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StatsCan: Tuition up 7.4 per cent

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Student groups are worried about a new Statistics Canada report which states undergraduate university students will pay 7.4 per cent more in tuition this year, the biggest increase in four years.

The report found British Columbia had the highest increase from 2002/03 to 2003/04 at 30.4 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador posted the smallest increase at -4.5 per cent. The negative number comes from tuition fees stabilizing or decreasing. Alberta was higher than average with a 7.7 per cent increase which translates into $4,025. According to University of Calgary Vice-President External Roman Cooney, the study shows U of C is in the middle of the pack with regards to cost.

"Universities across the country are facing the same challenges," said Cooney.

However some feel students bear too much of a financial burden. Canadian Alliance of Student Associations National Director James Kusie finds the report disturbing.

"Provincial governments and the federal government should ensure university is affordable, accessible and of high quality," said Kusie. "The average debt load for a student graduating from a four-year program is $21,000 and it's an increasing burden on the student loan program."

Another trend identified by Statistics Canada was a tuition increase in professional faculties like dentistry, law and medicine. The average increase was 20.9, 19.4 and 16.7 per cent, respectively. Nationally, law students will pay $5,995 while medical students will pay $9,406 during the 2003/04 school year. At U of C this upcoming year, medical students will pay $9,932 compared to $7,752 for law, excluding mandatory fees.

According to Cooney, the increase is due to differential fees. Kusie believes those faculties will soon see a decrease in retention due to high tuition. U of C Students' Union President Jayna Gilchrist believes the high price tag may discourage students from pursuing professional degrees.

"Students are not wanting to get into a lot of debt," said Gilchrist. "Those who are wealthier will pay less tuition because they will pay less interest on the loan compared to the lower-income students. This will create a segmented society."

Cooney justifies the U of C's recent decision to differentiate law and medicine because many universities are doing the same.

"In order to be competitive to attract professors in those faculties, differential tuition will make us be more competitive," said Cooney. "Competition for faculty in those areas is intense."

Kusie believes many students are not attending university because they can't afford the costs. Initially, Cooney said cost was not an issue but that students are getting value for their tuition.

"We're concerned if tuition is a hurdle for students," said Cooney later. "That's why we've increased grants and bursaries. We're encouraging the province to make sure students get a post-secondary education."

Gilchrist isn't sure quality has increased in her years at the university.

"I haven't heard students say 'My tuition is really worth it.'"

University of Calgary undergraduate students will pay $4,380 this year.

To see the report, visit http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/030812/d030812a.htm

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