MRU, 660 News attempts to set the record straight on student fee increases
By Noel Harper, Contributor
In December of 2019, in the wake of the Alberta provincial budget and its reduced education funding, the Post-Secondary Learning Act was amended by the government to remove the necessity of student involvement.
The order “quietly repealed” tuition regulations, “allowing post-secondary administrations to increase tuition beyond previously approved limits without approval from students,” according to a press release from SAMRU.
“The issue becomes more acute when factoring in the removal of five years of freezes on other institutional fees apart from tuition, meaning some of those fees could skyrocket to fill the funding void left by considerable government cuts to operating grants,” SAMRU President Shayla Breen says in the release.
After that statement was released, 660 News published an article on the announcement, reflecting that increases to non- instructional fees had occurred, and that “going to school at Mount Royal University will cost you more.”
However, fees being lifted does not simply mean that the university agreed to any increases at the time.
When The Reflector inquired about Mount Royal’s response to this change as reported by 660 News, a spokesperson designated the article as “puzzling,” saying, “It’s wrong in that the Board of Governors hasn’t approved any increases to fees or tuition.”
Connie Young, Associate Vice President of Finance and Risk Management for Mount Royal University, agrees that, “there have not been any decisions made at this point.”
While Young could not explicitly comment on whether or not the article is misleading, she says, “I think from a factual perspective, the fees have not been approved to increase at the time of the article,” and have not been approved at the time of publication.
Despite this discrepancy, the notion of student fees going up in the future is far from out of the question, as the 2019 provincial budget left Mount Royal with a total of $4.9 million in cuts that must be dealt with.
“Are there plans to look at what the fee increases will be? Yes, but those plans have not really [been] solidified,” Young says, confirming that “there will be increases to tuition and other fees” within the following academic year to help make up for the shortfall.
The said shortfall, though, cannot be recouped by this alone, according to Mount Royal’s President, Tim Rahilly. “It is not possible for us to balance our budget on increased tuition,” Rahilly said at a town hall last November, adding that “everything is on the table.”
According to Young, deciding what will be possible to balance it is “the whole budget development process that we’re working through at the moment. There’s so many factors that go into that … it’s multifaceted, and we haven’t developed those budget directions at this time.”
A taste of what may be coming to MRU came at the start of this year, when the University of Calgary approved tuition hikes of 10 to 15 per cent for the 2020-2021 year. Students demonstrated against these increases outside of a room that most members of the public and media were not allowed to enter.
“We’re obviously concerned about what students are feeling and thinking,” says Young. “I’m hopeful that the open dialogue that we have had with our students shows our commitment to going down that road in terms of any protesting.”
With the budget shortfalls requiring an eventual fee increase that has yet to be determined, Young reiterates
that Mount Royal is aware of what may lie ahead for its students.
“We do understand that it’s a legitimate concern for every student attending post-secondary in this province… we’re cognizant of that, and definitely aware of the financial pressures that everyone is facing.”
After The Reflector requested comment from 660 News on how the article was perceived, Kenny Mason, the author, clarified how the story came together.
“On that day, from the interviews we collected and the experts we talked with, it was our understanding that the changes were coming and it was just a matter of when,” Mason said in an email.
Several edits were also made to the article following our inquiry, to reflect that no changes had been made yet, including a revised headline stating that fees “could” rise.
Non-instructional fees go towards recreation, transit and general operations, among other services.