Mount Royal University students express concerns over UCP’s Alberta budget
By Nathan Woolridge, News Editor
MRU students are expressing their concerns over the recent provincial budget, which saw the United Conservative Party (UCP) government increase interest rates on Alberta student loans, lift the previous tuition cap and eliminate millions in funding to universities such as Mount Royal.
“I was honestly pretty angry when I read the budget. When you’re a student, you want to be focusing on school and the last thing you want to worry about is money,” says Dhafnie Basilio, a policy studies student at MRU.
SAMRU Representation Executive Council (REC) President Shayla Breen says she has heard from students with the same concerns as Basilio about the provincial budget.
“A couple of different themes that we’ve been hearing is obviously there’s a lot of concern around the cost of [tuition],” Breen says. “There’s so much uncertainty of what post-secondary is going to look like in the next three years.”
Breen says some of the main concerns she has and has heard from students revolve around the elimination of the tuition cap, allowing universities to raise tuition by up to seven per cent per year for the next three years.
“When compounded, this could work out to a 22.5 per cent increase in tuition over three years,” SAMRU wrote in a message to MRU students on Oct. 25. Breen adds that it’s unlikely MRU’s tuition will increase by seven per cent, but that students should expect some form of tuition increases.
“Post-secondary is already pretty expensive and the fact that this government is eliminating the tuition cap and allowing universities to increase our tuition yearly is absolutely ludicrous. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life paying off my student loans,” Basilio says.
Breen says, “There is a lot of worry around what that cost is going to be. ‘Am I going to be able to afford it?’ That sort of sentiment.” She adds that some students are worried they may have to work more or take out additional student loans.
As an explanation for lifting the tuition cap, the UCP wrote in their budget, “Lifting the freeze on post-secondary tuition to reduce reliance on government grants and encourage more self-supporting alternative approaches to funding post-secondary programs, as recommended by the MacKinnon Panel.”
Basilio believes the increases will do more harm than good for encouraging students to attend university.
“A well-educated workforce benefits our society but these tuition hikes are hurting us. This government is setting up our generation for failure,” she says.
Breen says alongside the tuition cap being lifted, students are also worried about increases to interest rates and the elimination of the Summer Temporary Employment Program — commonly referred to as STEP — where an allocated $10 million offered subsidies to businesses to help employ approximately 3,000 students per year.
According to SAMRU, “MRU has lost 1.3 per cent in funding from the Government Campus Alberta Grant this year which equates to approximately $1.3 million.” SAMRU adds it is expecting “more cuts to MRU over the next three years.”
“The Infrastructure Maintenance Program (IMP) has been frozen for this year equating to an approximately $3.6 million cut to MRU. The IMP is used for things like classrooms, labs and study spaces on campus,” SAMRU says.
Breen says in order for herself and REC to advocate for students they need to hear more from those who feel they could be affected by the budget.
“We’re asking students to submit thoughts, opinions and personal stories about how they perceive this project will impact them,” Breen says. “And then we’re taking those stories to the board of governor’s meeting, we’re taking those stories to the Minister of Advanced Education and anyone around the table that has a say about the implications of this budget. We really need those stories right now.”
At the moment, Breen says not enough students at MRU have expressed their thoughts and opinions on the budget. She hopes more students will open up in order for the REC to work hard to advocate for students.
“I don’t have the mandate right now from [our] membership to do a whole lot because they’re pretty quiet right now. It’s interesting in comparison to other universities, like the University of Alberta where students, for example, are holding a demonstration because that’s how angry and vocal students are being,” Breen says.
Students can visit www. samru.ca/budget to find out more information and to send in their thoughts and concerns over the next few weeks.