Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 3, 2003
Keep universality at the U of A
The Alberta and federal governments are jeopardizing the province's and country's long-term development - both economic and social - by their consistent under-funding of post-secondary education. The Alberta government's plan to increase grants to the University of Alberta by a mere two per cent this year has led the university to institute massive tuition fee increases and differential fees for students in medicine, law and MBA programs.
While the average tuition fee increase will be 6.9 per cent this fall, medical students will see their tuition increase from $5,674 this year to $12,066 in 2005. Increases of a similar magnitude are slated for MBA and law students.
These huge increases will have the obvious effect of making those professions less accessible to students from low- and middle-income families. They will tend to ossify the social structure where future lawyers and doctors are much more likely to be the children of today's lawyers and doctors. Membership in these professions will tend to become a hereditary privilege, rather than an opportunity open to all.
Also, graduating students will be unlikely to go into less conventional, but valuable aspects of their professions that do not pay as high a salary. So much for going to Africa or even the inner city for five years to meet a social need, rather than one's own financial needs. Or taking on a relatively low-paying job in environmental law. Gigantic student loans will be calling and they must be paid.
As such, the differential tuition fees will have the effect of ensuring that even more new professionals will go into the most financially lucrative aspects of their professions. Stereotypes about money-grubbing doctors and lawyers will have, by necessity, a greater resonance with reality.
The University of Western Ontario introduced differential tuition fees in 1998. The average income of families of students in the affected faculties rose from $84,000 in 1997 to $140,000 today.
It doesn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be this way. Manitoba has managed to lower university tuition fees, despite the federal cutbacks of the mid-1990s. Quebec still has average tuition fees of less than $2,000 a year.
A university education is something that ought to be highly valued by provincial governments. A well-educated workforce is essential to future economic development. Further, a society that makes a liberal arts education accessible to all is one that is committed to nurturing its mind and soul over the long haul.
Alberta used to pride itself on being a land of opportunity. But now the opportunities are being reserved, more and more, for the already well-heeled.
Nor are differential tuition fees in the province's own long-term economic interest. Alberta has benefitted for decades from graduates of universities in other provinces coming here to work. But those days will not last forever. In Ireland, they have built an economic boom on their own people . . . and on a post-secondary education system with free tuition.
Why can we not do the same in Alberta? We have government surpluses today to invest in the province's future. We have the resources to build a first-class university system with smaller classes and lower tuition fees. Such a system could help today's students become critical and creative thinkers who make Alberta a society that is more developed, both economically and socially.
Unfortunately, today's politicians seem unable to see past the next budget and the next election. The society of 30 and 40 years from now will reflect the decisions they make today. We encourage the leaders of today to make decisions that will make for a better world for our children and grandchildren. A more dynamic and accessible post-secondary education system is one goal they must strive towards.
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