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NDP to consult with students as tuition freeze takes effect

By Fabian Mayer, September 17 2015 —

The two-year tuition freeze implemented by the NDP government is now in effect. The party promised the policy in May’s provincial election campaign and the freeze officially began last week.

The government also reversed previous cuts to post-secondary funding to help universities make up the money lost from the reversal of last year’s PC-approved tuition increases.

Minister of advanced education Lori Sigurdson said she wants to ensure post-secondary is accessible for all Albertans.

“We don’t want an education system just for people who have high income,” Sigurdson said. “We want to make sure that education is affordable for students who want to go.”

According to Sigurdson, the government will consult with stakeholders during the freeze on what Alberta’s post-secondary system should look like.

“We wanted to buy a bit of time and the two-year freeze will give us that time. Before we make further changes we [want to] have a really good understanding of what is important to Albertans,” Sigurdson said.

University of Calgary Students’ Union vice-president external Romy Garrido believes the freeze is a positive short-term solution, even if what happens after remains unclear.

“We see it as a really great opportunity. Not just because it gives students a break for the next two years, but also because the government promised to do a two-year review of post-secondary education from top to bottom,” Garrido said.

Garrido hopes to be part of the post-secondary and tuition regulation review process. She thinks communication between the SU and ministry is better than with the previous government, and the SU expects to start consulting with the province in the next few months.

“The tuition freeze means more to us than just affordability,” Garrido said. “It means we finally get a seat at the decision-making table where we can give valuable input.”

Wildrose Party advanced education critic Wes Taylor said he favours a cap on tuition rather than an outright freeze.

“Our position is kind of a moderate one. We’re going to need long-term predictable funding,” Taylor said. “To me that means tuition should go up at the rate of inflation.”

Taylor has some concerns about the tuition freeze. He argues it is an unsustainable model.

“[Freeze] it for two years now, then they [freeze] it for another two years after that — where does it start and where does it end?” Taylor said.

Sigurdson expects the government to have a concrete vision for Albertan post-secondary when the two-year tuition freeze ends. She said she has no preconceived notions of what that vision should be.

“It’s really important for me to hear from student leaders and other stakeholders regarding all of that before I influence how it’s going to go,” Sigurdson said.

The government is facing a sizeable deficit in its fall budget. Despite this, Sigurdson said spending on post-secondary is justified.

“Investing in post-secondary education is so important at this time. That’s why we’ve put back $40-million into post-secondary already.”

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