This week, AU students Sound Off on AU’s request to be removed from the Alberta Government’s tuition cap. The Voice will continue to offer coverage on this controversial subject as more becomes known. AU has not released a statement on their position so far. If you have a comment on this subject, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org – please indicate if we may print your comment.
I just wanted to lend my support for Sandra Moore’s comments in the last issue of The Voice.
I personally have a limited education budget and each increase in tuition means that my budget is stretched thinner. If the increases continue, my course load will be reduced to one or two courses a year. When that
happens, I will be looking for more cost-effective alternatives. AU will probably lose other students in this way.
I agree with Sandra that AU should lobby all levels of government for the same degree of financial support that other, traditional universities in the province receive. AU could use their recent award for excellence in
distance education as leverage in their lobby efforts. While I don’t agree with government carrying the full burden of education costs, they certainly use a lot of tax dollars and income dollars (e.g. lottery income) on
projects that do not result in the long term and widespread advantages of education.
Thank you for the opportunity to offer my comments.
There are two aspects to Athabasca University requesting exemption from the tuition fee policy. The first is the exemption itself. I shudder when I think of the implications. AU administration has given AUSU their assurances that removal from the tuition policy won’t result in “unreasonable” increases. Alberta Learning has also told us that since AU must still submit its business plan to the government, they will ensure AU isn’t putting undue financial hardship on students.
This begs the question if we’re being told AU tuition increases will be kept at reasonable levels, why is AU asking for exemption, and why is Alberta Learning being so agreeable to it? Our last tuition increase was 7.3% in Alberta (lower for the rest of Canada since the out-of-province fee didn’t go up), and adding the increase in materials costs, it amounted to a 9% hike.
Will our tuition increases be less than that once AU no longer falls under government restrictions? I highly doubt it.
The second aspect to this issue is that Athabasca University has asked AUSU to support its exemption request to the provincial government. AU says its asking for exemption because it’s under-funded by the provincial government and that it needs to be released from the tuition policy to allow it to be more competitive across Canada.
Part of becoming more competitive is reducing the out-of-Alberta differential fee. Since AU purportedly can’t operate with reduced revenue, it means the difference will likely be made up by high tuition increases for
the Alberta students–higher increases than the Alberta government will allow in its tuition fee policy. Once that happens, AU will be at same level of tuition revenue it is now. However, AU can’t operate without an overall increase in revenue, and with no government tuition restriction in place, AU will again turn to its students for more.
If AUSU was to support AU’s request for exemption from the tuition policy, we would no avenue of recourse to stop unreasonable tuition increases. We won’t be able to go to AU administration because we’ve supported it. We won’t be able to go to the provincial government because we’ve given our blessing in allowing AU to do what it must with our tuition.
Tuition deregulation is probably the most crucial issue collectively faced by AU students in the last decade. The effects of this can be deep and long-lasting, particularly if we stand by idly and allow it, or even worse,
While I can’t really blame AU for looking for ways to increase the amount of money they take in, it seems to me that they have gotten into a dangerous habit of looking to tuitions as their first choice, rather than their last.
And why not, with such a decentralized student population, it’s much more difficult for us to put together effective, co-ordinated action. Athabasca University doesn’t suffer through sit-ins, or have to deal with their
students being able to effectively lobby one or two MLAs. Someone from Ontario simply does not have a lot of leverage in dealing with the Alberta government, meaning their complaints about high tuition mean less — both
when AU raises them, and when AU looks for more government money.
If AU will not raise tuitions exorbitantly because of market conditions anyway, then the tuition cap shouldn’t matter.
If AU wants flexibility, let them be flexible under the cap, instead of over it.
If AU wants more money, then they should go to where the problem is — not the students, but the governments.
For next week’s Sounding Off column, tell me what summer break means to you as an AU student. Do you take time off – or ramp up your study time. Do you have an favourite anecdote about summer studying? Write me at email@example.com