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Wildrose party criticizes NDP plan to freeze tuition costs

By Fabian Mayer, June 18 2015 —

Debate over tuition regulation intensified last week when the Wildrose criticized NDP plans to freeze tuition at current rates.

Alberta currently has an inflation-tied tuition cap on tuition increases. The NDP’s platform included a promise to implement “a real tuition freeze.” This promise was recently reaffirmed by minster of advanced education Lori Sigurdson, who said the policy changes would be detailed as part of the government’s interim supply bill.

Wildrose advanced education critic Wes Taylor thinks a freeze would be irresponsible given Alberta’s difficult economic situation.

“Unfortunately, we’re not in a good position. If we put a tuition freeze on where’s the money going to come from?” Taylor said. “That’s the question I will be asking the government.”

The Wildrose instead favours keeping the tuition cap in place, adding that a freeze would be unsustainable as the costs of providing education increase.

“We don’t want tuition to go beyond the rate of inflation. It’s unfair for students to have to pay a disproportionate amount,” Taylor said.

Students’ Union vice-president external Romy Garrido hopes the NDP follows through on their election promises.

“We’re open to a tuition freeze, so if that’s what the government wants to bring for students we’re definitely willing to have that discussion,” Garrido said.

Garrido said the tuition cap has only been in place for a few years and that prior tuition increases have made post-secondary unaffordable.

“The cost of education to students has risen by 300 per cent. I think with a tuition freeze we can kind of mitigate a little bit of that,” Garrido said.

However, Garrido is concerned a tuition freeze could simply lead to a large hike when the freeze is lifted. This is what happened in Saskatchewan, which had some of the biggest tuition increases in the country after a four-year freeze was removed.

“A tuition freeze in that case would be a bad thing. We’d love to see a tuition freeze that takes care of what happens afterwards,” Garrido said.

Garrido argued that either a cap or a freeze keep the costs of education stable and predictable. But she stressed the importance of eliminating loopholes like market modifiers and mandatory non-instructional fees that allow institutions to circumvent limits on tuition hikes.

“It doesn’t matter which model we choose, if we still have those loopholes they’re kind of useless to students,” Garrido said.

Taylor said the Wildrose opposes faculty-specific tuition but did not say if they would support the elimination of market modifiers.

“We don’t have a blanket position on this one,” Taylor said. “When it comes up we’re going to look at each case individually.”

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