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Alberta Bill 19 step in right direction to providing affordable education

November 8 2018 —

The Alberta New Democratic Party introduced tuition legislation on Oct. 29 that will have a positive impact on students in the province. Amendments to the Post-Secondary Learning Act through Bill 19, titled An Act to Improve the Affordability and Accessibility of Post-Secondary Education, will freeze tuition for the upcoming 2019–20 academic year, then cap domestic tuition increases to the Alberta Consumer Price Index (CPI) and allow the government to regulate mandatory non-instructional fees. The bill also stipulates that universities must make the complete tuition for international students known at the start of their degrees.

These new regulations provide a first step in making post-secondary education more affordable and predictable for students. Only four years ago, some university students faced enormous tuition increases from market modifiers, such as a $170-per-course hike for engineering classes — a 31 per cent increase. In 2010, bachelor of commerce students saw their tuition rise by 38 per cent, or $232 per course.

Drastic tuition increases price education out of reach for many individuals across the province. They also unfairly trap students already working on their degree, requiring them to either swallow the increase or drop out, letting the investment in their education go to waste. By having a tuition cap, current students can be reassured that their tuition won’t suddenly skyrocket.

Notably, it’s worth mentioning that Bill 19 still allows for “exceptional tuition fee increase” with “respect of a specific approved program of study” — which very well should be read as code for market modifiers. But, according to the Alberta government, the amendments will “empower students to have more say over exceptional tuition and fee increases.”

Another important aspect of Bill 19 is that any future changes to tuition regulation will need to again be passed through the legislature, meaning that the government can’t change it on a whim. With a provincial election happening in 2019 and the potential for a new party to be in charge, this is essential in ensuring that students have predictable tuition and are able to advocate in the event that this changes, lest face a horde of angry young voters.

Bill 19 demonstrates the power and success that student advocacy can have if used effectively. The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) organized a Tuition Forecast campaign over the past two months that tapped into hundreds of Alberta university students’ opinions. In total, they hand-delivered 1,500 letters and emails to Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt that explained how the government could make tuition more sustainable and affordable for students, as well as how these changes may affect their lives and ability to attend post-secondary institutions.

While this may seem like a huge win for both domestic and international university students studying in Alberta, it’s important for students to continue to advocate for affordable post-secondary education. The price of attending university in Canada still poses a significant financial barrier to many individuals and tuition still only increases after the freeze ends.

In Alberta, the average student strapped with paying back a $23,000 student loan. This, coupled with a rising cost of living in urban centres, attributes to the stress students face when balancing the necessity to work long hours to sustain themselves while also completing courses. The proposed tuition regulations mark a good step forward, but we can’t sit back and consider this an acceptable benchmark. Continued advocacy must be pursued both by ourselves and our student representatives towards affordable education for all students.

— Derek Baker and Mariah Wilson, Gauntlet editorial board

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