EDMONTON -- The University of Alberta is proposing tuition hikes that some say will drive students away and seem to go beyond what the province allows.

“Students are quite disappointed about these increases,” said Joel Agarwal, president of the U of A Students’ Union (UASU). “I’ve had students email me about transferring universities.

“My worry is for parents out there who may be sending their kids to university, they’ll be choosing options outside of Alberta.”

The UASU said it was informed about the proposed increases last week and that they were much higher than anticipated.

“For example, the law program at the U of A is seeing an increase of $5,265 per year, bringing the annual tuition to almost $17,000,” said David Eggen, the NDP advanced education critic.

The increases range from 17 percent to 104 per cent. They would impact at a dozen graduate and undergraduate programs, including dentistry, law and engineering.

“I chose to study at the U of A because it is a world-class institution… however tuition for first year engineering students in 2022 is going to increase by 24.5 per cent,” said Andrew Batycki, a thirdyear engineering student. “I can’t even imagine starting my degree paying that much tuition and knowing it’s going to increase every year.”

The union added that, at the time, there was no reason given for the hikes.

In a news release, the U of A Vice-President (Academic) Steven Dew said the university is making the changes to be able to keep its programs “competitive with our leading peers.”

“While some of the increases being considered are quite substantial, they only bring us back into line with tuition levels at our peer Canadian institutions” said Dew. “It is important to note that any exceptional increase to tuition would only impact new students.

“To ensure financial means is not a barrier in these programs, a key part of any exceptional increase would be a significant expansion of financial assistance opportunities for students who enroll in them.”

The UCP government cut the funding for post-secondary institutions in the 2021 provincial budget.

Bill Flanagan, president of the U of A, has said that the school was disproportionately impacted by the latest budget cuts. He has said that the school’s funding has gone down by $170-million over the past two-and-a-half years.

“These budget cuts have forced Alberta’s universities, colleges and polytechnics to reduce staff, increase class sizes and basically fend for themselves,” said Eggen. “Now, these budget cuts are reaching directly into the pockets of students.

“It would be wildly unethical for Jason Kenney to allow these tuition hikes to go through while we are dealing with the economic downturn and COVID-19.”

While critics slam the government for funding cuts, some are laying the blame for the hikes right at the feet of the university.

“I would not have applied to the University of Alberta if it was nearly $20,000 per year to go there,” said Denis Ram, a law student in his final year.

Anita Cardinal-Stewart, a second-year law student, worries about the effects the increases will have on Indigenous students seeking to attend university.

“Some can barely afford to go to law school and not everyone has the option to shop around and move out of province or even out of the city for school,” said Cardinal-Stewart.

“At the end of the day, this increase if going to force lower income students to choose different career paths,” added Batycki.

In addition to believing the increases to be excessive, some are pointing out that they go against provincial regulations. The regulations state, “An institution's average tuition cannot increase by more than seven per cent for the next three years.”

“This 45 percent increase (in the school of law) on top of what was already agreed upon is outrageous and unreasonable,” said Ram.

The proposed increases would have to be approved by the advanced education minister, Demetrios Nicolaides.

“We will conduct a rigorous analysis to make sure it's compliant with the regulation, and to make a final decision at that time,” said Nicolaides.

If approved, the UASU said the increases would come into effect in September of 2022.

“No decisions will be made until student and other stakeholder feedback is received and considered,” added Dew.

“The student perspective matters, so it’s imperative that current students take part in the consultation opportunities being offered in the coming weeks.” 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dan Grummett