Students will see a new tuition policy in place by fall 2006, but the details will not be open for debate in the legislature.
Bill 40, which was introduced to legislature Mon., May 8, aims to take tuition policy out of legislation and into regulation. The provincial government says the move is necessary to keep their promise of a new tuition policy for the fall, but opposition members and student leaders say regulation allows the Tories to push their new policy through unchecked.
"This is scary because it eliminates the system of checks and balances," said University of Calgary Students' Union president Emily Wyatt. "The government is committed to it right now, but we could be going from free tuition to a large increase in a very short period of time."
Wyatt is concerned the move will allow the government to take action, including the deregulation of tuition, without consulting students first. She said tuition policy should remain open to debate in legislature.
Advanced Education Minister Denis Herard said student and opposition concerns are unfounded. Herard believes regulation allows for more flexibility and it will benefit students more than a policy created through legislation.
"The first thing we do when we pass this bill is have a consultation with those it affects," assured Herard. "When you have something in legislature, it's very inflexible. You don't have the opportunity to fix the little things like you do in regulation. I think it's the better option because of the continual improvement portion."
With a Conservative leadership race looming, legislature is unlikely to sit in the fall session, and critics argue the Tories are using regulation to push their policy through while they still can. Since universities begin the budgeting process in January for the following year, a tuition policy passed now will not affect students until fall 2007.
Herard admitted a time crunch is partially the case for the move to regulation.
"The calendars for universities and colleges have to be ready in January," said Herard. "If there isn't a fall sitting we may not be able to pass a new policy until fall 2008."
When he was asked whether the move means deregulation of tuition, Herard had a firm message for students.
"Absolutely not," he said.
Liberal advanced education critic Dave Taylor is worried about long-term implications of a tuition policy which is not open to debate in legislature.
"I'm confident that you're going to end up with a tuition policy that looks pretty good for next year, but I'm concerned for future years," said Taylor. "For example if you change the policy so that the university can recoup the full cost of education [through tuition], you're never going to get that genie back into the bottle."
Taylor said the government could let post-secondary institutions know of their plans now so they are able to budget for the 2007/08 year, and then pass the actual legislation next time legislature sits. This would still allow the new tuition policy to take effect in fall 2007.
"It is not necessary that this legislation be passed now-no matter what they tell you," said Taylor.
On Mon., Apr. 13, the Council of Alberta University Students joined Liberal and NDP opposition members in Edmonton to protest Bill 40.