'Impossible to afford': Graduate students react to proposed tuition hikes at U of C

After the University of Calgary proposed a tuition hike to current graduate programs, students protested outside the board of governors meeting on Friday.

University of Calgary says it's working with students to come up with final proposal

Graduate students at the University of Calgary say the potential tuition hikes could lead to students dropping out. (Mike Symington/CBC)

A few dozen University of Calgary students protested outside the board of governors meeting on Friday over concerns about proposed tuition hikes for the coming year.

 A town hall meeting on Nov. 19 proposed a plan that the university could increase tuition by five per cent for current domestic and international graduate students.

For new students coming in, the proposed tuition hike could be raised by seven per cent for domestic graduate students, and 10 per cent for international graduate students.

This comes after the United Conservative government's 2019 budget — released in late October after the school year was already underway — resulted in a five-per-cent cut for advanced education over the previous year. 

These graduate students protested proposed tuition hikes ahead of a University of Calgary committee meeting. The school might raise tuition five per cent a year, and seven to 10 per cent for international students, after a fee freeze was lifted and recent provincial budget cuts. 0:56

The provincial government also lifted a freeze on tuition, saying increases would be capped at seven per cent at the institutional level and at 10 per cent at the program level.

The government also cut tuition and education tax credits and increased the interest rate on student loans to prime plus one per cent.

Mohamed Abdelsamie, vice-president academic with the Graduate Students' Association, says this may force students to drop out of their programs. 

"This will cause a lot of financial stress, mental health issues, delays in programs to graduate students," he said.

"Most graduate students have already budgeted for their whole degrees."

Mohamed Abdelsamie says that after tuition gets paid, there's barely enough to make ends meet. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Abdelsamie says students are proposing the board of governors amend the tuition proposal and instead increase it no higher than the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) — which varies every year, typically in the range of two per cent.

"Students will budget for CPI increases for any other commodity or cost of living, so this is something they could live with. But five per cent is much more higher than students could budget for," he said.

The graduate student adds that they've proposed this alternative with university administrations, but he fears they won't listen.

"This is a very big increase to students who are receiving a net income that is below the poverty line and they have to cope with a month-to-month budgeting to be able to make ends meet," he said.

When asked about whether students will have to start lining up student loans, Abdelsamie explains some international students aren't able to receive provincial loans for education.

Estefania Ojeda says that as an international student, it would be essentially impossible to afford the university with the proposed tuition increase. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Estefania Ojeda, an international student from Colombia, adds that the increasing interest rate makes it more difficult for the students who can take out loans.

"As an international, that would be essentially impossible to afford," she said.

She adds that scholarships have also been affected and many have disappeared — meaning the competition to get one is fierce.

"After the budget cut, essentially the main scholarships disappeared," she said.

She thinks that rather than a tuition increase, the University of Calgary should be reducing salaries for people at the top level, and the Alberta government should reconsider its education cuts.

"I see a very bad impact in the near future because this means that education is a privilege," she said.

University of Calgary reaction

However, the University of Calgary says the province recently passed tuition regulations that limit the amount the school can raise tuition for domestic students.

Provost Dru Marshall says it can raise tuition as high as 10 per cent in individual programs, but the overall increase is capped at seven per cent.

She adds that international student tuition is unregulated.

"Those are proposals right now and they're not before the students," she told CBC News on Friday. "I don't want to comment on them because we're not taking that officially before the board until January."

Marshall says the university is still working with students to come up with a final proposal that will be presented and voted on by the board of governors.

 "We've been consulting with students on potential numbers. But honestly, we are doing a huge amount of work over the next five or six days before we meet with students again on Wednesday to clarify numbers," she said.

With files from Mike Symington and Colleen Underwood


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