According to post-secondary students in Lethbridge, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned affordability into an even bigger struggle — making a tuition hike more daunting than ever before.
Earlier this week members from the University of Lethbridge’s Students’ Union (ULSU) planted a small army of snow penguins with messages voicing their concerns in front of Lethbridge East MLA, Nathan Neudorf’s office.
“You know, we began these position in May, and since then it’s been a battle of how do we properly show how frustrated students are when we don’t feel comfortable calling for large student gatherings to show that,” said Ryan Lindblad, the VP of External, U of L Students’ Union (ULSU).
Lindbad adds ULSU is glad the penguin demonstration garnered as much attention as it did, furthering the discussion around students being overwhelmed by increasing school fees.
Similar demonstrations have also taken place in Calgary and Edmonton.
Tuition fees are expected to rise across the province by more than 22 per cent over the next three years due to budget changes announced by the Alberta government last year, which in turn have been affecting all facets of student life.
“We’ve heard concerns regarding food insecurity because they have to pay high tuition rates,” explained Lindblad.
“We’ve had people emailing us saying they can’t afford to pay their rent anymore and in a couple of months they’re not sure what they’re going to be able to do regarding student housing,” he added.
Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf says the government is trying to focus on job creation, hoping it will have a positive effect on post secondary institutions.
“If we can get the economy up and rolling that’s a great incentive for students to get those much-needed classes, but it’s a whole lot of parts working together to make that happen and we want to support our college and university, they’re really key institutions,” Neudorf said.
With online learning, the cancellation of student programs, and fewer job prospects during the pandemic, many feel a tuition hike simply isn’t reasonable, prompting some to even leave school.
Given the all circumstances, students like Lindbad feel the UCP government isn’t taking the right approach when it comes to investing in post-secondary education, which has a strong link to the health of the province’s economy.
“Their perspective is that they really want to focus on the economy, so that when students graduate there’s going to be jobs ready, with that being said, students feel they aren’t being supported at all, so they’re beginning to leave,” Lindbad said.
He goes on to say some students are even looking for work outside of Alberta, creating a pool of talent loss in the province.
The next provincial budget will be tabled on Feb. 25.