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Hundreds of students protest market modifiers, “broken promises” at legislature

By Chris Adams, November 17 2014 —

Around 300 students from Alberta’s five universities rallied against tuition hikes at the provincial legislature in Edmonton Monday, Nov. 18.

Protesters and student union delegates met on the quad at the University of Alberta at 1:00 p.m. U of A Students’ Union vice-president external Navneet Khinda roused the crowd before leading the march on the legislature at 1:30 p.m.

Students demonstrated against tuition hikes known as market modifiers and cuts to post-secondary funding, asking the provincial government to make post-secondary education a priority.

Students chanted below the steps of the legislature for around an hour. Student leaders from Mount Royal University and MacEwan University also spoke at the protest.

In her speech at the legislature, Khinda, who also chairs the Council of Alberta University Students, called on MLAs and Premier Jim Prentice to keep their promise to cap tuition increases to inflation under the Consumer Price Index.

“Today, hundreds of us are here, right now, telling [the provincial government] that post-secondary is important. Repeatedly, promises have been broken. And now they want to pass tuition hikes. That is unacceptable,” Khinda said.

The provincial government last accepted market modifier proposals in 2010, what then minister of advanced education Doug Horner called a “one-time tuition correction.”

The U of C proposed a $170 per-course increase for engineering, $250 per-course for law and $300 for masters of business administration courses.

The U of A proposed five market modifiers, the largest being a 58 per cent hike in course fees for its faculty of law.

In total, 10 schools submitted 26 proposals this year.

The provincial government postponed their decision on market modifier proposals last week. The original decision date was Monday, Nov. 17. A new date has not been set.

Many MLAs left the legislature to watch the protest. Minister of innovation and advanced education Don Scott also showed up at the protest. While he didn’t speak to the crowd, he told media his focus is on quality of education.

Scott called education a shared responsibility between taxpayers, private donors and students.

“I’ve heard students in some of the institutions have said that tuition increases may improve the quality of their education. I’ve heard from other students that it’s going to be a barrier going forward. In the end we need to make sure we’re delivering the best quality of education we can in Alberta,” Scott said.

Former leader of the Alberta New Democrats Brian Mason attended the protest. He said it’s inexcusable to “squeeze students to pay for something that’s theirs by right.”

“[The government’s] pricing post-secondary education out of the reach of many students in our province. They and their parents pay taxes for these post-secondary institutions, and now they can’t afford to go,” Mason said.

Student leaders from the University of Calgary, MRU and the University of Lethbridge bused students to Edmonton to attend the protest.

Twenty-nine students made the trip from the U of C, including four of the five SU executives.

Students’ Union president Jarett Henry said he was inspired by the turnout.

“Even though these market modifiers might not affect current students, it’s inspiring that this many students care about future students as well,” Henry said.

Henry and vice-president external Levi Nilson delivered the original copy of the Engineering Students’ Society’s market modifier petition to Scott on Monday. Over 1,100 engineering students signed the petition rejecting the market modifier proposal.

Monday saw the start of the legislature’s fall session. New security regulations as a result of the shooting in Ottawa were instituted on Monday.

The protest concluded when cannon fire marked the start of the speech from the throne at 2:30 p.m.

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