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Student fees set to rise

Universities in some provinces want to increase fees, without calling those fees ‘tuition.’

BY DANIEL DROLET | MAR 08 2010

Students across the country are looking at the possibility of increased fees for tuition and other services, as universities struggle with ways to come up with more money. From Alberta’s “market modifiers” to compulsory service charges, these proposed fee increases are riling student groups and, in some cases, provincial governments.

Some universities in Alberta are leading the charge by proposing substantial tuition increases for professional programs or speciality areas; also on the table is a compulsory service fee. Meanwhile in Quebec, McGill University has announced drastically increased tuition fees for its MBA program, and the Université de Montréal was served a warning from the education minister after asking dentistry students for more money.

Doug Horner, Alberta’s minister of advanced education and technology, explained in an interview that the province froze tuition fees in 2004. Only recently have tuition fees been allowed to rise, he said, but by no more than the increase in the Consumer Price Index. The increase for this year has been pegged at 1.5 percent.

But, said Mr. Horner, some people have suggested that fees for certain programs may have been capped at too low a level, relative to what is being charged in other provinces. So the government is allowing universities to apply for a one-time increase, dubbed a “market modifier.”

The University of Calgary, for example, has applied to the province to increase fees for business, law, medicine, graduate-level education and engineering. Tuition would rise by 17 percent in law, 32 percent in medicine, 24 percent in commerce and 27 percent in engineering.

Those increases, said U of C provost and vice-president academic Alan Harrison, would bring tuition in those fields into line with similar programs offered by other Canadian universities and would bring in extra money to maintain their quality.

The minister will be considering the application for increases in these fees later this year. “We’re not going to approve across the board tuition hikes simply for them to raise money,” Mr. Horner noted.

Also at issue is a proposal by the University of Alberta for a compulsory service fee of $570, to be used to address a shortfall in revenue. Chris Skappak, chair of the Alberta Graduate Council, a group representing graduate students in the province, issued a statement after Alberta’s February 9 provincial budget, saying that the $570 fee would be used to pay for common space, security and sustainability and that it represents “a 10 percent increase in the cost of attending university, far beyond the 1.5 percent tuition cap mandated by the province.”

In Quebec, the ministry of education expressed annoyance at plans by McGill and the Université de Montréal to charge some students more money, according to media reports. McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management announced last September that it plans to shift to a self-funded model for its MBA program. Starting this fall, tuition would rise from $1,672 (the fee for Quebec residents) and $4,675 (for Canadians from outside Quebec) to $29,500 for all. “Desautels would forgo subsidization from the Quebec government for these students and cover the cost of all program elements including instruction, student services, program administration and facilities,” McGill said in a statement.

Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne wrote a warning to the Université de Montréal last fall after the institution attempted to seek more money from dentistry students to cover fees other than tuition. But in late February, a group of 16 prominent Quebecers (including two former Quebec Liberal finance ministers, two former university presidents and former PQ leader Lucien Bouchard) called for tuition fees in Quebec to rise to the national average and 
for higher, differential fees for professional programs.

Lack of funds is usually cited as the reason for the need to increase fees. At the University of Manitoba, where tuition fees rose last fall, President David Barnard stated in October that the university would need an extra $36.4 million just to sustain current programming levels for the coming year.

Student groups, however, view any fee in-creases with dismay. “Compulsory fees, regardless of the name attached to them, increase the cost of education,” said Duncan Wojtaszek, executive director of the Council of Alberta University Students, an organization that represents undergrads at U of C, U of A and the University of Lethbridge. “And raising the cost of education represents a real barrier to education in Alberta and across the country.”

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