SYDNEY — Some international students are questioning CBU's decision to raise tuition during a pandemic.
Alex and Giaan are two of them. Both are in their final terms at CBU, are from India and requested anonymity for fear there could be repercussions for speaking publicly.
"I don't want anything to happen to my future. My parents worked too hard for me to come here. I worked hard. I don't want to lose everything," said Alex.
"(The administration at CBU) has the power to do that. If they say I won't be able to take classes at CBU, I will be deported...How can I trust CBU when they've already lied about the prices?"
Both question the university's decision to increase tuition prices by three per cent, an increase of more than $1,000 since 2018-19. Giaan believes prices should have been decreased since CBU classes have been moved online for the 2020-21 year.
"Online learning is not the same as in-person learning. We do not get the same things we get when we are in the class," said Giaan who moved across the country so he could work during the pandemic.
"We pay fees for IT and some of our fees are for (campus maintenance, use of campus facilities) but these aren't being deducted from our fees. The university is closed. The costs should not be the same for them."
Gordon MacInnis, vice-president of finance and operations, said they've spent about $1 million in the past six months to prepare for online learning for the fall semester — a cost that had nothing to do with the fee increase.
This investment, MacInnis explained, was made to ensure CBU students continue to receive a high quality education — something he believes students will see as the term progresses.
He also said the university has made a concerted effort to "ensure we are doing what we can for our students."
This includes a $24 rebate on some three-credit courses, elimination of lab fees for these terms and waiving of the usual $96 online learning fee. They also distributed about $200,000 in bursaries for students in need during the province-wide lockdown and have increased the number of entrance scholarships available.
"Our president, David Dingwall, was the first to advocate for help for international students, saying they should be eligible for funding (support) as well," MacInnis said, noting it's "possible" a student might pay less this year depending on their program.
"Nothing was designated from the province or the feds. It was left up to the universities to help the students.
Alex questions why he has to pay the increase since he arrived in May 2019 with the $22,316 he was told his two-year course would cost.
Believing since the money was in his CBU account that he was paid in full, Alex was surprised to see a balance owing of close to $2,000 for the tuition and fee adjustments.
MacInnis said the university, like many others, reassesses fees each year and reserves the right to change them. Paying in advance doesn't secure the tuition price in future years.
"The expectation of students who have their (program) tuition in full when they come here, and some visas require they do, the expectation shouldn't be that this means the universities are signing off (on this being the total amount for the program)," he said.
MORE THAN MONEY
Alex and Giaan are also upset by a letter sent by CBU administration the first week of September saying fees not paid in full by Sept. 30 could result in deregistration.
Cape Breton University Students' Union president Amrinder Singh said they've been busy with calls and emails from other students with the same concerns.
"Students are definitely struggling, just starting to get back to part-time work after being off because of the pandemic. This is a concern of every student, domestic and international," said Singh, who believed this was the first time the university had sent a letter like this.
In the past, Singh believes students were given until the end of the term and were charged an interest rate after the Sept. 30 deadline.
"Threatening students like this in the middle of a pandemic doesn't make sense," he said.
MacInnis said they currently have $2.6 million outstanding owed to the university from default accounts, currently frozen. The letter is meant as a tool to encourage students to make steps toward clearing these outstanding fees and MacInnis confirmed penalties associated with non-payment haven't changed.
"We're moving forward with the fee collection. We're trying to get students engaged," he said.
"And for our people who work in this area and do an amazing job for us, what we have learned over the years is parting with money to pay fees is something that doesn't come easily for any student."
MacInnis said normally when staff start the deregistration process, few are completed. As an example, MacInnis said about 800 students were in danger of being deregistered last February. By the end of the term, only about 20 were for non-payment.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in stay-at-home orders in March, CBU has lost $16.3 million in revenue and the expected revenue decrease for the fiscal year is $27 million.
MacInnis said like any business providing a service at a cost, CBU must collect on accounts not paid.
"Our staff do an excellent job, in my opinion, and are very receptive to working with students," he said. "We just need to ensure people understand their obligations."