Tuition fee freeze to continue: Clark

Tuition fees will remain frozen for a fourth year at B.C.'s post-secondary institutions.

In announcing the decision, Premier Glen Clark said the provincial government's post-secondary education strategy for 1999-2000 also includes the creation of 2,900 new student spaces. An additional $7.7 million will be spent on student financial assistance.

"Our commitment to improving access to post-secondary education is part of our goal to diversify and strengthen B.C.'s economy," says Clark who is also minister responsible for youth.

Of the new spaces, 700 will be in high-tech programs, adding to 500 created last year.

According to government figures, the average undergraduate tuition in B.C. is $2,280 compared to $3,490 in Ontario and $3,260 in Alberta.

Increased provincial government support for student financial assistance brings the total to $126.5 million -- more than double the figure in 1991, says Clark.

"Our commitment to maintaining the tuition freeze, bolstering student financial assistance and creating new spaces ensures the education people need is available at a cost that doesn't force them to mortgage their futures," says Andrew Petter, minister of Advanced Education, Training and Technology.

Clark and Petter say B.C.'s access plan is working and that enrolment has increased as a direct result of increased funding and frozen fees.

Since 1991, the number of students at B.C. post-secondary institutions has increased by 10 per cent, while in the rest of Canada it has declined by 4.4 per cent.

In a report released last month by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, UBC Economics Prof. Robert Allen noted spending on colleges and universities has increased much more rapidly in the 1990s in B.C. than elsewhere in Canada and enrolment has expanded.

However, in "The Education Dividend" Allen notes post-secondary enrolment has not been much greater than population growth with the result that participation rates did not rise sharply.

Class sizes have also grown substantially at B.C. universities because enrolment has been increased without significant corollary increases in the number of full-time faculty, the report says.

In addition to freezing tuition fees, Allen's report recommended the government significantly increase educational spending in order to achieve its stated objectives of economic development and greater access.