Volume 96, Issue 11
Tuesday September 17, 2002

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UBC students to sue university

By Emmett Macfarlane
Gazette Staff

A lawsuit has been filed against the University of British Columbia by 10 MBA students after their tuition fees were quadrupled.

Brian de Alwis, president of UBC's graduate students' society, said the students were not expecting their tuition to climb from $7,000 to $28,000.

Some of the students received admission letters containing the $7,000 tuition figure, but those letters contained a disclaimer indicating the university reserved the right to adjust the fees, de Alwis said. "Quadrupling the fees [is not] really an adjustment," he said.

UBC's lawyer, Hubert Lai, said it would surprise him if students were not aware of the tuition hike, given the current political climate in the province. "This isn't just UBC, it's all of British Columbia's universities," he said.

Lai said B.C. universities have been subject to a tuition freeze for several years. "At UBC, the impact of the loss of revenue was a loss of labs [and] a huge increase in class size," he said.

"As far as we're concerned, we've acted in a legal and proper manner," Lai stated. "UBC was the first university [in B.C.] to come forward with their tuition fee proposals."

Lai noted some students received their offers before tuition was set, but added the disclaimer gives the university the right to change the fees.

"For the average UBC student, tuition levels were [about] 22 per cent higher," Lai said. "We've never been in [this] situation before because we've never been subject to a tuition freeze," he added.

According to Brian Bemmels, associate dean of academic programs at UBC, the tuition for the MBA program was originally going to be $20,000 in 1995.

"The $7,000 only covered a small fraction of our costs," Bemmels said, adding the tuition freeze, instigated by B.C.'s former NDP government, prevented the fee increase in 1995.

Bemmels said the faculty of commerce has relied on reserve funds and the university itself to keep the program running normally in the interim. "We've kept the quality of the program the same," he said.

The new tuition rate was determined largely by what peer universities were charging, Bemmels said, adding UBC's MBA program was comparable to Queens University, the University of Toronto and Western. Tuition at these schools is currently much higher than at UBC, he stated, noting Western charges more than $45,000 in tuition for its MBA program.

De Alwis said he feels the case will come down to an issue of contract law, adding he plans to put forward a motion to the university students' council to support the MBA students in the case.

The case is expected to be in court by November or December, according to de Alwis, adding the students involved would like to see the suit settled quickly. "The university is interested in resolving the case quickly, too," he said.

The lawyer representing the MBA students could not be reached for comment.

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2002 THE GAZETTE