Amid rumours of a market modifier increase, the University of Alberta has acknowledged they are exploring the option of increasing graduate tuition as a means of putting the U of A on a more even playing field with similar institutions across Canada.
Although the university has remained tight-lipped on the details of the discussions, The Gateway has received confirmations from Students’ Union Vice-President (External) Petros Kusmu and an anonymous source that the current figure being discussed as a potential market modifier increase hovers around the $2,000 mark.
“At this point, we have no firm proposal that has been submitted anywhere at all — we’re just considering where we are relative to our peers, in relation to graduate student tuition,” said Martin Ferguson-Pell, Acting Provost and Vice-President (Academic) for the university.
“It’s going to be a little while before we have worked all that through, and so I am anticipating maybe in a couple weeks ... we’ll know whether we’re going to do anything at all.”
Ferguson-Pell said at this stage, the university is trying to draw comparisons with similar institutions to decide if an increase to tuition is reasonable.
“It’s a really complicated comparison, because different universities put together their tuition fees for graduate students in different ways,” he explained.
Although Ferguson-Pell said no proposal has yet been submitted to the government, he acknowledged talks with government have occurred.
“We’ve had a word with government and just said, ‘Well, if we were to do anything, where would you stand with this?’ And they said, ‘This is for you to put forward at this point, we would need to see specifics,’ ” he said.
“We’ve been very open about making sure people know (this is) something that’s on our mind. It’s just good fiscal management for the university, for us to keep an eye on where all our tuition fees lie relative to our peers elsewhere in Canada.”
Ministry of Enterprise and Advanced Education communications spokesperson Marie Iwanow said she could not comment on discussions, since the Ministry has yet to receive any official proposal to react to.
“We haven’t invited any more applications for market modifiers, and we haven’t received anything,” Iwanow said.
“Nothing’s come in for us to approve, but our department did say there were discussions.”
Students’ Union Vice-President (External) Petros Kusmu expressed concern regarding the precedent these discussions could set if they lead to a formal proposal being presented to government.
“If (a $2,000 increase) is the case, we’re looking at over a 55 per cent increase in tuition for graduate students — and that’s absurd,” he said.
“Let’s say something like this does happen. What kind of precedent does that set for other programs? … This institution in the past six to eight years, the student-to-faculty ratio has increased … so even with all these fee increases, with the increases in the university’s operating budget, with all this in mind, we’re still seeing one of the biggest indicators for quality education still going down.”
Kusmu explained in 2006, students successfully lobbied the provincial government to cap tuition at the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
“In addition to regulating tuition … there (were) these clauses allowing for market modifiers to exist as a pressure valve for institutions,” he said.
“In 2010-11, we saw some program tuitions go up significantly. For example, Pharmacy had a 65 per cent tuition increase.”
Kusmu said Doug Horner, who was Minister of Advanced Education and Technology at that time, refused to consider more market modifiers and explicitly told educational institutions they were a one-time increase. Recently, the new Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education Stephen Khan made similar statements.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens and what the institution does. This is going to be a really good test for this government and this Minister to see if they can actually keep their word. And I hope that they will.”
Kusmu said the university wants to raise graduate fees to the level of fees paid by University of Calgary graduates, who pay roughly $5,000 per year in contrast to the U of A’s $3,500.
However, Kusmu added the U of C subsidizes some of its costs through candidacy, reducing the tuition of students who receive this from $5,000 to $1,200 for a certain number of years.
“At the end of the day … let’s say five years (at) the U of C, you’d be paying something like $19,000 in total. U of A would be like $18,500,” he said.
“It’s (currently) not that different — it’s just how they calculate it, it’s paid differently, so there’s a lot of deception … And if the university makes this as one of their examples of why we need to do it, there would be a lot of deception behind that.”
Kusmu says the Students’ Union intends to take the Graduate Students’ Association’s (GSA) lead on this issue.
GSA President Ashlyn Bernier said in a statement market modifiers introduced in 2010 were presented as a one-time exception to the government’s tuition cap.
“I emphasize the phrase ‘one-time exception,’ ” she said.
“The administration recently alerted me to the fact that they are considering asking the provincial government’s permission to introduce another market modifier increase. I have written to Minister Khan … to express the concerns of the GSA Board, and have notified GSA Council about this matter.”