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Province approves exceptional tuition hikes at University of Alberta

Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides signed off on the “exceptional”  tuition increases for 12 programs that were proposed by the University of Alberta according to documents obtained by the Alberta NDP.

Extra funds will help improve programs, school says

Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides signed off on the “exceptional”  tuition increases for 12 programs that were proposed by the University of Alberta. (David Bajer/CBC)

A dozen University of Alberta programs will see tuition for new students increases by 16 to 104 per cent this fall.

Alberta's Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides signed off on the "exceptional"  tuition increases for 12 programs that were proposed by the University of Alberta according to documents obtained by the Alberta NDP.

Tuition increases are capped at seven per cent, but the Alberta Tuition Framework allows schools to apply to the Minister of Advanced Education for exceptional hikes "if the increased tuition would result in improvements in program quality."

The increases come into effect at the start of the fall 2022 semester, and only apply to students admitted in fall 2022 and beyond, according to the documents.

In an emailed statement, Nicolaides said he approved requests for exceptional tuition increases in late February after receiving updated proposals from post-secondary institutions. 

Faculties with affected programs that will see increases ranging from 16 to 71 per cent include business, engineering, law, medicine and pharmacy. The highest jump is for the master of counselling program in the education faculty, which will see an increase of either 100 or 104 per cent depending on if a student has opted for the coursework or thesis stream. 

The tuition hikes only apply to domestic fees – international students aren't affected.

"All of the proposals demonstrated how the increases will directly benefit students by improving the quality of programs, as well as creating more opportunities for student financial assistance in the form of scholarships and needs-based bursaries," the minister said. 

Nicolaides confirmed increases proposed by the University of Calgary were also approved. 

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says he approved proposed exceptional tution increases for post secondary institutions that were able to show how the fee hikes will improve the quality of their programs. (Genevieve Tardif/CBC )

Financial aid not enough, says student union

The minister added that the average degree program tuition in Alberta is lower than the national average, a factor disputed by the president of the U of A's student union. 

"If you do include fees, Alberta is above the national average," said president Rowan Ley.

He said Alberta calculates tuition and fees differently than some other provinces, which can make tuition look artificially low.

The other obstacle, Ley said, is that Alberta falls short of other provinces in offering financial aid, and that the upfront cost of programs will create barriers for many hopeful students.

"Regardless of what future earning potential is, the fact that Alberta does not invest in meaningful needs based grants means that you can't compare us to other provinces that do," he said.

In a statement Wednesday, U of A provost Steven Dew said the school took student feedback into consideration when proposing the tuition increases to the province.

Dew noted that the increases come after a period of tuition being frozen, and that the increased revenue will be dedicated to improving program quality and increasing supports for students in those programs. 

He said that in 2020-21, about $11.3M was directed to student scholarships and bursaries.

NDP advanced education critic David Eggen says he knows post-secondary institutions are facing extreme funding challenges due to provincial cuts, but said asking students to pay more isn't the way to address that. 

He said post-secondary institutions have been put in the position of needing to increase tuition because of the provincial government's cuts to schools' funding. 

"Universities, colleges and polytechnics are just scrambling to keep the lights on quite frankly," Eggen said. "What underlies this is an extraordinary decrease and cut to operating grants."

Last year, the University of Alberta began a major restructuring in an effort to cope with massive cuts to provincial funding — an estimated 33 per cent of its operating grant or $216 million over three years starting in 2020.

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