University of Calgary board approves another tuition increase

Students attend a demonstration at the University of Calgary on Friday.  (Jade Markus/CBC - image credit)
Students attend a demonstration at the University of Calgary on Friday. (Jade Markus/CBC - image credit)

Students at the University of Calgary held a vocal, passionate demonstration Friday during a vote by the school's board on tuition increases.

Students pounded on windows and chanted outside the room where the U of C's board of governors voted to approve another tuition increase.

The increase comes as students say they're struggling to pay for rent and food amid a fourth consecutive tuition increase. Some are deep in debt and say it's getting in the way of their education.

"This is reaching a breaking point and students are in crisis," said Isabelle Reynolds, a third-year law student who attended the demonstration. She works with a student-led project that addresses food insecurity and says there's extreme strain on resources.

"I don't wanna see my community members go hungry. I don't wanna see more students drop out because they can't afford higher education."

Tom Ross/CBC
Tom Ross/CBC

International student Jade Heflin said she has had to skip some meals because her tuition is so expensive, and she isn't able to drive her car due to the cost of gas.

"It does make me worried about the future because I already know that I will have to take out more student loans in years to come," she said.

The university's student union said student members of the board of governors put forward a motion to delay the tuition vote until March but board members voted it down.

Mateusz Salmassi, the Students' Union external vice-president, said the union collected numbers and found that 67 per cent of students say the increases will result in moderate or extreme strain on their finances.

"Students are in a lot of pain … those numbers are unprecedented. We're talking about young Albertans, and I think that they [the board] should feel a very large amount of shame. I think they should be very ashamed of themselves."

"Our message for them going forward is that students will not be silent after this."

U of C said the increase is tied to the rate of inflation and it will take effect in May. In addition to tuition, increases will affect residence fees and the meal plan program.

Tom Ross/CBC
Tom Ross/CBC

Tuition for domestic undergraduate students will go up 5.5 per cent for all students with the exception of those in nursing, who will see an eight per cent increase, the university said.

Graduate and international students will also see increases to their tuition.

Interim vice-provost Penny Werthner, who did not vote, said hearing the noisy demonstration was "distressful."

"I find that quite distressful because we do care very much about our students. I mean, the reason we're here at a university is because of students. And our mandate is to create a great education for them at both the undergrad and graduate level," she said.

"We're a comprehensive university, so I certainly find it distressful that they don't think that's what we're doing."

Werthner said students are facing severe costs for housing and food.

"We've had numerous conversations with them and we will continue that in terms of the money that we've put towards bursaries, scholarships, needs-based bursaries for students who really are suffering and scholarships for all our excellent students," she said.

"And we've also put considerable money … into the issues around food security."

A media spokesperson for the provincial government said Alberta's graduate tuition remains below the national average, and Alberta's undergraduate tuition remains in-line with its competitors.

"Addressing the cost of living increases all Albertans are facing is a top concern for Alberta's government. I understand full well that this unique inflationary environment is affecting post-secondary students in many ways," Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said in an emailed statement.

"That is why a cap on tuition is in place that limits tuition increases to CPI [Consumer Price Index]. In addition, we have boosted funding for student aid by almost $30 [million] over three years and made adjustments, as requested by students, to loan limits and eligibility. We are also currently exploring additional measures to help students during these difficult times."

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