Cautious Ralph-wise optimism

I have very mixed feelings about Ralph Klein’s recent an-nouncements about post-secondary education being his number one priority for the centennial year. I am optimistic that after years of lobbying the Alberta government to recognize the importance of PSE, students will finally see something come to fruition. However, I am cautious, based on this government’s performance in relation to PSE over the years.

During Ralph’s television address we saw a centennial gift towards tuition, the promise of new seats at PSE institutions, and a “revolutionary” tuition policy. But, we don’t have a tuition freeze, we don’t have space for more students, and we have no idea what his new tuition policy will look like.

Students cannot be under the illusion that Ralph Klein froze their tuition. In fact, tuition at the University of Calgary is still going up by the maximum 5.8 per cent this year. Ralph is simply footing the bill for this year’s increase. Unless we see a real tuition freeze (or heaven forbid, a reduction) students will undoubtedly face a tuition increase in the 13 per cent range in 2006-2007.

The complexity of this centennial gift doesn’t stop there. Ralph has no intention of paying this year’s tuition increase for international students, a major asset to our universities. And what about the drastic increase in tuition for programs still implementing differential tuition? Will that increase be covered? We need a reduction in tuition fees to allow greater access to a post secondary education.

Then there is the promise of 15,000 new PSE seats over the next three years. Rumour has it that the U of C will take in 1,000 additional students for each of the next three years. How many more trailers will we need to purchase for that to happen? We need a major increase in unrestricted funds to the university in order to accommodate these new students and improve quality. Quality cannot suffer at the expense of access.

Perhaps the thing that scares me the most is Ralph Klein’s guarantee of an “innovative, entrepreneurial, and affordable” tuition policy. Can anyone explain to me what an entrepreneurial tuition policy will look like? I sure hope it isn’t making reference to income contingent repayment loans, the equivalent of a life-long debt sentence.

Although it sounds great to have a loan repayment that is tied the money you earn, those with low incomes after graduation end up paying over a longer period of time and incur more interest. Also, tuition has sky rocketed in countries where income contingent repayment plans have been implemented.

I am grateful that the Alberta government has finally realized the importance through PSE in Bill 1 and the March 2 Throne Speech. My hope now is that we don’t see a continuation of under funding, but some substantial funding that will aid students in the pursuit of a quality education in Alberta.

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