Calgary

MRU board raises tuition and student fees citing provincial budget cuts

The board of governors at Mount Royal University (MRU) voted Monday to approve a seven per cent tuition increase for next school year. 

The student services fee is also being increased by 25 per cent

MRU students attended the board of governors meeting on Feb. 24, 2020 to protest increases to their tuition. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

The board of governors at Mount Royal University (MRU) voted Monday to approve a seven per cent tuition increase for next school year. 

The university says that the Government of Alberta has made it clear that post-secondary institutions will receive less public funding going forward, which means institutions must reduce costs and grow other sources of revenue, including tuition and fees.

Tim Rahilly, the president and vice-chancellor of MRU, said the university is committed to providing a quality education to its students, and approving tuition increases isn't easy for the board.

MRU President Tim Rahilly said it wasn't an easy decision for the board to approve the maximum tuition increase allowed by the provincial government. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

"We recognize that the amount of funding in the form of the Campus Alberta Grant is actually going down," Rahilly said. 

"The government — after the MacKinnon report — indicated a desire to change the funding model to put more of the cost onto the users and to support five percent less annually for the next three years."

And Rahilly said that has "quite and impact" on MRU's ability to operate.

"And so the university also took advantage, if you will," he said.

"There was room given by the Alberta government in terms of the cap, the extent to which we could raise fees. We were permitted to raise fees up to seven per cent on average this year, and that's exactly what we did."

'We fear for students'

Shayla Breen, president of the Student's Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU), was one of three board members to vote against the increase.

While she's happy the university pledged to use 25 per cent of the revenue from tuition increases for student bursaries and scholarships, she knows that won't help everyone. Breen says this increase represents yet another barrier for students accessing post-secondary education in Alberta.

"When we take into the fact the increase of cost of living and the removal of the tax credits, the increase in the student loans interest rates — all these things are compounding to the increase of students' education," Breen said. "So we fear for students and the access to post-secondary moving forward."

SAMRU president Shayla Breen was one of three board members to vote against the tuition increases. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Although the vote approving the tuition increase was overwhelmingly in favour, many board members offered comment along with their votes.

Faculty member Kenna Olsen voted yes, but said she did so while "registering deep concern" for students currently in this tuition climate.

Olsen said in her own classes, she sees the impacts the cuts to education funding and increase to tuition is having on students.

"We see students struggling to maintain emotional and educational wellbeing," she said. "Despite that, as a faculty member, I am deeply committed to providing and exceptional educational experience."

'Accrue a lot of debt'

Third-year nursing student Anisa Tilston was among several students who attended the vote in protest of the increase. Some held signs with messages including: "A growing economy develops faster with an education population, and these actions are a step in the wrong direction."

Tilston said as a student who is paying for her own education without any help, an increase to her tuition is daunting.

MRU tuition and fee increases for 2021. (MRU)

"I already can't take as many classes I was I would like to, because I have to work during school over for 10 hours a week — and that is quite intimidating in combination with all the classwork I have to do," she said.

"And I know that I won't be able to work while at school in the future, because clinical rotations would make me have to work for 36 hours a week with no pay. So this would mean that I would have to work a lot during the summer or accrue a lot of debt."

On top of that, Tilston said she's also worried about the economic climate of the nursing profession in Alberta, and what that will mean when it comes time to pay off her student debt.

"There were also decreases in funding for nurses by the current government, so this means I might have a harder time getting a job to pay off that debt when I graduate," Tilston said.

'We've lost this opportunity to plan our future'

Policy studies student Rachel Timmermans says she's "frustrated" by Monday's vote.

She said there was a lot of work that went into Bill 19, and the point of Bill 19 was to introduce a stable and predictable funding model for both students and institutions.

"But now that that idea has kind of been thrown out, we've seen these increases come this year. And there's nothing stopping them from coming the next year, or the year after, for tuition to be continually more expensive for students," she said.

"And I'm disappointed that we've lost this opportunity to plan our future like we had before. And now we are going to be wondering year after year, is school going to be more expensive, how many hours we have to work each summer. And it's just an extra emotional and physical workload on students that I just think isn't fair."

Student Rachel Timmermans says tuition increases and uncertainty around future increases make it more difficult for students to plan for the future. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

The board also voted in favour of increasing student services fees next year by 25 per cent or approximately $32.

The tuition increases come after the previous government froze tuition by five years. 

MRU is joined by post-secondary institutions across the province in raising tuition by the full seven per cent allowed by the government for the upcoming school year. 

The university says MRU's domestic and international tuition will remain competitive within the sector. 

"The alternative is much deeper cuts to our operations, reducing our ability to support students and sustain the quality of programs and relied-upon services," said Annalise Van Ham, MRU's vice-president of finance and administration,

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

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