EDMONTON – Student representatives say they were â€œcompletely blindsidedâ€� over a possible new round of market-based tuition hikes, including one suggestion that would see University of Alberta law students pay 58 per cent more.
Tuition increases at Albertaâ€™s post-secondary institutions have been tied to the consumer price index since 2010. But with funding crunches and faculty shortfalls, the province circulated guidelines in July for â€œmarket modifications,â€� allowing specific programs to make a case to gradually increase tuition starting next fall to rates charged at other Canadian universities.
The guidelines â€” with an Oct. 15 submission date and a decision two months later â€” were only a draft for discussion, said John Muir, a spokesman for Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education.
In April 2010, then advanced education minister Doug Horner approved one-time hikes for four U of A programs and two at the University of Calgary, rejecting 18 other requests from six institutions. At the time, Horner said the hikes â€œput this discussion to restâ€� and that province would not consider any new proposals.
The province is contemplating another round of hikes because of ongoing â€œmarket anomaliesâ€� faced by Alberta universities, officials say.
Since January, Premier Dave Hancock â€” also responsible for advanced education â€” has held stakeholder discussions about potential changes to tuitions and fees. The current 10-year agreement guiding fees and tuition is set to expire in 2016.
The Council of Alberta University Students, which represents about 100,000 students, joined the talks in April. In July, they were â€œcompletely blindsidedâ€� by the market modification argument, said Navneet Khinda, council chair and vice-president of the University of Alberta Studentsâ€™ Union.
â€œWeâ€™ve been talking about a whole bunch of issues, but weâ€™ve also havenâ€™t ever discussed market modifiers.â€� said Khinda. â€œThey simply werenâ€™t on the table.â€�
At a Tuesday night meeting, the U of A student council learned about a law faculty proposal to raise tuition â€” currently at $10,121 â€” by $5,874 over the next three years.
In 2010, the U of A law faculty proposed a tuition hike to $12,400 from $9,500, backed by the Law Students Association. But like medicine and dentistry, their proposal was rejected.
The gap between programs has since grown, said U of A law faculty dean Paul Paton. A review of 12 competitor schools found the U of Aâ€™s law school tuition to be â€œwell belowâ€� the average of roughly $16,000 average and $2,000 cheaper than the University of Calgary. Only McGill University is cheaper.
â€œWhat weâ€™re looking at is a model that will take us slightly below the average,â€� Paton said.
Scott Meyer, a third-year student and president of the Law Students Association, said Paton consulted with law students to develop the new proposal, and they convinced him to move down from a higher number.
The hike would come with a four-year moratorium on enrolment increases, additional bursaries for needy students and improved â€œexperiential learningâ€� â€” hands-on learning and problem-solving â€” to help students compete.
â€œTo me, itâ€™s really been an unprecedented level of consultation,â€� Meyer said.
For Khinda, the problem isnâ€™t so much the possibility of tuition increases, but a lack of transparency from the province. More needs to be heard about affordability, Khinda said.
â€œWe havenâ€™t had time to respond to this adequately, in terms of talking to our students,â€� Khinda said. â€œThe new premier, whoever he will be, has not been involved in any of this. We donâ€™t think the public has had enough time to talk about this.â€�
Tuition rates at Canadian law schools (2014-15):
British Columbia: $11,448
McGill: $ 8,492
Source: U of A Law Students Association