On Campus

UBC student union complains to UN about tuition fees

Yes, you heard that correctly.

UBC’s Alma Mater Society, the largest student union in Canada, has filed a complaint to the UN in an attempt to address high tuition rates. I really don’t want to preface this any more than need be, so here’s the press release…

The UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS), represented by Pivot Legal LLP, has filed a complaint to the United Nations regarding the federal and provincial government’s failure to meet their international obligations to provide accessible post-secondary education.

By failing to adequately control tuition fees and not providing sufficient financial support to students, the complaint states that the government is violating its commitment under Article 13 ( c ) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights which states “Higher education shall be made accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”

“Since the tuition fee freeze was lifted in 2002, student fees in British Columbia have more than doubled,” says AMS President Blake Frederick. “The high cost of tuition means that many capable students, particularly those from lower-income families, are unable to get a university education.”

Lack of financial resources has been cited as the leading reason why BC students are unable to pursue post-secondary education. In 1996, the provincial government enacted legislation that froze tuition rates throughout the province. This was an important step towards reducing financial barriers to post-secondary education. The provincial government ended the tuition fee freeze in 2002, and since that time, the AMS has actively lobbied the provincial and federal government to regulate tuition fees in the province.

“When Canada signed on to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, they made a commitment to work towards free post-secondary education,” says Katrina Pacey, counsel for the AMS. “Instead, the government has increased tuition rates on an annual basis. We are asking the UN to hold the government accountable for their complete failure to live up to their commitment to accessible higher education.”

The AMS, which represents 45,000 students at UBC’s Vancouver Campus, is named as a complainant alongside UBC graduate Tristan Markle. The complainants have asked that the UN appoint an independent expert of Special Rapporteur to investigate the situation.

The official complaint is here.

For the record, Tristan Markle was the AMS VP Administration in 2008/2009, and was a former leader of the UBC Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a self-professed “radical” group associated with protests and controversy on campus.

If you’re wondering why no current student is named as a complainant in this, it’s because the release has caught the entire campus off-guard—this wasn’t something that had been talked about in student council, or in any public meetings for that matter. Unsurprisingly, public reaction (“public reaction” being “facebook statuses and tweets) have thus far has ranged from “embarrassing and pointless” to “does the AMS have any understanding of international law?” to “I’m ready to quit everything I do on campus. It is so useless when you see the stupid bull shit that comes out of the AMS,” and finally, comparing it to the finest lobbying / advocacy method used by nutjobs everywhere.”

In a related (and incredibly ironic note), just last month the AMS sent out a press release that criticized UBC, and due to the fact that it was a) incredibly inflammatory, and b) not passed by student council first, President Frederick narrowly avoided being censured.

I’ll be researching on whether this has any sort of precedence, whether there is even a smidgen of chance that the UN could/would do something about this, and if the only thing this will lead to is the perception that UBC students have more faith in the power of the United Nations than anyone outside of Ban Ki-Moon’s immediate family.

Also, if you want to see student politicians get really, really angry at their president via tweets, check out the messages being sent to AMS President Frederick.

Click here to read: Update on UBC Student Union complaint to the UN

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