'Fund the future': University of Alberta raises tuition despite student protest

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The University of Alberta’s board of governors approved a tuition hike to the disappointment of students protesting in Edmonton on Friday.

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For the 2023-24 year, domestic undergraduate and graduate students will see a 5.5 per cent increase, along with international students admitted prior to 2020 in the same categories. Moreover, a 6.5 per cent increase is slated for international cohort-based students for 2024-25, while the university will provide a 2.67 per cent rebate for thesis-based graduate students admitted prior to 2020.

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About 200 demonstrators rallied outside the University Hall building at the north campus “to make as much noise as possible” as the board discussed the increase, said Tiffany Kung, a member of a grassroots student group called Halt the Hike.

“Students are really struggling in this current financial crisis,” said Kung, a third-year PhD student. “A lot of us have to skip meals in order to pay rent.”

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More than 100 protesters filed into the building’s council chambers to bring their message to the board ahead of the decision, many of them carrying signs bearing the grassroots group’s name.

‘A very, very challenging year’

Inside, university president Bill Flanagan prefaced the discussion by saying the post-secondary institution has seen no increase to provincial funding to account for inflation, in addition to sustaining $222 million in cuts over the past few years.

“For the upcoming budget year, this will mean a very, very challenging year for the University of Alberta,” he said.

Interim provost and vice-president academic Verna Yu delivered a presentation at the meeting detailing some of the effects of the tuition increases on learners.

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For full-time, domestic undergraduate arts and science students, the hike will increase tuition by $357.60 to $6,874.80, by $476.04 to $9,149.16 for undergrad engineering students, and by $526.56 to $10,118.16 for business undergrads in the 2023-24 year, according to a slideshow Yu presented to the board.

For international arts and science undergrads admitted prior to fall 2020, the same presentation listed an increase of $1,376.40 to $26,420.40, while engineering students will see the cost go up by $1,651.80 to $31,704.60, and business students can expect an increase of $1,810.80 to $34,755.28 over the same period.

A university website on the increases says 15 per cent of the domestic tuition increase, and 7.55 per cent of total international tuition, are set aside for student financial supports.

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“We know that the campus food bank is experiencing higher demand than ever, and we’re working very hard to ensure that students are aware of the resources that are available to them,” she said.

‘The fight will not stop’

Acknowledging the effect of rising costs for students struggling to make ends meet, Yu also said tuition is a critical source of revenue for the university, without which it can’t maintain the quality of its programs.

Without the proposed tuition increase, the university would lose $12.7 million in anticipated revenue in 2023-24, and an additional $3.3 million in 2024-25, creating a deficit of $12.2 million in the consolidated budget for the 2024 fiscal year and (all things being equal) a $2.3-million deficit the following year, said Todd Gilchrist, vice-president of university services and finance.

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Moreover, the university is required to submit a balanced budget to the province in accordance with Alberta’s Post-secondary Learning Act and, without increasing tuition, would have to cut 160 administrative positions by 2025, he added.

“It would require a freeze very likely on academic hiring, at the same time as we’re trying to grow by just over 2,600 students in the next three years, which would mean bigger classes, heavier workloads and a negative impact on program quality and student experience,” Gilchrist said.

Despite the outcome of Friday’s meeting, the fight isn’t over for students, Kung said.

“The fight will not stop,” Kung said. “Hopefully one day the government and the university will understand that students are Alberta’s future. If they want to fund the future, they have to fund the students.”




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