Tuition and Fees Increases in Alberta
By Thao Nguyen
What Governs Tuition Increases at the University of Calgary?
At the time of composing this article, the University of Calgary (UCalgary) is proposing tuition and fee increases for both domestic and international students for the upcoming 2024-2025 academic year. The proposed tuition increases are 2% for domestic undergraduate students and 10% for international undergraduate students in each year for the next three years.
The Juris Doctor (JD) program in the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary is considered an undergraduate program, so international JD students will see their tuition increase by 10% for the next academic year if this proposed increase is passed by the university’s Board of Governors of the University. On the University of Calgary’s Calendar for Spring 2023, the JD program’s listed domestic tuition rate is $1,336.33 per 3-unit course. For international tuition, it is $4,630.65 per 3-unit course. For a standard 5-course semester, an international student will therefore have to pay $23,153.25 out of pocket—around 3.5 times more than a domestic student.
The university has given some justifications for these increases. The major ones include that funding from the Government of Alberta through the Campus Alberta Grant has dwindled over the years and that UCalgary tuition is somewhat lower compared to other provinces’ universities. These increases will bring UCalgary tuition closer to the national average.
Despite these justifications, the increases are making it harder for both domestic and international students to cope with rising living costs and access to quality education.
In this article, I will explore how tuition is governed in Alberta, the decreasing funding from the Government of Alberta to post-secondary institutions (PSIs), and the consultation process for tuition and fee increases at the University of Calgary.
How is Student Tuition Governed in Alberta?
All publicly funded post-secondary institutions in Alberta are governed by Alberta’s Post-Secondary Learning Act (Act). The Act sets out guidelines and rules on how an Albertan university functions. It also authorizes the university’s Board of Governors to set tuition fees.
The Act mandates domestic tuition increase under s 61(3)(a)(ii)(B):
(3) In setting the tuition fees for an academic year, the board may increase the tuition fees to be paid by domestic students, subject to any restrictions on increasing tuition fees set out in the regulations,
(a) if the average tuition fee increase per domestic student does not exceed the product of
(i) the average tuition fees per domestic student in the preceding academic year, excluding any tuition fees that were subject to an exceptional tuition fee increase in that year,
(ii) in respect of
(A) the 2023-2024 academic year, the percentage annual change in the Alberta CPI, determined in accordance with the regulations, or
(B) the 2024-2025 academic year and subsequent academic years, 2%,
(b) in respect of a specific approved program of study or in respect of classroom instruction in an apprenticeship education program, by means of an exceptional tuition fee increase made in accordance with the regulations.
The Provincial Cabinet currently holds the power to make rules respecting international student fees under s 124(vii).
Tuitions and fees in Alberta are also regulated by the Tuition and Fees Regulation (Regulation), which came into force on February 1, 2019. This Regulation provides: a formula for calculating the Consumer Product Index (CPI) for Alberta; guidelines for tuition and fee increases; exceptional tuition fee increases; consultations; and international student tuition fees.
Though international student tuitions are not capped by this Regulation, an institution is required to provide international students with “the maximum amount of tuition fees that they might be required to pay for each academic year of the approved program,” as per s 10(2).
Alarming Dwindling Revenue from the Government of Alberta to PSIs
As a publicly funded post-secondary institution, the University of Calgary receives government funding support for its operations, building projects, and maintenance (commonly known as the Campus Alberta grant). The Graduate Students’ Association of the University of Calgary (GSA) released a response to Alberta Government Budget this past March with a detailed look at the Government of Alberta’s post-secondary funding for 2018-2022. The response notes a $135 million cut to the University of Calgary’s government funding for the four academic years during this period. The Faculty of Law, therefore, has also experienced cuts to its operating budget since 2019. These cuts have fundamentally increased UCalgary’s reliance on tuition for revenue. In 2022-23, 21.5% of UCalgary revenue came from tuition fees, as compared to 16.6% in the 2018-2019 academic year. Tuition and fees will account for 22.9% of UCalgary’s consolidated budget in 2023-24.
Tuition Fee Consultation Process at the University of Calgary
The Tuition and Fees Regulation outlines the required consultation with the students’ councils by the Board of Governors as per s 8. These rules include: providing a statement of anticipated increase to tuition and mandatory non-instructional fees for a 4-year period; establishing the consultation process with the students’ councils to allow feedback and input; and providing at least 2 meetings per year.
At the University of Calgary, the Students’ Union (for undergraduate students) and the GSA (for the graduate student body) are the students’ councils enacted by the Act as official student representation.
As planned by UCalgary, the tuition and fee proposals are first discussed with the Tuition & Fee Consultation Committee (TFCC), a committee of the Board of Governors, with representation from both the SU and the GSA. The proposals are then presented to the Finance & Property Committee (FPC), the body that is responsible for recommending tuition and fee proposals to the Board of Governors. The Board of Governors has the final say in approving the increases. The engagement processes for tuition and fees are outlined in UCalgary’s official document by the Office of the Provost, which allows for four TFCC meetings per year, two opportunities for consultations at the student council meetings of the SU and GSA, a student wide email and survey, and public information and resources posted on the UCalgary website. UCalgary stresses that all students will be invited to participate in this process.
Inherent Issues Faced by Students Across Canada
Despite the justifications for these tuition hikes, students across Canada are hit heaviest with the detrimental impact on financial ability, mental health, program quality, and housing.
The Living In The Red report, conducted by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), a national advocacy group for 365,000 post-secondary students in Canada with its partnership with the Quebec Student Union, found that nearly 3 in 4 students reported spending of 30% or more of their income towards housing costs, and nearly 2 in 5 students experienced food insecurity in the past year.
The Students’ Union of the University of Calgary in its October 2, 2023 advocacy update calls for alignment of international tuition increase and domestic tuition increase at 2%, citing the disproportional disadvantage international students are facing.
The GSA, in its budget response, emphasizes the negative impacts of these funding changes on students’ financial ability and mental health as well as program quality and support staff. It calls for the restoration of government funding for PSIs, more grants and scholarships, tuition-parity legislation for international tuition, and student consultation improvement.
The tuition increase is slated to be approved some time in November this year. I encourage you to get involved in providing feedback for this process to ensure fairness and transparency in the consultation process. Information about the consultation process can be found on the University of Calgary website for Tuition and Fee Consultation.