Budget Boosted Again
The Alberta Government has once again announced (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200502/17642CED06B7D-3313-4774-8EF80E0D8E396BDF.html) that it under-estimated the revenues it would receive. This time, it’s the Alberta Heritage fund, which is expected to earn 383 million dollars more than it was originally budgeted to, an increase of over half the amount previously expected.
With the Alberta debt already paid for, at least there’s precious little excuse for the government to deny additional funding in areas where it’s most needed such as post-secondary education and health care.
Of course, with sky-rocketing energy prices and the tax-payer subsidy for various energy corporations in the province (also known as the Natural Gas Rebate Program), these surpluses can be deceptive. After all, Albertans have to make sure they support people like Jerome Engler (http://www.canadian-utilities.com/companies/atco_gas_bio.htm), the President of Atco Gas, or he might have to shop where he can see students going to the food-bank, and we can’t have that.
On the bright side, it does appear that the Alberta Government has finally realized that students are reaching the breaking point. Maybe it has something to do with the number of seats lost in the last election. At any rate, whatever the reason, post-secondary institutions and even students’ unions are being given a lot more attention by the Minister of Advanced Education.
A worrying trend, though, is the tuition rebate program announced by Premier Klein. If this is what we can expect from the Honourable Minister Hancock, Alberta students will be in a precarious situation. While a rebate is great for the tuition increase this year, what happens next year? Or the year after that?
Students and the Bills
There are two bills regarding post-secondary education currently in front of the Alberta Legislature that are likely to affect student both within and outside of Alberta.
The most recent of the two bills, Bill 14is said to (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200503/17694627753BE-942D-4B79-90BB14A326F1D835.html)add clarity and flexibility to the Student Financial Assistance Act. One clarification is that the lifetime limit for student loans applies to the total amount of loans you’ve received, and not the current principal you owe.
It also clarifies that the Cabinet has the authority to make regulations regarding eligibility and setting limits. This ties in with flexibility by making it so that the Minister can set limits for a student as an individual. That’s right folks, the government is essentially saying that they can choose to grant exceptions or not, with no criteria established as to what limits those determinations. So you may want to think carefully about speaking out against the government once this bill passes.
The other bill, Bill 9 (http://www.assembly.ab.ca/adr/adr_template.aspx?type=bills_bill&selectbill=009), was released a while ago. It’s mostly innocuous, however one change not mentioned in the announcement (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200503/1768588696A16-7C8D-4C7F-9EA806E4F0C0D15E.html) is that this bill makes it so that the 30% Alberta tuition to public payment ratio will not apply this year.
This requires some background. Currently, the Post-Secondary Learning Act states that if an institution receives less than 30% of its funding from Alberta student tuition in a year, the institution can raise its fees for the next year based on how much fees were raised the year before. If, on the other hand, an institution receives more than 30% of its funding from Alberta student tuition in a year, it can raise its fees for next year based on inflation + 2% only, and then only to a maximum of 5%.
For comparison’s sake, AU has raised its tuition by close to 7% for the past several years, and has been allowed to do so because it has been under that 30% mark the year before. However, both AU and the other universities have been edging continually closer to that magic 30% figure where they will be bound by the lower rate.
Along comes Bill 9. This bill states that they don’t have to look at this last year’s figures to determine if they’re over the 30% cap, but rather the figures of the year before. In a sense, this gives a free pass to any university that happens to cross over that line this year.
Alberta Students’ Unions fought hard for any limits on tuition increases, so it’s particularly galling that even the very lax restriction may well be side-stepped by the Alberta Government. Whether you’re a student in Alberta or not, this bill may end up affecting you, as tuition increases affect all of us.