URSU’s message to the provincial government: Fund the future 

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The Saskatchewan Provincial Legislative Building fills the frame, a stone institutional building with a large dome at the centre of the roof and three flags flying from the roof against a white and light blue sky.
This is where it happens, folks! The decision makers that put the province at #2 in Canada: second highest tuition, that is. daryl mitchell via Flickr

Within a climate of decline, per-student funding in Saskatchewan has decreased over the decade, and student tuition fees have increased

The University of Regina (UofR) has witnessed a rise in tuition for the last two consecutive years. The rise has affected both domestic and international students who must work multiple jobs to support themselves financially.  

In an e-mail that was sent out to the students earlier this year from University of Regina, President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Jeff Keshen’s office, it was mentioned that all possible deliberations were made before deciding that raising the tuition is the only possible option to address the financial deficit that the university is going through.  

The university’s financial deficit has had adverse effects on all aspects across the university. Staff members have been laid off, classes offered per semester have been reduced, even the Lifelong Learning Centre that offered classes for senior citizens had to shut down paid programming. As is the case, students are not left untouched by the ongoing financial crisis. The continuous rise in tuition in the last two years has left many students with no other option but to work multiple jobs to be able to support their education.  

The situation is particularly bad for the international students who already pay a higher tuition than domestic students. “I work two retail jobs even during the semester. It is hard to keep with assignments and grades but if I don’t work my jobs I will not be able to attend school altogether,” said an international student who would like to remain unnamed.  

A lot lies at the heart of the financial crisis that the university is going through. Reduced enrolment and loss incurred during the pandemic years followed by global inflation and subsequent recession are a few to name. Yet, a major reason that contributes to this deficit is a decline in per-student post-graduate funding by the provincial government.   

University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) which represents more than 12,000 students at the University of Regina thus being the voice of the university students, has undertaken the initiative to draw attention to the above-mentioned decline. “We act as a voice between the university and the government,” said Tejas Patel, URSU president. Their endeavour is to urge the provincial government to release more funds towards post graduate institutions so that some financial burden is lifted from the students’ shoulders. 

 “Funding should increase as enrolment increases. But because funding does not increase as the enrolment increases, the funding provided is not adequate… the money per student is declining and that comes across as budget cut,” said Oghenerukevwe Erifeta, URSU Vice-President of External Affairs.   

In their initiative called Fund the Future, URSU’s advocacy team worked with Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and published a detailed report about how the post-secondary education funding is declining in Saskatchewan. The report gives a detailed analysis of various aspects that determine post-graduate funding and compares the trend in funding over Canada in the last decade. The report concludes that the state of post-secondary education in all over Canada is declining and that reduced support from the government has resulted in universities across the country increasing domestic tuition and becoming increasingly reliant on international enrolment.  

Within this climate of decline, per-student funding in Saskatchewan has also decreased over the decade and its domestic student tuition student fees which is already higher that national average has also increased over time. In addition, spending on academic salaries as a proportion of operating expenditure also saw a decline. As of 2019/20 and 2020/21, Saskatchewan spent more on non-academic salaries and wages than academic salaries and wages while the reverse was true in the rest of Canada.  

The published report is accessible to everyone on URSU’s website and a hardcopy is also available at URSU’s front desk at the Riddell Centre.  

Patel also mentioned that URSU is working with other unions across the province including the University of Saskatchewan to get an idea of what their financial situation looks like to understand how post-graduate funding has been working across the province and to determine if they would like to join the cause. Erifeta concurred, “We’re also trying to understand their initiatives and how far they are going to lobby the government and how that would correspond with URSU’s initiatives, […] with the provincial election coming up we do believe it will be the best time to get the provincial government’s attention upon the cause and get some really effective change happening.” 

Their initiative has gathered immense support from faculty and staff alike which has been a great source of encouragement. “We are also really happy that we are not alone in this fight, that it is not just students that are trying to fight for more funding for the post-secondary education sector. We are happy that the university and faculty associations are also supporting us. We are happy that we have the support of community association and other unions. The more people we have in this fight, the more peaceful it can be, the more effective it can be, and the more the future of this province can be sustained. I think that is the primary call that 20 years from now we actually have medical health professionals who has the opportunity to go to school, we have businessmen that had the opportunity to go to school to build this province so that it becomes the Saskatchewan we want it to be,” said Erifeta in conclusion.  

To make their voices heard and gain government’s attention, URSU is planning to organize a cross-Canada day of action for students on Wednesday, November 8 with hopes that the Fund the Future rallies will take place not only in Regina but also in Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, and Saskatoon. To amplify their voice and to make the movement a success, they would need all the support that they can get especially from the students. It is a movement for the students and by the students, and if successful will add security to the academic careers of both the present and future students. The details of the event are available on URSU’s website and participation is not just encouraged but also requested.  

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