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Provincial government opens door for new student fees

By Chris Adams, September 4, 2014 —

Student lobby group Council for Alberta University Students (CAUS) released documents from the ministry of advanced education Thursday, Aug. 21. They reveal plans to open a submission process for post-secondary institutions to apply for tuition increases, known as market modifiers.

Market modifiers are faculty-specific increases in tuition based on the perceived value of certain degrees. 

The documents include a draft of the government’s guidelines for applications and a letter sent to acting premier and minster of advanced education Dave Hancock from CAUS.

CAUS member and Students’ Union vice-president external Levi Nilson said they went public with the information after their concerns about affordability were not addressed.

“[It] goes against everything they’ve been saying since they proposed them the last time in 2010. They said it was a one-time thing, a loop-hole in the legislation. Now they’re bringing it back,” Nilson said.

John Muir, spokesperson for the minister of advanced education, said the documents have not been sent to post-secondary institutions. He added that they were meant for internal discussion until a final decision is made.

“What you see sent to you was a draft document. But, at the same time, we are aware, since 2010, of anomalies amongst our post-secondary institutions,” Muir said. “We’d require that post-secondary institutions submit proposals for those market modifications [with] a strong business case behind it.” 

According to the same documents released by CAUS, applications must show how the modifier benefits students, how the faculty will spend extra revenue and show program-specific tuition fees at other institutions. 

Hundreds of U of C students protested differential tuition in 2010. Commerce students saw their tuition rise by 38 per cent, or $232 per course. Fees for master’s of business administration students rose by 13 per cent, or $192 per course. Students in both programs now pay $777.42 per course.

Six applications for market modifiers came from the U of C in 2010. The government rejected four, including one from the Schulich School of Engineering. Schulich asked for an increase of around $200 per course.

The draft document states that rejected proposals can be re-submitted.

“It’s been no secret that the university wants to have a market modifier in engineering. But, again, we haven’t seen any proposals,” Nilson said.

Tuition increases are regulated by the Post Secondary Learning Act. Rates rise with inflation, as determined by the Consumer Price Index. Nilson said market modifiers go against the spirit of this system.

“We don’t think that raising the tuition in these programs really increases its accessibility or the quality of education for these programs,” Nilson said. “We don’t think it’s fair that a student coming into the university might pick a cheaper program and not pursue one they were ambitious about just because of cost.”

Muir said the government looks at student loan default rates and student-debt when determining whether to accept a market modifier application. Sixteen of 24 applications were rejected in 2010.

“As far as affordability, that’s something we take seriously,” Muir said.

The University of Alberta Students’ Union learned U of A’s faculty of law intends to apply for a 60 per cent increase in course fees. 

“That just scares the hell out of us,” Nilson said. “Especially since we know this isn’t something the university has shied away from.”

In a letter to Hancock, CAUS chair Navneet Khinda and co-chair Cameron McCoy emphasized the need for student consultation.

“If proposals are to be submitted for a specific program, the students in the respective program who will be affected by the increase must be allowed to vote on the implementation of a market modifier,” the letter said.

The draft sent by CAUS states the deadline for applications is Oct. 15.

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