Canadian university students have traditionally reacted with petitions and demonstrations whenever provincial education departments announce cutbacks in funding. But at the University of Toronto this year, engineering students (traditionally among the most conservative on campus) agreed in a referendum to put up their own money to cushion the effects of the shortfall. On top of their annual tuition fees of $1,384, each has paid a special fee of $100. In the first such move in Canada, the faculty’s 2,670 udergraduates will be able to afford teaching assistants and equipment that they otherwise might have had to do without. One student, Paul Hruska, 21, voted in favor of the fee because much of the equipment he uses is “old and rusting away. The fee won’t improve it,” he explains, “but it will stop it from getting worse.”
Not that the students enjoy handing over the money, but, when Engineering Dean Gordon Slemon proposed the levy last fall, they decided that they were sufficiently concerned about maintaining the quality of their education to go along with the idea. Although the fee carries a three-year mandate, it remains subject to annual review by the students’ Engineering Society. “Five years ago,” says Slemon, “the students would not have voted the fee in. It’s a sign of the times.”
The $267,000 contribution that the fee makes toward the faculty’s total budget of more than $15 million is not so much an answer as a first step. Most of the revenue brought in by this year’s levy has been allocated: it has been used to subsidize the salaries of teaching assistants and to purchase laboratory materials and new equipment, such as five new microprocessors, at a cost of $7,200. Engineering students and faculty members hope that the special fee will increase awareness, primarily among alumni and industry, of the financial desperation of the universities. Although Slemon concedes that more public funding would be helpful, he does not favor “total dependence on government.” So far, the alumni have been responding positively to the university’s plea for funds: in 1982 the engineering faculty alumni contributions totalled $208,147—nearly double those of 1981.
Heartened by engineering’s success with the fee, other faculties are giving it careful consideration. The university’s law students hope to introduce a similar
fee in September, but students in the arts and science faculty remain hesitant, wondering if they can really afford it—$100 adds to already high student costs (the average undergraduate academic fee at the university is $1,175). Says Timothy Van Wart, 23, president of the Students’ Administrative Council: “What good is quality if you cannot
aiford to get in?” Some students express concern that potential contributors from outside U of T might not come forward because they may think that the students are able to continue providing the extra money themselves.
Wayne Levin, 23, president of the Engineering Society, argues that the students’ willingness to pay the fee reflects their serious concern about the shortage of funds. Says Levin: “If we’re putting out $100 from our meagre summer earnings, maybe someone will believe that the university’s economic problems are serious.”
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