Despite a two-year wait, a bloated and troubled consultation process and countless promises, the recently delivered Alberta affordability framework for post-secondary education is an unsurprising dud.
Back in February 2005, King Ralph himself promised that Alberta's new affordability framework, including "the most innovative, entrepreneurial and affordable tuition policy in the country," would be in place before September 2006. Although institutionsÂ, including the University of Calgary, have been passing maximum tuition increases since Klein's big announcement, students haven't had to pay any more than we did in 2004. Instead, Klein and Co. have been shouldering the burden for tuition increases over the past two years. The policy made sense in order to immediately halt the meteoric rise of tuition by almost 300 per cent since 1991/92 and give the government time to work out a long term solution that is truly "innovative... and affordable."
Unfortunately, this end result is anything but. Although there are some good things in the new framework--including limiting all future increases to the consumer price index, relaxed student loan payment requirements, lower interest rates on loans and enshrining student consultation into the decision-making process--these are underwhelming announcements. The government proposes to hold tuition at 2004 levels and base all future increases on inflation--a 3.3 per cent increase this year. While this is a step forward compared to previous increases that saw U of C tuition go up by as much as seven per cent in one year, it's a tiny one. Previous maximum tuition increases, like the 3.7 per cent in 2001, were barely larger than inflation, and there's nothing to say CPI won't skyrocket either. Rolling back to 2004 as a starting point just isn't good enough.
Under the new plan, students can expect to pay about $4,987 next year. That doesn't make Alberta the most affordable province in the country for post-secondary at all. In fact, the new plan won't even change our standing compared to other provinces. Currently Alberta is the fourth most affordable province in the country, and that's where we'll stay. In Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland students can expect to pay at least $2,000 less per year than those of us sitting atop Canada's richest natural resources.
The promise to enshrine student consultation into the decision-making processes is similarly meaningless. The U of C board of governors currently consults with the Students' Union each year when the tuition increase beast rears its predictable head. Each year the SU calls for no increase and each year the U of C pushes through the maximum. Students were also consulted extensively during the past two years to draft the A Learning Alberta report. Unfortunately, their input was largely ignored. Both the Council of Alberta University Students and our own SU are disappointed with this framework, despite being allowed to sit with the grown ups at the big table.
The big announcements for Alberta's PSE system have already been made. The tuition rebate Klein announced in 2004 was a big deal, as was his government's commitment to keep it in place over the past two years. It justifiably raised students' hopes that post-secondary was a priority in Alberta. Likewise, rolling the cost of these tuition rebates into institutions' base-operating budgets was also the right move. But instead of using these stop-gap measures as a strong foundation for a truly innovative education policy, this government has been content to repackage them again and again without doing much more than maintaining the status quo.
As for Advanced Education Minister Denis Herard's promise that there will be further big developments on this framework before it is officially passed, there has been little evidence over the past two years to suggest we should believe him.