EDMONTON (CUP) — Post-secondary tuition in Alberta is now $430 above the national average according to Statistics Canada’s annual report.
The report, released Oct. 18, showed that Canadian full-time students in undergraduate programs will pay, on average, 2.8 per cent more in tuition fees in 2007-2008 than they did last year.
Alberta tuition fees rose at nearly twice that rate, going up by 4.6 per cent.
According to Steven Dollansky, a vice-president with the University of Alberta Students’ Union, Alberta’s increase is indicative of the level of investment that the provincial government is putting into post-secondary education.
?Albertan learners have seen tuition rises that have drastically outpaced the national average, the focus on reducing barriers of access to learners has not been recognized by the provincial government as it has been by other jurisdictions,? Dollansky said. ?As a result, we are falling behind our peers.?
However, University of Alberta provost and vice-president Carl Amrhein questioned the merit of comparing Alberta’s tuition fees to a national average.
?I think the average is a misleading number,? Amhrein said, noting that while Quebec is renowned for having the lowest tuition levels in the country, the differential fee for non-Quebec residents makes comparing up-front tuition fees problematic.
Zach Churchill, the national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), said that different provinces charging different tuition fees affects students? mobility within the country.
?[I want to stress] the importance of the federal government and the provincial government taking a leadership role on assuring that we have an affordable and accessible post-secondary system in this country that is mobile [and] that allows students to study wherever they want,? Churchill said.
Amrhein doubts that a lack of student mobility can be linked to tuition fees. He pointed out that most of the tuition levels are tightly clustered around the national average.
?There’s not a lot of student mobility across the provinces to begin with relative to what you would find in say the US or within the European community,? Amrhein said. ?[However], I don’t really see that [a] $400 difference is going to affect many choices.?
According to Dollansky, though, high tuition fees in Alberta are contributing to a demographic change in the students able to attend the University of Alberta.
?Ten years ago, [there was a] wider spectrum of students from a more diverse economic background,? he said. ?Just because the slots are being filled, doesn’t mean that the institution is accessible, it means that it is accessible to a smaller and smaller portion of the population.?
By continuing to pursue maximum tuition increases every year, Dollansky said that the university’s administration isn’t recognizing the fact that students are being turned away by heavy fees.
The students’ union would now like to see a ?fully funded tuition roll-back? that would commit the government to fund whatever revenue the universities lose from a reduction in tuition.
?We don’t want to see the University left out in the cold,? he stressed. ?[But] the fact that we’re above the national average, in a time of prosperity like this in Alberta, and we’re not passing that prosperity onto learners who are going to sustain that growth, is just unacceptable.?
Duncan Wojtaszek, executive director of the Council of Alberta University Students, (CAUS), echoed Dollansky’s criticisms.
?In an environment like Alberta, where the government has plenty of resources to affect change and also in a place where the cost of living is so much higher than the rest of the country, we would have thought that that was a powerful reason to have lower tuition when compared to the national average,? he said.
Wojtaszek noted that while finances are rarely the only barrier to education, tuition fees are a significant one.
Amrhein, however, noted that tuition fees are only a fraction of the costs students face and that in order to ensure accessibility, the entire spectrum of financial hardships associated with post-secondary education must be addressed.
?[Tuition levels are] clearly important, but I worry also about those students in Alberta who have to come to either Edmonton or Calgary to get to one of the two big universities. Tuition is only about a third of the cost they incur; room and board is twice tuition roughly speaking,? Amhrein said.