The STURA poll about the tuition fees in KU Leuven

STURA, the official representation of the students with the authorities of KU Leuven, is conducting a poll about the opinion of the students regarding the issue of the tuition fees. The poll can be found here:

It is relevant to notice that STURA has resisted to actually make any official statement about the issue for many months because they “ignore” the actual opinion of the students that they should defend, so they “need” the poll to justify any future action they take.

This is an idea that has slowed down extremely the protest against tuition fees for many months. However, finally they can get the data they ask for, so it is important to fill the poll.

However, as STURA is very considerate of neutrality, in the name of democracy, the poll has many questions that might seem strange and hence have been subject to criticism. Here we present you a detailed exposition -and some comments- of the questions in the poll, so you know what to expect.

Question for control

At this moment, a large group of non-EEA students does not have to pay the increased fees. How large is this group?

They ask you this question as a way of testing whether you actually read their information. According to their page: “1291 of 5000 non-EEA students did pay the raised fee; one fourth of all current non-EEA students”, so the students that did not pay the increased tuition fees are 3 quarters, hence the answer to the question is: “Around three quarters (75%) of all non-EEA students”.

Some people have felt that this “control” question is too bothering, not clear, or that it makes you believe that very few students -only a quarter- are actually affected. STURA said that they just needed to be sure that you were informed before filling the poll.

Then the actual questions come. Most of the questions are to be answered with a number between 1 and 5, 1 meaning “strongly disagree”, and 5 meaning “strongly agree”. Some have criticised that this is not the best system to answer these questions, which are evidently binary, and would be better answered, without ambiguity, with a yes or no.

This the first set.

I support the raises of the tuition fees for non-EEA students at my faculty.

If your faculty has not increased the fees and shows no interest to do so in the future, you can leave this question unanswered.

It is not so good that not answering is a possibility, the opposition of the students to the increase in their faculty could be a good reference for the battle in the future, given that as the STURA’s document says, the KU LEUVEN association is planning to make a uniform tuition fee system for every faculty and school. So, if one is against the tuition fees, it is better to say “1 STRONGLY DISAGREE”, and not left it blank, so they have some data to justify their argument.

I support the raises of the tuition fees for non-EEA students for the KU Leuven

This question seems to refer to the uniform tuition fee for the whole university that they plan to have in the future. If one is against tuition fees, the correct answer is certainly “1 STRONGLY DISAGREE”.

I understand why my faculty raises the tuition fees.

If your faculty has not increased the fees and shows no interest to do so in the future, you can leave this question unanswered.

Do the faculties even understand themselves why they are doing this? The Institute of Philosophy has said that it is done to pay some couching service to help the foreign students with their mental health; the Faculty of Letters have said that the parents of the Belgian students have paid taxes and foreigners’ have not, so this compensates it; it has even been said that because some other universities do it, KU Leuven should do it too; etcetera. There is no unified position, although we could speculate that they merely want to either get some easy extra money, or diminish the quantity of “not better” students (poor students). If it is not clear for them, much less it is for many of us, who consider that doing this is just senseless.

I understand why the KU Leuven raises the tuition fees.

This question refers to the unified tuition fees that they are planning; given that they have not yet even officially talked about it, we do not know what are they reasons. However, we can notice that this is related with their “Strategic Plan for Internationalisation”, which supposedly aims to have more international students. It would not be surprising that they argued that having a high price tag demonstrates to the future CONSUMER (aka student) that the PRODUCT (aka education) is good.

After this question, there is a field to input remarks. Do not forget to express your honest opinion in there, without limits.

The second set of questions are made within the context of the Strategic Plan for Internationalisation:

The questions below are to be understood in the framework of the policy plan of the current rectorate:
What is the impact of the raises on the aim for more and better international students, while striving for an equally large or larger diversity?

Just reading at that “research question” shows the twisted mind that one should have: evidently the authorities somehow believe that raising the tuition fees somehow might help to get “better” (richer?) international students. As the authorities don’t seem to notice anything flawed in that way of thinking, we have to show them that they might be at least a little wrong…

I think the KU Leuven should strive for a diverse student population.

Who would say no?

I’m convinced the raises will result in as much or more diversity

Unless we are aiming for a diversity of millionaires, there is no way in which increasing the price can increase the diversity.

I think the KU Leuven should aim to attract better international students.

Many current international students have criticised this question. What is a “better” student? Are the current international students not good enough?

It is important to remember that this question -as well as almost all the others- is not STURA’s own idea, it is just there due to the insistence of STURA with maintaining a “neutrality” that respects the established system a lot. STURA was forced to ask it because attracting “better” students has been part of the rhetoric of some faculties, like the Institute of Philosophy, that did it hoping that rich Anglophone students (the “better” students) were not scared that the school were bad just because it was cheap.

STURA has to ask this so they have data to use to argue against this. However one could think that this is not even an argument that should be replied, specially if one is an international student without a self-esteem low enough to think that the university should get a student “better” than oneself.

I’m convinced the raises will attract better international students.

That is the way of thinking of the authorities of KU Leuven. It only works if “better” means “richer”. If it means smarter, then it is senseless, because you cannot consider smart someone that chooses a university just for its price tag.

I think the KU Leuven should aim to attract more international students.

Notice the different nuance, now it says “more”, not “better”. The interesting thing is that the KU Leuven authorities would strongly agree with this statement, as well as most of the students. The official position of the university is that, yet we also know about some instances of the university, like the Institute of Philosophy, whose student population is almost 50% international, where many have the suspicion that the authorities might have actually agreed with the tuition fees increase hoping that it would reduce the quantity of international students, or replace them with the rich anglophone ones -the “better” ones-.

I’m convinced the raises will attract more international students.

No rational human being could be convinced of that. Yet, again, STURA has to ask this because it is part of the rhetoric that KU Leuven has used to justify the raise in tuition fees.

Afterwards, there is again a place to express your personal remarks. Do not forget to input the most sincere opinion of yours in there.

The next set of questions talk about the scholarships system that would be put in place to make more “just” the increased tuition fees. This set of questions have been criticised because they give a feeling of giving this fight for lost, thinking that it will be impossible to stop the increase, and therefore we have to start to plan about the future with it. STURA, however, considers necessary to ask about this because for them there is a possibility that the authorities actually demonstrate that this is the only way in which the university can continue functioning, and then STURA should acquiesce.

I think a good and thorough waiver-policy is important.

If one is against the tuition fees one simply cannot agree or disagree with this, because that waiver-policy only makes sense with the tuition fees.

I prefer a selection based on the following criteria.

  1. Solely excellence.
  2. Mainly excellence.
  3. Both.
  4. Mainly socio-economic.
  5. Solely socio-economic.

When you decide on this consider this: Why should a slow student pay more than the brilliant one? Also think that “excellence” is such a relative concept, and that we cannot actually trust the judgment of KU Leuven’s authorities as to what is excellent or not, given that they have demonstrated to have a very weird reasoning, considering that better students are richer students, and so on… The “socio-economic” criterium seems to be the only one actually related with the burden of paying tuition fees. It makes more sense to make the discount to the poor student, no matter how excellent or awful, than to the excellent rich student.

The next section will ask specific questions according to your faculty. These ones were determined by the student representation of your faculty.

The Faculties of Engineering, Law, Psychology, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Medicine, Industrial Engineering, Economics, Social Sciences, Architecture and the Institute of Philosophy do not ask extra questions.

The Faculty of Arts asks this:

What should the faculty invest the extra money in?

The Faculty of Arts indicates that the most important argument for them is that Belgian Students pay taxes and that these are then invested into our education system. Students from outside the EER have not paid these taxes, for which the raises should be a compensation. International students often also leave Belgium after their studies.

The options to answer are:

  • Study support for EEA-students
  • Study support for all students
  • Qualitative study material / technological support for non-EEA students
  • Qualitative study material / technological support for all students
  • Other (open answer).

This argument of the Faculty of Arts is flawed, for many reasons, but perhaps the most relevant one, that would convince even the defenders of “taxpayer justice”, is that the faculty gets the same funding per student, no matter the nationality of the student, and the faculty keeps all the extra money of the increased tuition fee, so there is no saving or reimbursement at all for the taxpayer, who will keep contributing the same. The faculty is supposed to spend the extra money in things for the international students, but there is no way to inquire that with precision, just their own word.

In the case of the Faculty of Letters, they said that they have spent the extra money they got in the expenses of the section of their office that takes charge of the issues of the international students, and in paying the wage of 2 new post-doctoral students. Would you think that that justifies increasing the tuition fees for everyone else? Was it more important to employ those 2 post-doctoral students than to accept all the poor students that could not come this year due to the increase?

The Faculty of Sciences asks this:

I think the quality of laboratories and excursions are essential for the quality of the education in sciences.

I think that the raise of the tuition fees has to result in an extension/improvement of the laboratories and excursions.

These questions certainly reveal the lack of hope that the student association of the Faculty of Sciences has about actually getting rid of the increased tuition fees.

The Faculty of Bio-engineering asks:

The extra money the faculty collects by raising the tuition fees, should be used for…

  • internationalization (incoming and outgoing students)
  • student administration
  • classrooms
  • support for international students
  • other (open answer)

How much should the fees be raised to?

  • €1750
  • €3500
  • €6000
  • other (open answer)

Again, the lack of hope that the student association of the Faculty of Bio-engineering is revealed. This attitude is not surprising and it is very common: many believe that the problem is not the increase, but only that we don’t have a word on it and on its use. Yes, that is a problem, but that is not the only issue with this action, that should not happen, even if they asked us about what they should do with the extra money.

The Faculty of Canon Law and the Faculty of Theology state this:

The Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies has not raised the tuition fees for non-EER students for all their programmes. They are also very clearly against these raises. Please be reminded of this fact while filling out this Survey.

And later ask:

The faculty should raise the tuition fees for non-EER students

The diversity of this faculty will improve with a raise in tuition fees

The faculty should strive for better students.

I was adequately informed about these raises.

That is the whole poll. You know now what to expect, and why some students found it not so neutral as it was intended to be.

Fill it, intelligently, and don’t forget to put your TRUE opinion in the remarks field. Don’t be afraid to be very honest, the more strong opinions they see, the more they will feel justified to complain about the tuition fees.

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