Blog | September 17, 2010

This article was originally published in the Calgary Herald on September 17, 2010

By Jen Gerson, Calgary Herald

Alberta students face tuition fees that are close to the national average thanks to a cap on increases. But those stable tuition hikes have been offset by the highest compulsory fees in the country.

A report by Statistics Canada released Thursday found that students pay an average of $5,310 per year to attend university, which is an increase of 1.5 per cent over last year.  Tuition fees have been capped by the provincial government to correlate with inflation and next year, they will be capped at 0.35 per cent.Alberta boasts one of the smallest increases in the country, bringing average fees to the fifth highest in the country.

Last year, Alberta institutions charged the third highest fees at $5,240 per year.The most expensive schools this year could be found in Ontario. There, after a 5.4 per cent hike, tuition fees sit at $6,307 per year. "That shows the tuition cap is working," said Hardave Birk, vice-president external for the University of Calgary's student union.  "But we're very concerned with non-instructional fees, which are not regulated. Clearly, that has allowed universities to charge the highest fees in the country on average in Alberta," he said.  Undergraduate students in Alberta pay $818 per year in addition to their tuition."It's definitely something to be concerned about."

According to the report, Alberta posted an increase in compulsory fees of 28.8 per cent for undergraduates and 24.4 per cent for graduate students.  Those were the highest increases in the country.Both the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta raised fees for students in the wake of budget shortfalls.

In Calgary, a $450 per year student service fee will be phased in over three years, increasing this year's bill by $150. At the University of Alberta, students have protested a $550 mandatory non-instructional fee."We're No. 1 in terms of the compulsory fees students are paying, so students are in no better a position than they were before," said Harry Chase, the Liberal education critic.

The fees were introduced after the University of Calgary faced several shortfalls in government funding and through its pension plan.Both universities also saw a loss of 40 per cent of the value of their endowment funds after the global financial crisis because they were heavily involved in asset-backed commercial paper, Chase said.

Alan Harrison, provost and vice-president academic, said it was important to remember that the Statistics Canada figures were based on averages. "I guess all I would offer there is that, this is from memory, the University of Calgary has some of the lowest fees in Alberta and this is just an average," he said. The averages were "probably brought up by the University of Alberta, which charges much higher non-instructional fees than we do. "It's difficult to compare schools directly because each province provides different levels of funding, he added. "It really depends on what the levels of other sources of revenue are for the universities.

"As a result of the concern about the rise in compulsory fees, Kim Capstick, a spokesman for the Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology, said the minister is meeting with student groups.

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