Concerns raised over tuition and mental health services at Ryerson budget consultations

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By Anna Wdowczyk

Ryerson students are calling on the university to improve mental health support and decrease tuition costs at Ryerson’s budget town halls in the past weeks.

In March, the Board of Governors (BoG) consulted the Ryerson community on the allocation of finances for the 2021-22 school year, according to Ryerson Today.

“Mental health is on the top of everybody’s mind,” said interim provost and vice-president, academic Saeed Zolfaghari at a budget town hall on Mar. 4. 

He added that investing in more mental health services will be a new point of focus in future financial discussions.

Additional mental health resources have been requested by many members of the Ryerson community, including some students from the Chang School of Continuing Education who fear being overlooked in the process.

MJ Wright, a BoG student representative, said mental health is “a key interest for the entire Ryerson community” at a budget town hall held by BoG student representatives on Feb. 25.

Wright noted the session is not an official BoG budget consultation, but BoG student representatives would bring students’ concern to the Board.  

“It’s scary. Everything is scary…I just wanted to finish my degree and just get it secured as soon as possible”

Tay Rubman, another BoG student representative, said he can relate to the need for mental health services as a student who had to learn how to cope with the pandemic. Going forward, he said he plans to discuss these issues with higher levels of the board.

Although it remains unknown whether remote learning will continue in fall 2021, some students said they’re also concerned that Ryerson hasn’t reduced student fees.

Wright said “there are certain things that need to continue to be paid for,” such as fixed rent costs. However, he added that he’s been involved in consultations about offering accelerated fees if lowering prices isn’t possible. 

To address some of the confusion surrounding constant tuition fees, Wright said he’ll try speaking with board members about providing an explanation as to why tuition can’t be lowered at the moment. 

In an interview with The Eyeopener, Githendra Sagararatne, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student, said the pandemic leads to an increase in financial, mental and academic struggles.

“It’s all new. We’re all struggling,” said Sagararatne. “Mental health usually just goes down the drain when you’re adjusting.”

As an international student from Sri Lanka, Sagararatne paid $29,141.25 to study at Ryerson this academic year—nearly three times more than his domestic counterparts.

Sagararatne said he understands studying in a new country comes with additional fees, but the amount he pays in tuition isn’t reflected in the quality of his education and labs aren’t interactive enough when they’re not delivered in-person.

“It’s frustrating and I’m very fortunate because my parents are financing me,” he said, adding that in case of a financial emergency, he wouldn’t be able to get financial support from some of the resources domestic students have to fall back on, like OSAP.

When the pandemic hit, Sagararatne said he decided not to complete a co-op placement, which would extend his degree by at least a year, out of fear that his parents wouldn’t be able to afford a longer study term if their financial situation worsened. 

“It’s scary. Everything is scary…I just wanted to finish my degree and just get it secured as soon as possible,” he said.

Lachemi said although saving jobs is of high importance during the pandemic, the university refuses to operate at a further deficit to ensure work stability

Ontario doesn’t have any regulations for international tuition limits and Ryerson has increased international fees for some programs offered in the upcoming academic year. International student tuition was deregulated by the Ontario government in 1996 and the law hasn’t changed since then.

Hiking up these unregulated costs will help make up for the mandatory tuition cuts for domestic students, according to the budget process website.

There has been a major decline in international applications since the pandemic began, with expectations to enrol about 950 first-year international students in fall 2021. At the April 30, 2020 BoG meeting, Ryerson projected approximately 1,550 first-year undergraduate international students for the 2021-22 academic year.   

Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said this trend is consistent with other Ontario universities, as student visa applications are significantly delayed. 

Domestic student enrolment for the 2021-22 academic year will be capped at the same levels seen this year due to restrictions from the Ontario government, said deputy provost and vice-provost, university planning Glenn Craney.

With all projected revenues and expenditures considered, the preliminary budget states Ryerson expects to see a deficit of $16.5 million next school year. 

However, he said budget managers have been asked to create a plan on how to reduce base expenditures by 3.5 per cent. 

When asked if Ryerson would consider operating at a deficit to avoid job cuts, Lachemi said although saving jobs is of high importance during the pandemic, the university refuses to operate at a further deficit to ensure work stability.

With recent job cuts at the school, some students questioned why the university would decide to take on additional costs by launching another campus in Cairo, Egypt. However, the new infrastructure doesn’t come along with any fees for Ryerson. 

“We are taking our programs, our brand to offer in an area where there’s a need for post-secondary education and we will probably consider other locations around the world,” said Lachemi.

As the latest budget plan goes through editions and consultations, Ryerson students are encouraged to continue sharing their thoughts and ideas.

“We pay particular attention to student engagement in everything we do as we put together the budget,” said Craney.

Lachemi said balancing the budget is complex as it requires input from academic and administrative students and also from “the broader Ryerson community.” 

He added that gaining student feedback in town halls will help the BoG “achieve the goals and objectives of the university” by “leading an open and transparent budget process.”

Craney said Ryerson will continue seeking advice on the 2021-22 budget by consulting with student organizations, stakeholders, academic budget developers and senate members before the final budget is approved by the president, presented to the Finance Committee and approved by the BoG in April. 

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