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By Tim Shufelt

The bill has finally arrived. Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Chris Bentley announced on Wednesday that average fees across campus will increase by up to five per cent this September.

Most undergrads can expect to pay about $200 more next year. Ryerson Students’ Union Vice-President Education Nora Loreto said that’s too much. “(Students) got hit very hard with this announcement,” she said.

The government’s new tuition framework also allows for four per cent increases in each of the following three years. That would push a $5,000 undergraduate tuition close to $6,000 by September 2009. Bentley said the tuition increases must be considered an investment in post-secondary education.

“Students are being asked to contribute $1 extra for every $3 we’re putting in,” he said. “They are increases that are reasonable in light of what Ontarians are putting into the system.” Second-year nursing student Vlad Padure said the extra fees will mean extra hours at his part-time job.

In addition to a full-course load, Padure is working 18 hours each week. “I have little left besides working and class work — no time for a social life,” he said. “It’s stressful. There’s no time to breathe.”

But even if breathing is a luxury, Padure is confident that he will be able to keep up with his courses. He said the tuition hike will hit those with the lowest incomes the hardest. Loreto agrees. The tuition hike is “essentially a flat tax which disproportionately hurts the lowest-income people,” she said.

But Bentley says that the Liberals have taken measures to improve accessibility for low-income students. Before an institution may raise tuition fees, it must agree to the student access guarantee. This states that no qualified student will be prevented from attending a college or university because of financial need.

In addition to the guarantee, Bentley said the government has increased maximum loan limits, and enhanced debt reduction and interest relief programs. The government also reintroduced upfront grants for students from lower-income families that had been axed by Bob Rae’s NDP government.

Last Wednesday, Bentley announced that these grants will now be extended to students from families earning up to $75,000 per year. Ryerson President Sheldon Levy said he supports the tuition policy. He said Ryerson will receive an additional $4.8 million in tuition fees next year.

He said some of that money will be used to increase salaries and cover inflation. He also wants to create more study space and additional library and athletic resources, as well as develop graduate programs. “Students can at least be comfortable with the fact that they’ll be paying more, but they’ll also be getting more,” Levy said. “It allows for a big improvement to financial need and improvement to our reputation.” But Loreto said the new policy will only contribute to burgeoning student debt loads.

“I think it’s too bad that our president supports further indebting students at Ryerson, but it’s no surprise,” she said. “Students need to be outraged.”

That outrage began to surface during Bentley’s announcement. He was jeered by students who piled petitions at the foot of his podium. The following day, hundreds of students protested outside Bentley’s office. Bentley said he understood the reaction. “(No student) is going to be particularly thrilled about a price increase.”

He said he hopes that when people take the time to assess their approach they will agree that it’s reasonable and required.

“We do what we do because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. The rates of increase “were not determined on the basis of popularity — they were determined based on what was needed.”

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