Coincidentally, the CSU launches Waitlisted campaign
// Samantha Thompson

At Capilano, there are currently hundreds of students on waitlists to get into classes. Although accurate numbers for this statistic are difficult to measure, the number is great enough that the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) has been inspired to launch a new campaign that will document students’ real-life waitlist horror stories.

The campaign, aptly called “Waitlisted”, aims to stimulate “awareness about issues pertaining to the accessibility of education at Capilano,” according to David Clarkson, Chairperson of the CSU’s executive. The scale of the campaign is yet to be determined, although Clarkson assured that the campaign would get bigger over time.

“Hopefully, it will achieve…awareness among students around the issues that are affecting them, and secondly, help[s] motivate change at the administrative end…and the levels of government that are able to…alleviate some of the problems that exist.”
Clarkson points out that the responsibility for class accessibility primarily falls on the shoulders of the provincial government, as they are “largely financing the operation, [and] they’re setting out what universities should be offering in terms of courses.”
However, Capilano’s Board of Governors also made the decision to accept a budget that would result in a lot of class sections, requested through the faculties of Arts and Sciences, to not be created so that the money could be spent in other areas.
“There is a demand [for classes] and that’s always challenging because you want to be able to meet that demand but…there are budgetary restrictions around that,” says Karen McCredie, Registrar for Capilano University.

“You can look at it as an issue of not enough money,” says Clarkson, “or you can look at it as an issue of not spending the money you have appropriately.”

The high demand for class spots is not unique to Capilano, however. With insufficient amounts of class sections and a severe lack of funding available across the board at post-secondary institutions, students at SFU and UBC are taking matters into their own hands.

Unlike Capilano with its waitlist system, the registration process for both of these institutions works in such a way that allows students to cheat the system. Conveniently, many classes at UBC don’t have waitlists – allowing the black market of class registration to flourish.

At UBC, students are given priority for registration based on what year of study they are in. Students in fourth year get first priority, followed by first, third and second.

Students have been partnering up with their friends with better registration dates to ensure that they get into classes necessary for graduation. Students with these earlier times can register in the class and then drop it when their friend is able to register in it themselves. Amanda Figgs*, a third-year student at UBC, currently has a fourth-year friend holding her a spot in a class she’s looking to take in the Spring semester.

“My friend who has fourth-year standing registered in this class…for me,” she says, “and is just going to hold it until registration…dies down a bit. And then, in the middle of the night when no one is online, she’ll drop it and I’ll pick it up.”

The absence of waitlists in these classes makes the “holding classes” procedure relatively flawless. A friend drops the class, opening up a spot for their friend to jump into.

However, even classes with waitlists have a loophole. According to Figgs, if someone drops a class that has a waitlist, there is a lag in the system for a very short amount of time, where no one who is on the waitlist has been offered the space. During that lag, a student can jump the waitlist and get into the class. However, according to McCredie, Capilano’s system does not have this loophole.

“Every system has its flaws, and if I’m speaking on behalf of all the registrars of British Columbia…our goal is always to ascertain what those flaws are,” says McCredie, “and then try to set up processes or change the way the system works to make that as minimal as possible.”

“We’re all students, we all know what it’s like to have to pay way more than you should for your education,” says Figgs. “I just think all of us are just really desperate to complete our degrees in as little time as possible.”

While many people take advantage of their earlier registration ticket to help their friends get into much needed upper-level classes, Ming Pao, a local Chinese newspaper, recently reported that some students at SFU have taken advantage of a desperate market and begun charging as much as $500 for a seat in a lecture hall.

“I don’t think that that is right, and personally I would never want to jeopardize somebody completing their degree…or take advantage of the fact that they need to complete their degree,” says Figgs. “It seems like extortion.”

Students selling class spaces typically do so for upper-level commerce and economics courses, and then sell their spots openly on the Internet, often with the posts including the seller’s personal phone number. A website that is geared towards Chinese students studying at SFU has a page where people can buy and sell products to one another. Although most of the items for sale are used textbooks, a number of class spaces can be found as well, with terms like “price negotiable” written next to the lecture times and dates.

“There’s a concern there that it could perpetuate some kind of disparity between those who can afford to pay for education and those who can’t, which is already quite a significant issue,” says Clarkson.

Although SFU has stated that they will look into the matter, something like this is evidently difficult to monitor.

“I think in general, any kind of situation like this opens up an opportunity to reevaluate your policies and procedures to make sure that you haven’t allowed for any loopholes that can be taken advantage of,” says McCredie, “because our job as registrars is to protect the students’ registration process and admission process. So if I find out that there is a gap there that’s allowing students to be taken advantage of, or not to be handled in an equitable manner, then it is my responsibility as the registrar to do something about that.”

Students at SFU are able to register in five classes per semester, which enables students only taking three or four classes to hold spaces in additional lectures to make some extra money. Although $200-$500 may seem like a steep price to pay for a seat, for international students in particular it is likely worth the cost if it means graduating sooner – as the cost of living for an additional semester would be well above that cost.

“I certainly understand that there is a…pent-up demand for courses, and certainly we feel that system-wide. If you talk to any of the registrars across BC they’re all going to say the same thing: their hot classes are hot,” says McCredie. “I have full confidence that they [SFU] will handle it in the best way. Certainly there is never a day that a surprise doesn’t come through, at least at some institution, let alone your own.”

According to Figgs, some professors at UBC will kick the student out of the class if they learn that the student is in the class as a result of a friend holding their spot. The underlying concern, however, is why students are being forced to take such extreme measures in the first place.

SFU and UBC did not respond to interview requests as of press time.
*name has been changed

// Samantha Thompson

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com