have had an enriching learning experience and receive a degree from UBC, a university that is recognized globally for the high quality of its graduates.”
Vice-President of Students Ainsley Carry said universities around the world have changed due to the physical limitations resulting from COVID-19.
“We deeply care about our community and ensuring it has access to the supports and resources it needs during this time including student health and wellbeing services, and student emergency financial aid,” he said. “From the beginning of this pandemic, we have been very clear when we talk to our students—there is help available.”
Carry encouraged students to visit students.ubc.ca/covid19 to access the many resources and supports available to them.
“Our student mental health support services are up and running, emergency financial aid for students has been boosted and we’ve suspended the Athletics and Recreation fee for Winter Term 1,” said Carry.
“It’s important we keep those programs for students, faculty, and staff going to the best of our ability, not just for our community today, but for everyone at UBC in the years ahead.”