British Columbia's colleges and universities are being allowed to squeeze hundreds of extra dollars from students despite a two per cent cap on tuition fees, the NDP says.
On Thursday, the party's advanced education critic Kathy Corrigan produced documents in the legislature from North Island College president John Bowman explaining the reasons for a new resource fee of $5 per course credit.
"Earlier this year, the ministry advised B.C.'s colleges they had a new interpretation of the Tuition Limit Policy, which enables institutions to implement mandatory student fees," Bowman said in a November 2015 president's newsletter.
"This fee will not be used to balance the budget but it will relieve financial pressure to find funding in our current budget to expand services that students need and want."
Jenelle Davies, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Students, which represents more than 200,000 students in 15 universities and colleges in B.C., said the fee hikes start at about $200.
A 'sneaky' move
An increase of $2,000 is expected in September for a pharmacy technician program at Vancouver Community College, she said.
"They are trying to make up the shortfalls in their budgets by implementing new fees," Davies said.
She called on Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson to review each fee increase on a case-by-case basis to justify fee hikes despite a decade-long two per cent cap.
"It's a sneaky move," Corrigan said. "They are trying to say they have a two per cent cap at the same time they are sneaking around the corner and allowing them to add a whole bunch of fees that are very clearly not allowed under the policy."
Corrigan cited documents from Selkirk College in Castlegar, where a proposed new-student services fee of $139 to $207 will increase overall tuition by 4.5 per cent in September.
Advanced Education Minister Wilkinson said his ministry is monitoring new fee increases at post-secondary institutions across B.C.
"We've told the institutions, colleges and universities, that they have to be able to justify those fees by showing benefits to students," he said. "Most of those fees are in the range of about $80."
Shortly after the issue was raised in the legislature, Wilkinson's ministry released a letter reminding post-secondary institutions of the two per cent tuition cap but noted fees can be charged for new programs.
"The policy applies to existing programs and services," said a letter from deputy minister Sandra Carroll.
"Tuition and fees for existing programs and services must not increase more than two per cent per year. For new programs, boards establish the tuition amount for the first year, and the two per cent limit applies thereafter."