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SU advocating for student financial needs as provincial election approaches

By Nazeefa Ahmed, February 14 2023

On Jan. 21, Premier Danielle Smith spoke on a radio show with the Calgary Herald about possible supports for students amid tuition increases caused by inflation. The message came a day after the Students’ Union’s (SU) rally against tuition hikes in the Atrium during the Board of Governor’s vote. 

“We’re contemplating some support for students. I don’t want to prejudge how that will go because the advice has to go through our caucus and our cabinet, but we’re actively talking about how we can give some support for students,” Smith said on the show

Official costs for the upcoming academic year were released by the University of Calgary on Jan. 20, with 5.5 per cent tuition increases for all domestic students — excluding nursing, which will increase by 8 per cent— and an additional 5.5 per cent increase in campus service fees. On average, fees have increased by 33 per cent since 2019 for domestic students. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, SU President Nicole Schmidt discussed that the SU’s next steps are to advocate for students’ needs at the provincial level as Alberta’s political parties campaign for the election. 

“Our next big focus is the provincial election because even though the Board vote passed and the tuition increases have been approved for this year, we want to focus on what students want from the government because the province provides all of the post-secondary funding in Alberta,” said Schmidt. 

“We’ve been talking to several other student unions in Alberta to strategize our messaging to the province,” she continued. “Specifically, we would like a commitment from both the United Conservative Party and New Democratic Party to reduce the student loan interest rate because it went up in 2019.”

Schmidt is also advocating for the return of the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) and the Tuition Tax Credit, both of which were disbanded in 2019 by the UCP government. 

“STEP was a great program in the sense that it really catered to undergraduate students, and it helped connect them with employers in Alberta,” said Schmidt. “We’ve heard from students that it’s been very difficult to find summer employment opportunities, and this really has a hindrance on their finances and how they’re able to save for post-secondary because most students work during the summer to support themselves in the upcoming year.”

“We’ve already received a commitment from the NDP to re-implement STEP to 12,000 student positions, which is four times what it was before, so that’s very exciting,” Schmidt continued. 

The UCP government has invested an additional 15 million dollars over three years as a part of the New Beginnings bursary for eligible low income students in industry-demanding programs. 

In her concluding remarks, Schmidt stated that the SU has been advocating for U of C students at all levels by speaking with board members, Members of Legislative Assembly, governors and ministers about the financial burden on students.  

“We were very pleased to see the province take our calls for inflation support seriously, and so far from what we’ve heard, they are committed to acting,” said Schmidt. “We’ve sent a letter to and spoken with Minister Nicolaides and his team because we feel very strongly that the Advanced Education Ministry should also be doing more to support students.”

“We’ve had the highest series of tuition increases in Canadian history, so I’d really encourage students to keep that in mind and to vote for the provincial election in May. In the meantime, the SU is here to support them, so we’ll continue to post our regular advocacy updates, but if they have any questions or concerns, they can reach out to us,” Schmit continued.  

Information about the SU’s advocacy and updates on provincial correspondence can be found on the SLC website.

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