Province mulls ‘market correction’ of Alberta tuition rates

EDMONTON – Student representatives say they were “completely 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 Alberta’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 “market modifications,� allowing specific programs to make a case to gradually increase tuition starting next fall to rates charged at other Canadian universities.

The guidelines — with an Oct. 15 submission date and a decision two months later — 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 “put this discussion to rest� and that province would not consider any new proposals.

The province is contemplating another round of hikes because of ongoing “market anomalies� faced by Alberta universities, officials say.

Since January, Premier Dave Hancock — also responsible for advanced education — 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 “completely blindsided� by the market modification argument, said Navneet Khinda, council chair and vice-president of the University of Alberta Students’ Union.

“We’ve been talking about a whole bunch of issues, but we’ve also haven’t ever discussed market modifiers.� said Khinda. “They simply weren’t on the table.�

At a Tuesday night meeting, the U of A student council learned about a law faculty proposal to raise tuition — currently at $10,121 — 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 A’s law school tuition to be “well below� the average of roughly $16,000 average and $2,000 cheaper than the University of Calgary. Only McGill University is cheaper.

“What we’re looking at is a model that will take us slightly below the average,� 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 “experiential learning� — hands-on learning and problem-solving — to help students compete.

“To me, it’s really been an unprecedented level of consultation,� Meyer said.

For Khinda, the problem isn’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.

“We haven’t had time to respond to this adequately, in terms of talking to our students,� Khinda said. “The new premier, whoever he will be, has not been involved in any of this. We don’t think the public has had enough time to talk about this.�

Tuition rates at Canadian law schools (2014-15):

Toronto: $31,536

Osgoode: $22,672

Western: $18,421

Queens: $16,931

Ottawa: $16,061

Dalhousie: $15,030

Calgary: $12,193

Saskatchewan: $12,015

British Columbia: $11,448

Victoria: $11,129

Alberta: $10,121

McGill: $ 8,492

Source: U of A Law Students Association

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