News / Calgary

Alberta post-secondary budget cuts should not have led to fee increases: Minister

Fees charged to Alberta post-secondary students for things like parking, housing and other services should not have been impacted by cuts to provincial funding, says the advanced education minister.

Thomas Lukaszuk said the government never provided its Campus Alberta grants, which were unexpectedly trimmed 7.3 per cent in March budget, to offset the costs for non-instructional offerings.

"It's a fair comment from students that they're getting nickel-and-dimed not from this pocket but the other pocket," Lukaszuk said, noting the province did freeze tuition. "We cut the operating budget of schools. We never funded those services, so they shouldn't have been using the government of Alberta to operate those services."

At Mount Royal University, a $120 student services fee was introduced and parking passes were also hiked $20 per month.

"The introduction of a fee at Mount Royal will protect key student services and result in an additional $2.2 million in annual revenues to address the budget challenge," reads a statement on the university's website under the heading "Budget FAQ."

Saddiq Valliani, president of the university students' association, said he hopes for better consultation with students on non-instructional fees going forward.

"As the semester goes on, budgets will get tighter," he said. "So, I think the true magnitude of this impact will be felt later on in the semester. At the end of the day, students are being burdened with a greater cost . . . we're in favour of fees being regulated — all fees, all costs to students."

The University of Calgary had already introduced its own services fee in 2010, well before the budget cuts. It topped out at $450 per student this year.

However, a March town hall presentation at the university discussing how to overcome the 2013-14 budget gap did leave "parking revenue" and "overhead fees" on the table as possible sources of additional revenue.

Conner Brown, vice-president external with the university Students' Union, said his organization is meeting with university administrators twice a month this semester to address "transparency around the (services) fee."

"This fee really only pays for existing services," he said. "We haven't really see an expansion of services since this fee came in, and that's really one of our main concerns at this point."

SAIT Polytechnic did raise parking rates $5 per month and $1 per day this fall, but spokesperson Melanie Simmons said that was purely to keep the service "self-supporting."

But Lukaszuk wondered whether institutions would be better served by outsourcing services altogether.

"For example, is parking a core business for universities or a college?" he questioned. "Why do they have to be the bad guy on parking? Maybe that's something that should be outsourced and run by those who actually are good at delivering parking services."

Lukaszuk noted that many schools used to run their own food services in-house but have recently transitioned away from that approach.

When asked whether he would consider regulating non-instructional fees at Alberta post-secondary institutions, Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he feared it would appear too much like the government was "micro-managing."

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