Tuition fees at all post-secondary schools in Alberta will be frozen for the 2013-14 academic year, the premier confirmed on Thursday.
The provincial government will cover the annual 2.15 per cent increase, which is tied to inflation, Alison Redford said.
She said the provincial budget cannot be balanced on the backs of students and education must remain affordable.
"No tuition increases for students has been government’s expectation all along," said Thomas Lukaszuk, deputy premier and minister of Advanced Education.
But the announcement follows $147 million in post-secondary grant cuts announced in the provincial budget last month.
Lukaszuk said post-secondary schools have to find ways to use their resources more effectively "so more dollars find their way into classrooms." He has also told schools they need to bring down their administrative costs wherever possible.
Lukaszuk promised that ministry officials will continue to have quarterly meetings with student groups, as well as presidents and chairs of post-secondary institutions.
Freeze doesn't address other fees
A group representing post-secondary students in the province is glad to hear of the tuition freeze, but Matthew Armstrong of the Alberta Students Executive Council says there's nothing to stop schools from raising non-instructional fees.
He believes there needs to be a bigger and better plan for post-secondary education.
"Really re-evaluate where we are cutting — we have cut across the board," he said. "And if we have to make cuts, that's one thing, but we need to make sure we are doing it in a measured way, right, so we go and look at the reality of each institution."
Armstrong says the current situation is forcing schools to make decisions too quickly.
He believes it would take at least a year to make informed cuts.
Mount Royal University in Calgary has already announced it will be implementing a $120 student service fee next year.
Lukaszuk says he can't force the schools to freeze other fees students pay.
Program suspensions already announced
MRU also announced plans on Tuesday to suspend registrations in several programs because cuts to post-secondary operating grants announced in the provincial budget in March left the school with a $14-million shortfall.
Liberal education critic Kent Hehr said he is struggling to believe the premier's promise that these cuts won’t hurt students.
"Does the premier recognize that these cuts to our post-secondary system are devastating and will have lasting effects?" asked Hehr. "Freezing tuition won’t bring back these programs."
He said the Alberta Liberals are calling for the premier to focus her cuts on "wasteful government spending."
The party would also like to see a return to a progressive income tax to fund public services, like post-secondary education, rather than depending on volatile resource revenues.