Province breaks promise on tuition cap

By Emily Ask

Despite an assurance in the Post-Secondary Learning Act that tuition would only be raised by 1.5 per cent, the provincial government has created a loophole for post-secondary institutions to raise tuition in some cases.

The loophole means universities can submit an application to modify tuition costs for various degrees according to market demand. According to this plan, degrees with a higher market demand, such as engineering, medicine or law, would cost more than an arts or sciences degree.

Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner said the option would not be available to all institutions.

“Whatever proposal [institutions] bring forward to the [Advanced Education] department has to be fair, has to be equitable. It has to have a proper case behind it,” Horner said. “They have to show a very solid reason as to why we would look at adjusting the base of a particular program or particular tuition.”

“There have been no decisions made on differential tuition,” said University of Calgary spokesperson Grady Semmens. “The usual procedure is that the U of C administration talks to the Students’ Union [first].”

“The fact that the province is saying differential tuition may be an option for certain programs doesn’t mean [it will be implemented at the U of C],” he added.

Students’ Union president Charlotte Kingston thinks the tuition model should remain untouched.

“The current model took years upon years to agree upon. The government made a commitment to keeping this until at least 2016. By not sticking to it they are breaking their promise.”

Anything resembling a differential tuition model should be avoided because of the negative effects it would have on prospective students, Kingston insisted. For example, a student with a passion for a higher demand degree, like law, might not pursue that career in favour of a less expensive education.

“[It] prescribes educational and career choices that students can make based on their ability to pay.”

Though rising tuition costs are the first concern, Kingston is also apprehensive about rising compulsory fees for services provided by the university in addition to tuition. According to a recent Statistics Canada publication, Alberta post secondaries have the highest compulsory fees in the country.

The framework used right now is called cost recovery, Kingston explained, which means the U of C can only charge students for delivery of services.

She argued the current framework doesn’t do enough to prevent rising fees and allows the university to slip in extra costs by creating new “services” to charge for — like the Campus Common Spaces, Sustainability and Safety Fee proposed at the University of Alberta.

Advanced Education and Technology spokesperson Donna McColl said the ministry believes the Statistics Canada report is faulty.

“We have noted that compulsory fee calculation in [the] Statistics Canada report was done wrong,” said McColl. “The compulsory fees at the U of C did increase by three per cent over 2008 to 2009, but Statistics Canada included a newly introduced health and dental plan at U of A. It is a non-compulsory fee, so it skewed the results. They added an extra $192 a year from the U of A that shouldn’t have been included.”

She added that the ministry would contact Statistics Canada to ensure this didn’t happen again.

The SU sent Advanced Education and Technology Minister Doug Horner a letter, and urges students to do the same. The minister responded by setting up a meeting with the SU on Dec. 9.

The SU will be holding an event leading up to the meeting regarding tuition Tuesday and Wednesday in the south courtyard. On Wednesday there will be a discussion panel from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

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