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Alberta passes Bill 19, establishing new rules for post-secondary tuition and mandatory instructional fees

The provincial government of Alberta will soon pass a new bill enacting key changes to post-secondary education policy throughout Alberta, including new rules regarding tuition prices. 

Bill 19, “An Act to Improve the Affordability and Accessibility of Post-Secondary Education”, passed its third reading in legislature on Nov. 20, meaning that it will be soon be given royal assent, and come into force.

What does Bill 19 change? 

The move ties tuition increases to consumer price index, changes tuition rules for international students, increases representation on the student board of governors, and establishes requirements for new mandatory non-instructional fees.

The bill amends the 2003 Post-Secondary Learning Act, which governs Alberta’s publicly funded post-secondary institutions, to include a new “tuition formula.” The formula stipulates that average tuition costs for domestic students at a given institution can not increase more than the consumer price increased the previous year – which in effect ties tuition hikes to inflation.

Establishing this formula in law will help solidify affordable tuition in the province, said Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt.

“That’s important to put into the legislation, because now if any government wants to change the tuition formula, they have to come to the legislature and go through the process and be subject to all that scrutiny,” he said.

“That wasn’t the case with the previous tuition – decisions were made by cabinets behind closed doors.”

When will we see Bill 19 come into effect?

The new formula will not come in effect until the 2021 academic year, as Bill 19 extends the existing provincial tuition freeze to the end of 2020, as a move to allow institutions to react to the new policy, said Schmidt.

“We recognize that institutions can’t turn on a dime – there will be an adjustment period of a year to roll-out the regulation, introduce all the policy, and work out the details of the implementation of the policy with the institutions so that they are ready to go.”

The bill also requires institutions to provide the total costs of their programs upfront for international students and to guarantee that costs will not increase during their studies.

The move will help financial planning by keeping costs predictable, explained Schmidt.

Bill 19 will provide more security to international students

“There were cases where international student tuition suddenly spiked year-to-year, and a lot of international students are forced to come up with money or drop out suddenly.

“We didn’t think that was a fair way to treat international students, so that’s why we require this up-front cost guarantee before students enroll in the program.

Other key amendments established by the bill are changes to the rules surrounding mandatory non-instructional fees, by requiring that such fees can only be as high as the amount of the cost of providing whatever service it is that the institution wants to provide, said Schmidt.

“We’re eliminating the fresh-air fee that students have been previously charged on campuses.”

And what about student union fees?

The changes will also affect fees proposed by student associations like SAITSA, which must now sign-off on any new mandatory non-instructional fees, he said. 

“[Student associations] can’t impose a fee without student approval – we think that gives significant power to students to have control over the cost of their education.”

The bill also increases the size of the board of governors for college institutions, explained Schmidt.  

“I’m really pleased for colleges like SAIT and NAIT, pushing us on increasing the number of students on the board of governors of those institutions – it’s a real significant win for those students for increasing their voice in the governance of their institutions.”

Bill 19 is a victory for SAIT students, said Garrett Koehler, SAITSA vice president external.

And SAITSA’s stance? 

“It’s a big win – that’s definitely SAITSA’s main stance,” he said.

The amendments enacted by the bill are extensive, so it will take time to understand all the implications to students, said Koehler.

“It’s a large bill – we haven’t had time to digest it fully,” he said.

Matching tuition increases to the CPI will protect student finances, said Koehler.

“Domestic students will be protected from a double bump in their tuition once the freeze is lifted,” he said.

The changes to international student tuition will address complaints by some international students that they were hit with unforeseen tuition increases, said Koehler.

“The number they are given at the start of the program will be the number that they pay for the duration of the program, said Koehler. 

“That’s a big win for our international students.”

Guaranteeing international student tuition rates will help educational financial planning, said Anayat Sidhu, vice president external of the University of Calgary Student Union.

“These international students will be able to see what their educations costs will be on a year-to-year cycle, versus coming in one year, and having to pay more later,” she said.

“It allows them to see if this is a good a fit for them, and if they are actually going to be able to complete their education here.”

Advocating for effective regulations will take additional work by the student groups, said Sidhu.

“Of course this is a positive step towards ensuring that students are being considered, and that our voices are being heard, but I’m interested to see more on regulation details,” she said.

“We are trying to work closer with people at the legislature – I’m eager to see what we are all going to do.”

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