University faces challenges: Stevenson

Feb 06, 2003, vol. 26, no. 3
By Carol Thorbes

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Simon Fraser University faces a tough year ahead in trying to maintain its position as one of the most innovative and accessible universities in Canada, despite many recent accomplishments.

President Michael Stevenson (left) delivered that message to more than 100 staff, students and faculty at an open forum on Jan. 23.

Stevenson noted that a $9.8 million deficit presents real challenges. However, he underscored the university's positive achievements during the last two years.

He cited new facilities for computer science and engineering, business and student residences; new programs such as public policy and urban studies, and expansion of SFU's presence in health research and education.

Stevenson said the loss of government funding for student work-study programs and graduate financial aid, the withdrawal of funding for negotiated salary increases, and general inflation threaten to put SFU in the red.

“The solution will be very difficult,” said Stevenson. “In order to erase the deficit, which we are obliged to do by law, we will have to reduce educational quality or find new money.”

Stevenson conceded that an increase in student tuition fees is an inevitable and necessary step to help SFU manage the deficit.

Stevenson noted that unless the university provides a level of discretionary spending for new initiatives and quality improvements it will not be able to retain and attract quality faculty, staff and students. Nor will it be able to meet its goals of providing expanded international opportunities for researchers and students.

During a question and answer period several students asked Stevenson to freeze, reduce or eliminate tuition fees.

He responded that in the long run, not only the university's ranking, but also students' education would suffer if he followed this advice.

Stevenson emphasized it was the university's goal to continue putting 25 per cent or more of any tuition fee increase toward improvements in student financial assistance.

He noted that, “such commitments have considerably improved the lot of the worst-off students. They have ensured that threats to accessibility, which might otherwise occur as a result of tuition fee increases, have not occurred at this university.”

SFU's board of governors will discuss tuition fees in mid-March.

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