Tuition freeze here to stay

The Alberta Government has a new plan for tuition, but student leaders say the recommended tuition policy will continue to break the student bank.

The tuition recommendation is a part of the A Learning Alberta report released Tue., Jun. 6 after a year-long review of post-secondary education in Alberta. The report recommends tuition stay at 2004 levels, and future increases be limited to the cost of inflation–around one per cent per year.

Students currently pay 2004/05 rates, since the Alberta government paid for increases in 2005/06 and for the upcoming 2006/07 academic year–which amounts to $62 per half course. As a result, full-time University of Calgary students currently pay about $5,100 per year.

U of C Students’ Union vice-president external Julie Labonte believes $5,100 is unmanageable for students. Though she said tying future increases to the consumer price index is fair, Labonte stressed the rollback has to go further if the government wants to make tuition affordable and accessible for all students.

“We were promised we were going to get the most affordable tuition in Canada and this is nowhere near that,” said Labonte. “The general consensus for Alberta institutions is $3,500 per year for tuition would be a reasonable amount.”

Other report recommendations include increasing incentives for under-represented groups to attend PSE, including rural, Aboriginal and disabled students, increasing graduate student scholarships and keeping government funding equal to inflation so universities don’t have to use students to recoup their costs.

There are also recommended changes to the student loan system that would allow students to earn more money and take out more loans.

“It sounds like they’re going to be raising the amount of loans, but they’re just condemning students to a higher debt load,” said Labonte. “We’d like to see more grants, as opposed to more loans. We have to pay [student loans] back, which affects how we can begin our lives as productive citizens.”

Alberta Advanced Education spokesperson Cameron Traynor noted that tuition is only part of the cost of PSE, and said the government will take other factors such as cost of living into account in their new affordability package.

“For many students, tuition is not the concern–it’s all the other costs associated, especially for rural students,” said Traynor, adding that the entire affordability package will make Alberta the most affordable place to attend PSE.

“Starting right now, we’re working on the two main aspects of the report: the tuition policy and student assistance,” said Traynor.

U of C administration was pleased with the report.

“We support most of the 37 recommendations whole-heartedly,” said U of C VP finance and services Mike McAdam. “It will require a fairly significant investment into PSE, but I think Albertans will support us.”

McAdam said he believes the recommended tuition policy is fair, and that current tuition does not provide a barrier to education.

“There should be no economic barriers in place for students who want to attend university in Alberta,” said McAdam, noting students can use student loans, scholarships and bursaries to finance their education.

McAdam said recommendations from A Learning Alberta can be implemented as soon as next year, but Graduate Students’ Association president Christine Johns said she is worried the government will not follow through with the positive aspects of the report.

“Our biggest fear is that we have these recommendations coming forward, but we fear it will just go on the shelf and collect dust,” said Johns.

Johns added she was pleased to see the report addressed concerns of graduate students, including dedicated scholarships for graduates work in the social sciences and humanities.

The next round of consultations for a tuition policy and a student assistance package which includes loans, bursaries and scholarships will get underway next week.

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