There’s been much excitement here at The Voice Magazine and among the student population in general since the provincial election in Alberta. The long-running Conservative Government had come to be seen by many as anti-education thanks to a series of cuts. To many students, including myself, the change in government came with a sigh of relief.
While the NDP hasn’t been specific on how it will support our financially troubled university, it has promised assistance. Advanced Education Minister Lori Sigurdson has stated that the current problems cannot be allowed to continue and that the province will step in if need be. An improvement from the previous government’s attitude that AU should just ?tighten its purse strings?.
We haven’t heard much with regard to new policy which will affect AU students, but That’s changed as of last Wednesday when the NDP announced an Alberta wide tuition freeze. The freeze will affect tuition rates for the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 school years. While the news is far from a complete solution to the current problems facing AU, it does seem to be a step in the right direction. The NDP has acknowledged the solution as temporary, saying they’ll continue to review the current funding model of post-secondary institutions in Alberta.
In some ways the tuition freeze may make it even more difficult for an already cash strapped AU to balance the budget, if the NDP does not also provide extra funding to make up for the shortfall. The other damper on this positive news is the fact that it only applies to residence of Alberta. A large portion of students at AU, like myself, are from out of province and while tuition may be frozen no such guarantee has been made for the various out of province fees that most AU Students have to pay.
According to Statistics Canada, Albertans currently pay an average of $5700 a year. That’s about $1800 cheaper than tuition in Ontario, which is the highest in Canada at $7500. But That’s still significantly more expensive than tuition in Newfoundland ($2600), Quebec ($2700), and Manitoba ($3900).
Shawna Wasylyshyn President of AUSU says the tuition freeze is great but won’t solve the current problems facing AU:
“A tuition freeze is great news for all post-secondary students, as it helps to control student debt levels. What the Alberta government must clarify is how they will be supplementing the revenue to Alberta’s colleges and universities. Most importantly for Athabasca University is how the government will assist AU toward their goal of sustainability and if they will introduce a special funding model to address the number of distance students at our University.”
Despite these new developments having little effect on myself and many other AU students I remain optimistic. The change, however small, is a symbolic move showing that the provincial government is acknowledging the problems facing students in Alberta.
Philip Kirkbride is an AU Student, now AUSU Councillor, with a penchant for travelling the globe while doing his AU courses.