While the Notley government has announced that tuition at Alberta post-secondary institutions will capped again next year, sooner or later that limit will be lifted.
And that has some student groups and institutions on the province worried that tuition could then increase sharply.
“I feel that (the tuition freeze) is good for right now,” Alex Dimopoulos, president of the SAIT students association, said prior to the latest government announcement.
The challenge will be to ensure that tuition doesn’t increase drastically once the freeze melts.
“It’s a concern because…we don’t know what kind of solutions they are looking into,” said Marlene Morin, the executive director of the Alberta Students Executive Council (ASEC), in an interview prior to the latest announcement.
With a history of budget cuts in the Advanced Education sector made by the former Progressive Conservative government in Alberta, the NDP’s tuition freeze is a new situation for Albertans.
That has student groups looking at what has happened in other provinces to get an idea of what may happen here.
In B.C., tuition increased by more than 25 per cent over the span of two years after a five-year tuition freeze was introduced in 1996.
After a four-year tuition freeze was lifted in Saskatchewan in 2009, tuition went up by 10 per cent over the next three years.
The Alberta government has taken steps to lighten the financial impact of the freeze on post-secondary institutions.
When the government introduced a two-year tuition freeze in 2015, it allocated $16 million to fund the institutions affected, who were unable to raise tuition despite continued increases in their operating costs.
The University of Calgary expected to lose $2 million-$4 million due to the freeze, despite the “backfill” money the government provided.
No additional funding was allocated to institutions for the third year of the freeze, but Advanced Education announced Dec. 7 that more cash would be available to institutions for next year.
The government also announced that next year, it would begin looking a more predictable and sustainable ways of funding the institutions.
“ASEC has been lobbying to see predictable and affordable increases in tuition,” said Morin.
The Caucus of Alberta University Students’ (CAUS) expressed concern about the future after the freeze in its 2017 Budget Submission, stating “despite the certainty given for the next year, students are not yet able to financially plan for the entirety of their degree.”
Both CAUS and ASEC have historically lobbied for all tuition increases to be tied to Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Included in its pre-budget submission, CAUS urged the government to begin regulating international students’ tuition.
As international students cannot vote and are therefore aren’t considered stakeholders, their tuition and non-instructional fees have gone unprotected by the government.
We don’t know what kind of solutions they are looking into. – Marlene Morin
Since the introduction of the tuition freeze, many institutions in Alberta hiked international students’ fees drastically, including a 40-per-cent increase for some international students at SAIT in 2016.
“The institutions have to receive their money from somewhere, and international students tend to take the brunt of it,” said Morin.