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U of A approves tuition hikes despite pleas from students over affordability

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A tuition increase of 5.5 per cent for domestic students and current international students was approved by the University of Alberta Friday morning.

Business undergrads will pay more than $527 more, engineering undergrads $476 more, and arts and science undergrads $358 more in 2023-24.

International undergraduate students who were admitted before Fall 2020 will be charged an extra $1,300 to $1,800 depending on their program.

New international students will face a 6.5-per cent tuition increase starting Fall 2024.

Dozens of protestors gathered outside University Hall for the board of governors meeting. Some carried signs that read "I'm broke already" and "Don't price us out."

"We were feeling hopeful that finally they were going to be able to talk to students, food bank clients, international students," Joannie Fogue, vice president of student life at the students union, said of the consultations that took place in previous months.

"But then we got the new proposal and it was the same one as we did get at the beginning of the fall semester. So that's just not OK, so now we're making sure they can hear us."

Before the vote, a petition with 2,200 student, faculty and staff signatures, as well as an open letter signed by 1,975 students, were passed around the board.

Alexander Dorscheid, representing undergraduate students, called the tuition increase "merciless" and warned the decision would "send a clear and memorable message" to those on campus.

However, the board heard that the latest provincial budget "did not contain good news for the University of Alberta," as president and vice-chancellor Bill Flanagan put it.

The institution's 2023 operating grant matched what it received in 2022 – $437 million – and therefore offered no help accommodating inflation. About half of the grant directly supports learning and students, university officials said.

Meanwhile, salaries and benefits have gone up with an increase in research work, as well as utility and supply costs. The school is forecasting a deficit of $1.9 million in the 2023-24 year.

According to the vice president of university services and finance, the school would lose out on $12 million in revenue if it did not increase fees, which it would have to make up in other ways that would impact students – such as by cutting 160 staff, freezing academic hiring and reducing financial supports.

Provost and academic vice president Verna Yiu told the students in attendance she appreciated their "passionate" action, but noted without an increase, the university could not maintain its current level of service.

At the outcome of the vote, a couple of attendees began to shout, "Shame on government," and, "Disgrace!" Chair Kate Chisholm then cleared the room.

EXTRA MONEY FOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT

"The board – myself included – really, really appreciate that students shared their stories, they shared their perspective, and they gathered in a really important way to make their voices heard," the school's deputy provost of students and enrolment, Melissa Padfield, told CTV News Edmonton after the meeting.

"That said, we also want to make sure we're responsive to those voices, which is why we've done things like some of tuition going towards financial support," she added, referring to an increase in the amount of financial support the U of A provides to students being built into the tuition hike.

Of the net domestic tuition increase, 15 per cent will go toward financial support programs, plus 7.55 per cent from total international tuition. Padfield estimated the dollar amount would be around $2 million.

In the 2022-23 academic year, the university handed out $10 million in tuition support.

"Over the course of the last four years, we've increased our financial support 155 per cent. That has come directly in response to students telling us that they need more in order to be able to afford their educations," Padfield said.

"Come to our student service centre where we can advise you about what financial supports are available to you," she urged.

TUITION CAP LIMITING FUTURE HIKES

Starting the 2024-25 academic year, when a government cap takes effect, Alberta universities will not be able to raise the price of tuition by more than two per cent.

Tuition in Alberta was frozen until 2020-21. During the next three years, the Alberta Tuition Framework restricted fee increases to seven per cent. For the 2023-24 academic year, the provincial government returned to using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to limit tuition increases. CPI is not used to cap international tuition, as that is not regulated by provincial legislation.

Yiu said the U of A's tuition fees are "not out of line or significantly higher" than other schools in Canada. According to data presented to the board on Friday, the U of A's arts and social science undergrad tuition ranks eighth out of the U15 universities at $6,517 – below McGill, Montreal, Laval, Dalhousie, Saskatchewan, Calgary and McMaster.

The U of A's budget will be submitted to the advanced education ministry for approval by the end of May.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson and Matt Marshall 

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