Consultations end and tuition is going up

by | Feb 2, 2024 | Campus, In The Mag! | 0 comments

Continued increases in tuition leaves SAMU unsatisfied

The chips are down, the talks are over, and tuition is going up – again. After consultations between SAMU and MacEwan, the board of governors approved a domestic and international tuition hike of 2 per cent for the 2024/2025 academic year, but mandatory non-instructional fees (MINFs) won’t be going up. 

This jump matches other universities, like the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, which will also max out the yearly amount allowed by the province. Along with last year’s hike of 5.5 per cent, MacEwan’s domestic tuition has increased by 28.25 per cent since 2020. 

The decision to not increase MINFs and waive the sports and wellness fee for winter will put the university back about $3 million. The university will also commit an additional $2 million to scholarships for 2024, bringing the new total to $10 million.  


“I think it’s the best possible outcome, and that we listened, we heard, and we applied the respective approach to our fees in a way that was transparent throughout.”

Lara McClelland,  MacEwan vice-president of University Relations


Lara McClelland, MacEwan’s vice-president of University Relations, says, “I think it’s the best possible outcome, and that we listened, we heard, and we applied the respective approach to our fees in a way that was transparent throughout.”

However, the consultation process between the university and SAMU has come under scrutiny. Since SAMU’s position is always to advocate for no increases, in October’s Students’ Council meeting, councillor Nhi Phan asked, “What’s the purpose of consultation if SAMU is repeating their stance?”

Gabriel Ambutong, president of SAMU, also expressed concerns about the process, saying, “Without any veto power, we really don’t have much of a say on the [tuition] outcome.”

As both MacEwan and SAMU point out, the whole point of this process is to have “meaningful” consultation in which students’ voices are heard. It’s why legislation mandates a minimum of two consultation sessions and why there are students’ associations to begin with. So, what happened with this year’s consultations?

The meetings started in early September. Instead of MacEwan’s usual three meetings with SAMU, they held four meetings this year due to concerns about the multi-affordability crisis. Ambutong called the first meeting a casual “pre-meeting,” in which MacEwan and SAMU discussed the process and set expectations. 


“[SAMU] provided a strong story and narrative about what students are facing.”

Lara McClelland, MacEwan vice-president of University Relations


“Right [out] of the gates, the first conversation with students was ‘This is what the ceiling is, this 2 per cent for domestic tuition,’” says McClelland, who, along with the provost and the MacEwan vice-president of Finance, was in the room for each meeting. While MacEwan doesn’t have to consult on international tuition, they need SAMU’s approval for additional MINFs.

Ambutong was joined by Joseph A. La Torre, SAMU vice-president of governance and finance, and Darryl Kotash, SAMU’s general manager. Ambutong says their position was immediately for no hikes. “We let them know that students really cannot tolerate any more increases in tuition. That was our official position. So, we spoke against any form of increases.”

In the third session, McClelland says that they went over the budgeting details and broke down financial modelling, showing where the costs were for MINFs and the case for why a 2 per cent increase would be necessary. “We went back and forth a little bit on MINFs, and after hearing that position from the students, kept that at zero,” says McClelland. “[SAMU] provided a strong story and narrative about what students are facing.”


“It’s difficult to kind of put into perspective what we would consider a success knowing that students are still struggling.”

Gabriel Ambutong, SAMU president


Ultimately, by the fourth session, MacEwan decided a 2 per cent increase would be brought to the board of governors. At that table, there are only two students out of 18 governors. 

“Students are our highest, our largest stakeholder here on campus, so I do think that they deserve a lot more influence when it comes to that,” says Ambutong. “The decision ultimately goes to the board, and there is very little that students can do to influence that.”

Ambutong also points out the multi-million-dollar surpluses. Since 2020, MacEwan typically runs a surplus of approximately 4 to 6 per cent of their overall operating expenses, except in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a deficit. In the past three years, that total surplus amounted to nearly $34 million.

MacEwan doesn’t hold all of the responsibility for tuition costs. The provincial government plays a huge role in determining what students pay, and cuts to operating grants may shift the financial burden onto students. From 2018 to 2023, the amount granted to MacEwan by the provincial government has decreased from 51 per cent of the university’s total revenue to 47 per cent. Student tuition now accounts for 39 per cent of revenue. In 2018, it was 35 per cent. 


“We let them know that students really cannot tolerate any more increases in tuition. That was our official position. So, we spoke against any form of increases.”

Gabriel Ambutong, SAMU president


“When [the province] is underfunding the universities, the issue is that, in turn, the students take on the burden of making up for that. We’re shifting the burden,” Ambutong says.

At the end of the day, SAMU’s president says that the most important advocacy his office does is the work done at MacEwan. When asked how he feels about this year’s consultations with MacEwan, he says, “It’s difficult to kind of put into perspective what we would consider a success knowing that students are still struggling.”

Liam Newbigging

The Griff

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