Tuition rates a point of advocacy for students

Deficits, funding shortfalls and tuition hikes are all common words floating around the hallways of Alberta's post-secondary institutions the past few months.

During the Ralph Klein era, Alberta saw tuition fees hit an all-time high, which led to a new tuition fee policy in 2006. In November of that year, the Government of Alberta implemented the Tuition Fees Regulation initiative. This policy indicates that tuition cannot escalate above the rate of inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

The University of Alberta wants to see tuition rates calculated by 'market modifiers' which means that tuition for professional and graduate programs such as medicine, dentistry, law, business, pharmacy and engineering will experience grave increases.

University of Lethbridge students are fortunate that their administration has chosen not to go down that path.

"President Bill Cade stated explicitly at the Oct. 9 Town Hall Meeting that the University of Lethbridge would not pursue any differential increases," says Alex Massé, University of Lethbridge Students' Union (ULSU) Vice President Academic. "In fact, he portrays the idea of raising tuition for professional programs as ridiculous."

Thus far, University of Lethbridge students are safe from a major tuition hike for the 2010/2011 year; although, there are no guarantees of this continuing.

"The U of L administration has made it clear that they will not be seeking any increases beyond the CPI cap for the next academic year, but the government has told students that the regulation could be opened for amendment for a period of two to five years, and we have no guarantee that the U of L will not seek differential increases in future years," says Massé.

"When the cap was implemented, the University of Alberta used 2004 as the base year from which increases would be calculated," adds Massé. "The U of A argues that they should be able to recalculate the base rates because they weren't given an opportunity in 2006 to adjust their professional programs to market value."

This comes at a time when the U of A is facing a $60 million deficit, along with most institutions across the province that are experiencing funding shortfalls. The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology has proposed a 40 per cent tuition hike for all programs; however, Doug Horner, Alberta Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, rejected this proposal.

"Horner let the PSE institutions know that the Ministry would accept proposals similar to the
U of A's: they have to be justified and they have to be aimed only at specific programs," says Massé. "But, we do not believe that any differential tuition increases are justified."

According to Massé, if differential tuition increases are allowed to come into effect it could mean that some students will be forced to enter into a discipline of study based on their financial means over their ability or ambition.

"This means the government will be stifling the potential of many of the best and brightest prospective students," says Massé.

Advocacy is one of the mandates of the ULSU, and it works hard on all levels of government to lobby for the needs of students.

"The ULSU will work extensively with the Council of Alberta University Students to send a strong message directly to the Government of Alberta, the bottom line being that right now student employment is at a record low and requests for student aid are at a record high, and this is the worst time for the government to allow large tuition increases," says Massé. "Depending on how things go over the next few weeks, we will certainly consider active student campaigns and media events to hammer that message home."