Alberta economist Todd Hirsch wrote a great article in the Globe and Mail this weekend that I hope every Albertan, especially Finance Minister Dr. Ted Morton reads before budget day.
If provincial governments truly believe that postsecondary education is key to competing in the global economy – and they should – then properly financing it is a no-brainer. A separate, long-term postsecondary spending account would help. It’s an investment, not general program spending. And like any good investment, it deserves to be viewed over a long-term time horizon.
At the basic level most would have to agree with Hirsch – education is an investment. Let’s hope our government sees it the same way.
Linking increases in non-instructional fees to student approval was covered this weekend in the Calgary Herald and Metro. From the Calgary Herald article:
Three major student organizations are lobbying to close the “loophole” that allows schools to circumvent the province’s tuition cap by tacking on non-instructional fees.
Under the proposal, schools would have to seek the approval of student councils before they either create new fees or raise existing non-instructional fees beyond the rate of inflation.
If the council refused the increase, the question would be put before the students in a referendum.
We are excited to see the progress on the issue – hopefully there will be more good news to share in the new year.
Ed Stelmach’s cabinet quietly changed the rules around raising tuition in Alberta last Thursday through an order-in-council. You can read the new regulation and take a look at the news release that was put out on Thursday evening – but given the time of year and time of day, no one was expecting many news stories to be written about it.
The reason the Government changed the regulation is related to the announcement on April 7 that would raise tuition in six programs at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta starting next September. Those increases would have been illegal if the rules did not change as tuition increases in Alberta are limited to no more than CPI. CAUS fought hard last year to reject the calls to increase tuition and while it was disappointing to see increases in those six programs the majority of proposals were rejected and most students will see an increase next year of no more than 0.35%.
Unfortunately, the new regulation goes further than allowing these six programs to increase. The Minister of Advanced Education and Technology now has the power to circumvent the tuition cap at Alberta’s universities and colleges whenever he or she deems necessary and according to criteria of his or her choosing. Given that Alberta’s institutions already have tuition above the national average, it is not surprising that students are disappointed.
It is important to remember that in the 2008 election the Tories promised to keep the cap, saying they would “extend the commitment to limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation.”
CAUS is calling for the government to reverse the amendment and to put the cap on increasing tuition fees into legislation, so that changes to tuition policy have to be made in the Legislature, rather than behind closed doors. And that will involve working with the government to make new rules that will govern tuition increases but also making sure students and Albertans are aware that the rules of the game are changing.
This morning’s University of Alberta Gateway is covering a topic that has been at the top of our priority list since February – regulating non-instructional fees and ensuring that Students’ Unions can send those fees to referendum rather than having them arbitrarily approved by a university’s Board of Governors. The best news is that the Gateway is reporting that:
“At first glance, it appears that the student proposal is definitely on the right track. We anticipate the minister will be providing some additional written feedback in the near future,” Donnan said. “He is very enthused by what the students have brought forward.”
Now that is great news – and the result of months of work by CAUS and its partners. Right now non-instructional fees are permitted to go up by an virtually unlimited amount – provided that the institution is able to provide a justification for labelling them as non-instructional. The joint proposal from CAUS alongside the Alberta Graduate Council and the Alberta Students’ Executive Council calls for those fees to be subject to either a vote by the institution’s students’ council or by referendum of the students affected. You can read more about the issue and look at CAUS’ proposals here.
Right now Alberta has the highest non-instructional fees in the country, with an average undergraduate paying $818 a year over and above their tuition.
The next steps are with the Government, as Alberta Advanced Education and Technology study the proposal and look at creating a new regulation of the Post-Secondary Learning Act, likely sometime at the beginning of 2011. CAUS is hopeful that it will be in effect in time for the new academic year.
The Government of Alberta recently released their survey of Alberta’s post-secondary graduates that they do once every two years and there is as always some interesting facts about the class of 2008 that you might not have known. You can download it for yourself here (PDF), or just grab the highlights here (also a PDF).
A trend that has continued is the background of graduates parents – with 70% of post-secondary graduates having parents who attended post-secondary education at some level. This is a strong trend that has held true for many decades and helps give some background at what needs to be overcome in order to increase our post-secondary participation rate – how do we get more Albertans whose parents have no post-secondary experience to enroll in university, college or in a technical institute?
We also saw that the population of First Nations, Métis or Inuit graduates remains shockingly low, with only 3% of graduates considering themselves as Aboriginal. Comparing that to general aboriginal population in Alberta of 6% and considering how young our aboriginal demographic is it is clear we have a lot of work to do.
Those who graduate tend to be satisfied with their education, with 91% satisfied with the overall quality of their educational experience. They think it is worth it too, with 86% believing it was worth the financial cost to them and their families. There were two worrying but expected trends with that number – the higher a graduate’s income the more likely they thought it was worth the financial cost, and the lower a graduate’s debt the more likely they thought it was worth it.
Delving deeper into student debt, we see that 44% of undergraduates received government student loans and that 30% of those borrowed more than $25,000. Graduates from our research universities borrowed on average $22,195. And not everybody borrowed only from the government, with 34% borrowing from private sources like banks or their family. Altogether 63% of undergraduates graduated with student debt.
Most received a scholarship at some point to help offset those costs and debt. Indeed, 79% of undergraduates received a scholarship – likely due in large part to Alberta’s fantastic Alexander Rutherford scholarship program and other needed scholarships – but most awards were less than $5,000 which won’t even cover tuition for their first year.
Another interesting fact springing from the survey was how many of our graduates remain in Alberta. Most don’t relocate after graduation at all – 70% of graduates from our research universities stayed in their community. Of the 30% that moved most stayed in Alberta.
Looking over the survey results it is important that we stress who it surveyed and more importantly who it did not. As a survey of graduates of our institutions it is important to stress that this leaves out those who leave post-secondary before graduation and those who never go in the first place. When determining what we are doing right and where we need to improve our system it is just as important we take into account those who we are not serving well as much as those who have received their degree.
Finally, it was interesting to see where graduates, upon reflection, got the best information in deciding what program and institution to attend. The most popular answer? Institutions’ websites, followed closely by parents and family. We can’t provide a link to your family, but if you are interested in checking out our institutions click on one of the links below.
Alberta’s universities have had campus radio stations for many decades – longer than I have been alive – and in that time have become a valuable part of not just the campus community, but the greater community in which they are situated. In a world where people are bombarded with commercial mainstream media we see more and more people seeking out alternative sources of information and media and campus radio was pioneering that long before the age of YouTube and blogs.
The idea of commercial-free radio goes beyond just avoiding ads between content, it is about being free and independent to pursue new ideas, provide content that isn’t driven by advertisers and that is something that fits perfectly with the mandate of universities and their students. That’s why students support their radio stations directly – modest, referendum-approved fees provide some of the operating revenue to these radio stations. In return they offer a rich volunteer experience to interested campus community members, offer news and event coverage on-campus and provide an alternative voice you can’t find elsewhere.
Student fees aren’t the only source of income – pledge drives are a vital part of keeping commercial-free radio alive and thriving at our institutions. All three of our university radio stations are holding their pledge drives RIGHT NOW – and you should consider donating.
Visit their websites, listen online or over the airwaves, and check out the great rewards for donating.
The Wildrose Alliance just announced their advanced education policy at the University of Calgary, and you can also see it here online.
This is the first of what will be many announcements about post-secondary education leading up to the next election. It is evident that post-secondary education is a important issue for many Albertans, and that is reflected not just in today’s announcement but opinion polls and government policy as well.
The Wildrose Alliance has quickly made a mark in Alberta politics and while it remains to be seen what will happen between now and the next election it is exciting to see them advocating for changes they believe would improve access to post-secondary education for Albertans.
Within their announcement is a call to limit tuition to inflation, end assumed parental contribution as a resource in student loan applications and increasing debt forgiveness, all CAUS policies.
As a non-partisan organization, our excitement goes well beyond today’s announcement as we look forward to working with all parties and seeing what ideas everyone is going to bring to the table in regards to increasing access and affordability.
Beyond the Wildrose Alliance, you can see all of the main political parties policies on post-secondary education below:
The Government of Alberta released the annual reports for all 24 ministries including Alberta Advanced Education and Technology today. The report shows that Alberta is still making the grade when it comes to increasing access to Alberta’s post-secondary system.
Albertans were surveyed on whether they were satisfied that “adult Albertans can access education or training” and 25% of Albertans said no, which is up from 21% just one year ago. Alberta continues to have the lowest post-secondary participation rate in Canada, with only 17% of Albertans between 18-34 years old attending a post-secondary institution. Next door in British Columbia it is 23%.
Those who do get in are graduating with unacceptable levels of debt, with the average debt-to-income ratio well above the target set in the 2009 Business Plan.
Alberta has a plan to increase the number of spaces by 14,445 spaces by 2019, and for many those spaces cannot come quickly enough. It is also important that those spaces are well-funded, of the highest quality and are accessible and affordable to all qualified Albertans.
CAUS has a clear set of priorities intended to improve our participation rate and increase access to our universities. Those priorities are:
- Regulating non-instructional fees;
- Putting the Tuition Fee Policy into legislation;
- Increasing base operating grants to institutions;
- Increasing grants, bursaries and scholarships; and
- Making elections more accessible to students.
If you want to read the 2009/10 Alberta Advanced Education and Technology annual report you can download it here and if you want to read more about CAUS’ priorities in addressing these concerns you can look here.
We have been working on some research all summer, looking at the various referenda that have happened on our campuses since the 1970s. This came out of a conversation about how good a judge students are of fees that are proposed, and what would happen to student fees if Alberta moved to a referendum-only model of creating new fees or increasing existing ones.
Out of 82 different referenda at our three campuses we see that students approved 62 of them, or 76%. The services that these fees pay for vary but interestingly students seem willing to hear out the case, find out the necessary information and make a decision.
Also of interest was how students handled questions of lowering fees. Five referenda went to students at the University of Calgary and one at the University of Alberta calling for lowering fees and two actually failed – the elimination of the Bears and Pandas Legacy Fund at the University of Alberta and the reduction of a fee for Student Legal Assistance at the University of Calgary.
Ultimately, referenda represent the best and most legitimate means for approving a new fee or increasing an existing one. Take a look at our two documents on the topic and learn more.
Statistics Canada reported that tuition and fees at Canadian universities are on the rise, with Alberta above the national average in both categories. Average undergraduate tuition in Alberta is now $5,318, a 1.5% increase from last year. More worrying is Alberta’s $818 in average non-instructional fees which leaves the province’s students paying the highest non-instructional fees in the country. In 2010 these fees went up by $183, the largest increase in Canada.
“The cost of university education in Alberta is too high,” said Hardave Birk, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) and VP External at the University of Calgary Students’ Union. “With Canada’s lowest post-secondary participation rate we need to be doing more to reduce financial barriers to education rather than hiking the cost.”
The new figures for tuition are calculated before market adjustments in six programs take effect at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary in September 2011. Those increases are between 15% and 65%. All other programs in Alberta are limited to an increase tied to the consumer price index at 0.35%.
In contrast, Alberta’s non-instructional fees that Statistics Canada is reporting as the Canada’s highest at $818 a year have no limits and no regulation. Both the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta instituted new non-instructional fees this September of $150 and $290 respectively.
“These fees are just a workaround the tuition cap, and they should not be decided without student approval. We are demanding the government put rules around these fees and that they have to go to student referendum for approval,” said Birk.
Statistics Canada’s release on tuition and fees is available at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100916/dq100916a-eng.htm.