Alberta post-secondary students welcome affordability measures, but wish they had come years earlier

By Kelsey Patterson and Laura Krause

While post-secondary students are embracing new affordability measures announced by the province on Thursday, some say they’re simply taking effect too late – after years of significant increases.

The Alberta government says it will cap post-secondary tuition increases at two per cent starting next year to help students with increased cost of living.

Minister of Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says proposed legislation would bring a permanent change to cap tuition fees.

“I want to ensure that every student can gain the knowledge and skills they need to live fulfilling lives and gain fulfilling careers,” said Nicolaides.

And while students are not scorning the tuition increase cap, they’re concerned about the timing.

The University of Alberta students’ union says it’s still fighting a proposed 5.5 per cent tuition hike, which is being voted on March 24. The government’s tuition cap is only coming into effect the following year.

“There is nothing that has come under this announcement that helps to address the fact that students over the next year-and-a-half are still going to be bearing their burden of these increased costs, tuitions rising, cost of living is rising, and students are still struggling,” U of A students’ union president Abner Monteiro told CityNews. “But they can’t really wait until 2024 to hope that those measures come to help support them.

“But we are happy to see a change in how tuition is being capped considering we had three years of seven per cent increases.”

Students remain at breaking point, says union

Those sentiments were echoed by the University of Calgary students’ union, which says students remain at a “breaking point.” The U of C recently approved its own 5.5 per cent tuition hike.

“Since 2019, students have endured the largest increases to tuition in Alberta’s history. Today’s announcement, while welcome, is a drop in the bucket when compared to the additional costs students are facing due to government cuts and the inflation crisis,” said UCalgary students’ union president Nicole Schmidt in a statement.

Rising costs and struggling with affordability is the reality for several Alberta post-secondary students.

Nina Secretario, a third-year U of A student, says being a student in the province can be extremely expensive.

“I feel the last couple of years have been really rough with the COVID situation, and I think it’s just helping us with a bit… this is a step in the right direction,” said Secretario, who has student loans and has to work during the summer.

“With the addition of COVID and tuition increasing every year, it’s just another worry you have to think about.”

‘Step in the right direction’

Matt Yanish, the vice chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS), also called the measure a positive step forward.

“The cost of my own degree has gone up approximately 30 per cent since I first came to MacEwan, and we have absolutely seen the current affordability crisis make things much worse,” said Yanish, who spoke at the UCP press conference. “Is it enough? No. But is it a step in the right direction? Absolutely. And is it a reflection of what we have looked for as student leaders? Absolutely it is.”

Other measures introduced by the Alberta government Wednesday include lowering interest rates on student loans to prime rates set by banks.

The grace period for interest-free loans would increase to 12 months from the existing six-month period.

Nicolaides also announced additional funding of $255 per month for the Alberta student grant and increased thresholds for the repayment assistance plan to $40,000.

“Our priorities remain the same in terms of helping to ensure we are setting up our students for success in the job market, when they graduate,” said Nicolaides. “Helping them build the skills they need so they can go onto successful and rewarding careers and I think these measures touch on that.”

“Affordability is the primary challenge facing Albertans today, and this of course includes our students,” added Matt Jones, the minister of affordability and utilities. “The measures announced today will both provide immediate and ongoing relief to students.”

In a statement, the Opposition NDP blamed the governing UCP for increasing tuition rates in the first place.

“The UCP removed the tuition cap brought in by our government, increased rates on student loans, and cut $700 million from post-secondary institutions, leading to massive tuition increases across the province and forcing students further into debt,” said NDP Advanced Education Critic David Eggen.

“Alberta now has the highest tuition increases in the country with many students seeing a 30 per cent tuition increase – or more – since the UCP formed government.”

—With files from The Canadian Press

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today