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Edmonton university students demand tuition freeze as remote learning continues into fall

NAIT, U of A students petition against paying full tuition for online classes next fall
WATCH ABOVE: Some post-secondary students at NAIT and the University of Alberta don't agree with paying full tuition for the upcoming fall semester, when they won't be on campus due to COVID-19. Vinesh Pratap has their story.

On Wednesday, it was a bit of a homecoming for University of Alberta student Ajay Gill as he visited the now quiet campus to meet with Global News.

“This has been my first time on campus in like three months, almost,” the fifth-year university student said.

Back in March, he and tens of thousand of other Alberta post-secondary students stopped going to school, physically, as restrictions were put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel we are missing out on a considerable portion of the education that we paid for,” said second-year NAIT student Joban Dhami.

READ MORE: Edmonton post-secondary schools grapple with what COVID-19 means for fall semester

Following what he describes as his “lower quality” remote learning experience, Dhami started an online petition, which calls for a tuition freeze increase, with remote delivery of learning continuing in the fall.

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The NAIT petition joins one circulating for U of A students, which Ajay Gill eagerly added his name to.

“We feel like we’re kind of getting the short end of the stick, in a sense,” Gill said.

“I understand the university is in a tough position due to the provincial budget cuts.”

The UCP’s first-ever budget saw spending on advanced education cut by five per cent from 2018, and down 12 per cent by 2023.

Both NAIT and the U of A have announced mass layoffs as a result of the UCP spending cuts.

Alberta budget 2019: Finance minister addresses lifting cap on post-secondary tuition
Alberta budget 2019: Finance minister addresses lifting cap on post-secondary tuition

The budget also removed a freeze on post-secondary tuition, but capped the potential tuition raise at seven per cent each year.

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READ MORE: Incoming U of A president pitches fewer faculties, administration after provincial budget cuts

In an interview, U of A’s provost and academic vice president Steven Dew said he “very much understands concerns that students would have.”

He said the school is working hard to mitigate the challenges with remote learning that have emerged, but that tuition policy changes are not under consideration.

“The first time you do this [online learning], it’s very expensive,” Dew said.
“All of these [programs] simply take time in order to get into a shape that you can deliver them in an online way reliably.”

NAIT said in a statement the institution will also not change its tuition policy.

“Regardless of how NAIT’s education is offered, we promise the same learning outcomes.”

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Both schools indicate they will be looking at the potential of changes to non-instructional fees, with details to come later.

READ MORE: International graduate students call on University of Alberta to waive spring tuition

Back on campus, friends Ajay Gill and Joban Dhami want to see the provincial government reverse cuts to help ease pressure for both post-secondary schools and the students who attend them.

“We’re hoping the university will reconsider and support students when they need it most,” says Gill.