Opinion

Alberta’s undergraduate tuition is lower than Canadian average

Alberta is home to incredible post-secondary institutions. Our universities achieve high global rankings and our colleges and polytechnics deliver robust applied programming across the province. There is no question that our post-secondary institutions have a critical role to play in our province’s economic recovery. They help ensure our province has a highly skilled workforce, and through ground-breaking research, they are essential to driving innovation. This being said, our province is facing some challenging financial times and it is becoming increasingly difficult for Alberta to have one of the highest funded post-secondary systems in the country.

Alberta’s post-secondary institutions rely far more on taxpayer funding as a revenue source than in other provinces. According to 2016-17 data, Alberta taxpayers fund 54 per cent of the operations of their post-secondary institutions. In BC, taxpayers fund 45 percent, and in Ontario, they fund 36 per cent. In Alberta, tuition revenue funds 18 per cent of post-secondary operations, whereas tuition revenue funds 28 per cent of operations in BC and 25 per cent in Ontario. Other provinces have found ways for post-secondary institutions to deliver high-quality education, engage in innovative research and help to create a better society with less taxpayer funding, and I believe Alberta can do the same.

To compare in more detail, in 2017-18, taxpayer funding for general operations was $18,179 per student at the University of Alberta and $16,596 at the University of Calgary. Total funding per student at the University of British Columbia was $12,233, and $9,567 at McMaster University. In fact, across the U-15, a group of Canadian Research Universities, the top two highest-funded institutions on a per students basis in all of Canada were the U of A and the U of C.

With this in mind, the solution does not mean raising tuition to cover the difference. Tuition must remain affordable and accessible, which is why Alberta’s government has created new scholarships and why there are tight regulations around tuition increases, including a maximum cap. Today, Alberta’s average undergraduate tuition is $6,098 while tuition in Ontario is $7,938 and the national average is $6,580.

Apart from dealing with the challenges of today, we must also prepare for tomorrow. That is why we are building a ten-year strategic plan for the post-secondary sector. This will be the first time in decades that Alberta’s post-secondary system will have a comprehensive strategic vision for the future. Together with students, professors, employers and others, we’ve conducted the largest and most robust engagement effort in decades with over 100 one-on-one interviews, 30 roundtable discussions, six public town halls and online surveys.

Alberta 2030: Building Skills for Jobs is focused on helping our young people develop the skills, knowledge and competencies they need to succeed in whatever career they choose. This is the essence of Skills for Jobs. The Alberta 2030 strategy will be released shortly, and one of its key objectives will be to make Alberta a leader in work-integrated learning. I believe that every student should have the opportunity to participate in work-integrated learning opportunities. Alberta 2030 will also seek to modernize Alberta’s apprenticeship system. Work will begin this spring with new legislation, and soon, Alberta will lead Canada in developing modern apprenticeships for a modern economy. During these challenging economic times, our students will benefit immensely from stronger connections between education and employment.

When we emerge from the pandemic, we must ensure that our graduates have the necessary skills and training needed to accelerate our economic recovery. Through Alberta 2030, we will create stronger connections between our post-secondary institutions and employers, strengthen our institutions’ innovation capacity, and be ready to meet future challenges.

Demetrios Nicolaides is the Minister of Advanced Education.

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