Graduate students ask U of A to reconsider tuition hike amid affordability crisis

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Graduate students asks U of A to reconsider tuition hike amid affordability crisis
Graduate students at the University of Alberta are asking the school to reconsider it's proposed tuition increase for the 2023-24 school year. Chris Chacon has more on what the university and province are doing to support struggling students – Jan 22, 2023

University of Alberta students are waiting with bated breath — and dwindling bank accounts — to find out if they will be on the hook to pay more tuition next year.

The university has proposed a tuition increase of 5.5 per cent for domestic students and 6.5 per cent for international students. A decision will likely be made next month, however, a group of graduate students is saying any increase, especially now, would be damaging.

“Students are in crisis,” said graduate student Andrea DeKeseredy. “The students are having a lot of trouble being able to buy food, afford their rent and pay their tuition.

“Because of the rising cost of living and the rising cost of tuition, they are getting bogged down with doing gig work, more focused on trying to keep a roof over their head and food in their stomach than focusing on their academic studies. And the entire situation is completely unsustainable.

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“It is unbelievably cruel for the University of Alberta to propose a tuition increase on the students that are already struggling.”

Last week, the University of Calgary announced its fourth consecutive tuition hike, which led students to protest the increase on Friday.

DeKeseredy said talks are underway for collective action at the U of A campus for a possible strike or protests.

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“They’re increasing tuition and blaming it on inflation but there are no services and supports for the students who are going to have to deal with this.”

In fall 2022, the university shifted to a shared services model, which left many graduate students without contracts and without pay. DeKeseredy said adding the tuition hike is a pay cut for graduate students who are already not being paid properly.

While the universities are the ones who decide when and how much tuition is increased, Premier Danielle Smith said on Saturday that she would speak to Matt Jones, the province’s affordability minister about what can be done.

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“There are other things that we need to do and we’re contemplating some support for students,” Smith said on 630 CHED’s Your Province, Your Premier. “I don’t want to prejudge how that will go. The advice has to go through our caucus and cabinet but we’re actively talking how we can give some supports to students.”

I understand full well that this unique inflationary environment is affecting post-secondary students in many ways. I can confirm that Alberta’s Government is actively exploring options to help our post-secondary students during these difficult times,” said the province’s advanced education minister Demetrios Nicolaides.

“This work is in addition to measures already taken which include almost $30 million in new funding for student aid over three years and adjustments, as requested by students, to loan limits and eligibility. In addition, a cap that limits tuition increases remains in effect.”

On Sunday, a university spokesperson said in an emailed statement that they have been consulting for four months with students on tuition.

“The U of A… is incorporating feedback to help support student proposals and ensure the sustained quality of our programs. Student engagement and participation are essential to this process.

“The University of Alberta offers many financial support options and opportunities for students depending on their financial needs and qualifications. Financial support has increased every year since the tuition freeze ended, and as with prior years, additional student support funding will be considered in the forthcoming proposal.”

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DeKeseredy said something needs to be done soon because post-secondary education is becoming a distant possibility for many.

“The constant increase in tuition is forcing people out and we want to encourage and we want as many people accessing higher ed as possible because the University of Alberta, through the help of many international students that come here to study, is producing groundbreaking research.”

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