Alberta’s NDP leader Rachel Notley, along with NDP Advanced Education critic David Eggan and Calgary-Varsity candidate Dr. Luanne Metz outlined the provincial party’s platform to address rising post-secondary costs in the province.
The party is proposing that tuition prices be rolled back and frozen at the 2022-2023 levels, with a comprehensive review of tuition prices each year to follow.
Any increases, said Notley, would be capped at a maximum of the percentage increase in inflation.
“No tuition increase will ever exceed inflation if I am premier. You can bank on that,” she said.
“We want to get people not only into post-secondary education, but then we want to make sure that they can stay and afford to finish their post-secondary education.”
Earlier this year, the Alberta government pledged a cap on tuition increases at two per cent. They also reduced interest rates on loans to prime rate, doubled the student loan interest-free period from six to 12 months and increased the threshold for repayment assistance from $25,000 to $40,000.
The province is also increasing the Alberta Student Grant by $225 per month for each eligible student for the 2022/23 loan year.
Notley said that the party’s platform plank was a way of addressing the larger cost to Alberta of not having qualified graduates for a diversified economy. Funding to make the policy promise work would come from government revenues said Notley.
“The absolutely singularly critical way that we diversify the economy, and create an economy that is sustainable and growing for the future, is to understand the strong relationship between post-secondary institutions, the people within those post-secondary institutions, and economic growth.”
She said that when she speaks to people looking to invest in Alberta, it isn’t the “rock bottom” corporate tax rates or “rock bottom” minimum wages that they discuss with her. It’s the lack of employees with the skills they need to build and grow businesses.
International students no longer to be institutional ‘cash cows’
Notley said that it was no longer possible to treat international students as a major source of revenue for post-secondary institutions.
“We can’t be subjecting these folks to the kind of uncertainty that they are experiencing now with these massive increases, and treating them like a cash cow,” Notley said.
She said that as part of their platform, they would be restoring funding to post-secondary institutions like the University of Calgary.
The University of Calgary’s financial statements indicated that grants from the Government of Alberta decreased from $690 million in 2019 to $609 million in 2022, representing about a 12 per cent decrease in funding from the province.
Student tuition revenue subsequently rose in the same period, from $243 million in 2019 to $301 million in 2022. That revenue increased by 24 per cent.
The institution in their management notes for 2021-22 said that “the increase is primarily due to tuition rate increases, increased international students and an increase in non-credit tuition from Continuing Education programs.”
Notley said that international student tuition funding would be part of the comprehensive review that, if formed, her government would undertake.
Tuition matched to inflation
Matching a maximum increase in tuition each year to inflation, she said, meant that there could be a possibility of increases—or not at all—up to whatever the inflation rate would happen to be.
“Any year where we’ve got 7 per cent inflation, we can’t be dumping that on to students because we know that inflation impacts lower-income people far more than it impacts middle and upper-income people.”
“That would be part of the review that we will do around funding, but what we are saying is that people will never see more than inflation as the maximum.”
University of Calgary Student’s Union President Nicole Schmidt said that having more predictable tuition year-to-year would be easier on students.
“I know over the last four years, students in Alberta have actually faced the largest series of tuition increases in Canadian history, and that’s had a massively detrimental impact on them,” Schmidt said.
“Knowing how predictable tuition is going to be and having a rough estimate of how much it’s going to cost them to obtain a post-secondary degree is going to be hugely beneficial. So we were very excited with the announcement this morning.”
Other improvements for the public from post-secondary platform, said candidate
Dr. Metz, who in addition to running for the NDP in Calgary-Varsity, has also taught in the Cumming School of Medicine as a Professor of Neurology.
She said that the tuition platform her party is proposing would be of critical benefit to the students at UCalgary who are studying medicine, but also in related health care fields.
“Most people are aware that most students that go into medicine, many already have come from families that are able to help them get through all the years of education. But we need to have a system that is diverse, and allows anyone with the ability to get in and study,” Metz said.
She said that level of debt that students take on had a direct impact on the type of medicine that a graduate goes into.
“It’s very important to how much debt you carry at the end for what specialties you might choose, and what communities you practice in. Because there are students that can have well over $100,000 worth of debt, and that’s going to make a difference as to what they do.”
She said that overall the NDP’s platform would provide stability for students in how much their education will cost.
“They can make the commitment to come and stay in their education programs,” Metz said.