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Kory Mathewson, president of the students' union at the U of A, says Friday's tuition and rent hikes are another barrier to low-income students. ((CBC))

General tuition rates at the University of Alberta will go up 1.5 per cent next year, the most that provincial legislation will allow, the university announced Friday.

Rental rates for residences will increase by 3.8 per cent.

The increases come as the university grapples with a $59-million budget shortfall. 

"We're very disappointed, students are concerned, but the worst has yet to come," said Kory Mathewson, president of the students' union.

Worry over 'market modifiers'

"We're hearing a lot of talk that there are proposals that are going to be coming forward that are a going to be a lot higher, a lot more substantial than this."

Mathewson was referring to so-called "market modifiers" — changes to the base tuition rates of certain programs that are not tied to the provincial legislation and which the government has said it is willing to consider.

Published reports have suggested those rates could go up by as much as 66 per cent for some professional faculties, but the university has refused to confirm those figures.  

"The numbers on the market modifier proposals are not yet finished," said Carl Amrhein, provost at the University of Alberta.

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University of Alberta Provost Carl Amrhein says numbers on base tuition hikes for professional programs will be announced in January. ((CBC))

"I'd just as soon not comment on numbers that aren't finalized numbers. Those will be coming forward in January."

The university has provided preliminary figures to students, but discussions are ongoing and the numbers are "changing on a daily basis," said Mathewson.

That makes it very difficult for students and their families to plan education expenses, he said.

"We're hearing up to 60 per cent in pharmacy, substantial double-digit increases in all the professional faculties and professional programs, is what we're hearing," he said.

Rental increases needed for repairs

The increase in rental rates is needed because of "a long and complicated list" of repairs and renovations to the buildings, adding up to around $100 million, Amrhein said.

The increasing rates are forcing students to look for cheaper accommodation off-campus, Mathewson said.

"It's about 29 per cent in the last three years, so it's gone up very far, very fast," he said.

Some of the new tuition base rates for professional programs could be in place by September 2010. Most will be brought in for 2011, Amhrein said.