I would like to take this opportunity to share my insights regarding Bill 43: the Post-secondary Learning Act, 2003 that is currently being debated in the Legislature.
This is the first time since 1981 that a major review of Alberta’s post-secondary learning legislation was completed. We can’t take our system into the 21st century with 1981 legislation. Bill 43 was tabled in May with the intent that stakeholders would have an opportunity throughout the summer to provide feedback on it. Government expected to make changes to this legislation based on input from students, institutions and other stakeholders, and we continued to consult extensively with these groups throughout the summer and fall.
The resulting legislation and amendments, now before the Alberta Legislature, will drive the Campus Alberta vision for a post-secondary education system where students will have better access to opportunities for learning, no matter where in the province they choose to do that learning. This seamless learning system means students will have better access to courses and programs throughout the province, as well as increased access to degree-granting opportunities.
Bill 43 also provides an opportunity to address concerns. I recognize rising tuitions are a concern for students, just as the increased costs of providing services is a concern for institutions. In Bill 43, we’ve proposed revisions to give institutions the flexibility they need to grow, clarify exactly what tuition fees should include, and ensure institutions remain open and accountable to their students, while continuing to make sure tuition increases are predictable and manageable for students.
The new tuition fee policy replaces the current 30 per cent cap with other controls to protect students. Right now, tuitions at most institutions are still less than 30 per cent of their operating expenditures, and these will continue to be regulated exactly as they are now – limited to a maximum annual increase of $276 in 2004-05, with annual adjustments based on Alberta Consumer Price Index (CPI). For the few institutions that would go over the 30 per cent threshold, they will only be permitted maximum annual tuition fee increases of CPI plus two per cent – up to a maximum of five percent total.
The new policy also makes sure that any material and service fees required for the completion of courses and programs are included as part of tuition fees. Right now there are limited restrictions to what extra course and program fees can be charged. With Bill 43, these additional fees will be subject to the same controls and restrictions we are putting on tuition increases and must be included in that calculation.
Bill 43 also responds to concerns that were expressed to me regarding the accountability of student associations and the funds they control on behalf of students. Student association executives are responsible for substantial amounts of student funds, and they must be accountable for these funds. I consulted extensively with student associations in building this portion of the legislation to find out what level of accountability they would find acceptable. As a result, this legislation gives the Minister of Learning the authority to investigate into a student association ONLY in cases of demonstrated financial irregularities.
Post-secondary education is one of the best investments anyone can make, especially in Alberta where there are great jobs, the cost of living is low and the standard of living is high. Alberta graduates enjoy among the highest gross salaries in the country. They also have the highest net salaries considering Alberta’s standard of living and lower tax burden.
We have an excellent learning system in Alberta, and I believe Bill 43 will ensure we are prepared to bring our learning system into the future.
Dr. Lyle Oberg
Minister of Learning