Students in professional programs at the University of Alberta could be facing huge tuition increases. ((CBC))

Students in professional faculties at the University of Alberta are reeling from a budget proposal that could raise tuition fees by up to 66 per cent in some programs over the next three years, the students' union said Thursday.

"We have seen some proposals so far," said Kory Mathewson, president of the students' union. "The numbers are out."

[IMAGE] He said the proposed increases would amount to 66.2 per cent for the faculty of pharmacy, 34.7 per cent for the faculty of medicine and 32.2 per cent for the faculty of law.

The university said it wouldn't confirm any figures until the budget plan goes to the Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology, although students have been told about the proposed increases.

"We're not discussing our numbers until we present them to the ministry," said Carl Amhrein, provost at the University of Alberta.

The university is struggling to cope with a $59 million budget shortfall. In an online document, it suggests strategies such as asking staff to take unpaid days off, raising tuition and student fees and cutting costs in university administration to avoid layoffs.

"Once we finish the discussions with the students, then we will work up the details of the business plan and we'll submit that to the ministry," Amhrein said. "We would not talk about numbers before we present them to the ministry in a formal way."

The university is also looking at whether to argue for increases in tuition to match other Canadian universities, Amrhein said, adding that University of Alberta tuition is "middle to low" for most faculties. 

"Should all of these discussions come to fruition as we are proposing, then we would be not so low any more but still middle of the pack," Amrhein said.

Students were surprised by the tuition proposals, especially in light of provincial legislation from 2006 that ties tuition increases to the consumer price index, Mathewson said.

"This was supposed to be a 10-year regulation that was going to hold these increases to a certain level," he said.

"I know a bunch of medical students that are looking at these increases and saying, 'I've already capped out my student loan, I don't have any more money that I can get. I don't know what I can do. I have to stop.'"

Mathewson said students learned about the proposals almost a month ago, but "we don't have enough information at this point to see if it's fair, if it's justified across the board."  

He expects to get more solid information from the university during a budget advisory committee meeting next Wednesday.