Calgary

Alberta tuition cap needed for struggling students, leaders say

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice is refusing to rule out the possibility of lifting the cap on university tuition in the face of a looming $7-billion revenue gap.

Premier Jim Prentice also wants public sector pay drop to national averages

Premier Jim Prentice is not ruling out lifting the cap on post-secondary tuition as the province faces a growing revenue shortfall. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice is refusing to rule out the possibility of lifting the cap on university tuition in the face of a looming $7-billion revenue gap.

And that has some students worried.

Eric Queenan, president of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, says students — and often their parents — are already struggling to pay tuition.

“So many Alberta families are taking money, re-adjusting budgets. Even some families are taking it out of their retirement savings to send their kids to post-secondary,” he said.

The provincial government legislated in 2006 that tuition cannot rise at a rate higher than inflation, which is currently one per cent. 

But the legislation allows for market modifiers as a one-off increase to bring tuition fees in line with other institutions if the school looking to raise tuition can show a clear discrepancy.

Prentice — who told reporters Thursday that all options are being considered — is meeting with the University of Calgary board of governors on Friday to discuss how to boost lagging revenue.

Nenshi opposes lifting cap

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says Alberta already has the lowest participation rate in the country in post-secondary education and, given the economic slowdown, this is a bad time to allow tuition to jump.

“You actually want people to go back to school if they're losing their jobs and I think it's important for us as a community to maintain access as best we can through the post-secondary system," he said.

“And the reason I comment on it — although it's a provincial issue — is it has very direct relevance to the city of Calgary. The universities are big employers here and having that opportunity available for Calgarians is very, very important."

The head of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) is calling on Albertans to let the government know they want an affordable and accessible post-secondary educational system.

“The idea of eliminating the tuition cap is an incredibly short sighted move that would affect not just students but all Albertans for years to come,” said CAUS chair Navneet Khinda in a release. 

The premier also says something must be done about the $2.6 billion in scheduled public sector wage increases coming over the next three years.

Public sector pay 

Prentice says since the province cannot legally roll back union contracts to save money, the government is appealing to the public sector for a break.

“We want it to be a respectful discussion, there are always are carrots and sticks,” he said.

“But what’s the objective? The objective is to, you know, get the cost of public services in our province down to something that reflects national averages.”

Prentice says each of the contracts will be followed by another round of negotiations.

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