B.C. political parties on tuition fees

Liberals to continue caps, NDP promises a freeze, Greens pledge 20% reduction


British Columbians will go to the polls in a provincial general election on Tuesday, May 12. The major political parties are offering the following directions for tuition fee policy:

After having deregulated fees during their first term starting in 2002, the B.C. Liberals are pledging to continue with capping increases to the rate of inflation. The NDP is promising a freeze, while the B.C. Greens would roll back fees by 20 percent. The B.C. Conservatives would give tax incentives to new graduates moving into industries with skills shortages.


B.C. political parties on tuition fees

  1. It should be noted that the “B.C. Conservatives” are a fringe party with less of a fighting chance than the Green Party. They don’t have any relationship to Canada’s Tory tradition.

    It’s a common mistake – because BC is weird.

  2. Did BC deregulate fees? I know they allowed them to rise by about 55% in the first two years of the Campbell government, but I did not think they had been deregulated.

    Or is this just a continuation of the general sloppiness of language in the policy debate on fees where increase = deregulation, cost-recovery = private, etc.?

  3. Interesting observation Alex. Would you kindly enlighten us with the proper definition of tuition fee deregulation?

  4. I agree with Alex: Let’s split hairs about terminology rather than debate the damage introduced by the tuition fee increases in BC.

  5. Well, what’s the evidence on “damage”, Peter? My view would be that it was not principally on access. Most institutions plowed the extra money in capacity, so there was a fairly large increase in the number of students attending university. And studies at universities have shown the pattern of applications didn’t change, either – that is, applicants and enrolments were still drawn from the same neighbourhoods, which suggests strongly that it didn’t have any significant composition effects either. But if you’ve got some other data to discuss, by all means present it and let’s discuss it.

    Dale, de-regulation implies that institutions themselves set fees at whatever level they think the traffic can bear and that the government does not impose a limit. So raising the limit on tuition fees significantly (as, for instance, BC did in ’02 or QC did when it ended its freeze a few years ago) isn’t de-regulation, it’s just a regulated increase in fees. True de-regulations are rarer – in Ontario around 1997 the government allowed de-regulation of professional and graduate tuition as well as de-regulation of international student fees.

    The policy implications of the two policies are quite different, I think. If a government says through regulation that fees should be X, then presumably it has a resoponsibility to provide student aid up to that level. If it de-regulates fees, then institutions themselves tend to bear more reponsibility for the consequences of increasing fees (hence, in Ontario, the required set-asides for student aid, the limits on tuition in the calculation of need, etc.)

  6. re: “raising the limit on tuition fees significantly . . . isn’t de-regulation”. This is a fairly rigid way of looking at the subject – one that seems to preclude discussion of the varying degrees of regulation that tuition fees are subject to.

  7. Could you explain what you mean by “varying degrees of regulation”? I’m not quite sure I’m catching your drift.

    In practice, tuition is regulated everywhere in Canada at the moment, except among private institutions (such as Quest) which do not receive core operating grants. Yes, these regulation are allowing fees to rise at different rates in different provinces (and that’s not unimportant), but it’s an abuse of language to state that because they are rising quickly, they are deregulated (which is how I understood the author of the original article to be using the term).

  8. As to what is deregulation and regulation, let’s see what the BC Government said …

    February 11, 2002

    “VICTORIA – B.C.’s public post-secondary institutions will be granted autonomy in setting their tuition fee levels, Advanced Education Minister Shirley Bond announced today.”


    February 8, 2005


    VICTORIA – Making British Columbia the best-educated and most literate place in North America is one of the five Great Goals For A Golden Decade outlined in today’s throne speech, said Premier Gordon Campbell. …

    “We understand that tuition costs are a concern to many B.C. families. To address that concern, we will introduce legislation later this year that will limit future tuition increases to the rate of inflation, effective this September.”


    In my mind, and indeed as actually was the case:

    Autonomy = Deregulation

    Limit Tuition Fee Increases = Regulation

    So, tuition fees at BC public post-secondary institutions were deregulated for the 2002/03, 2003/04, 2004/05 academic years and re-regulated starting with the 2005/06 academic year.

    Prior to this, fees had been unregulated up until about the 1994/95 academic year (I’d have to search through my files to confirm the date) and then went through a period of “soft” regulation. Tuition fees were formally regulated in legislation with the 1996/97 academic year:


    This act expired on December 31, 2000 as per section 10 of the Act:


    10 This Act expires on December 31, 2000.”

    So, contrary to what Alex said, we did in fact have complete deregulation of fees in BC prior to about 1994/95 and for the period 2002/03 to 2004/05 just as the original author of the article suggested.

  9. I was actually asked a question about BC rather than stating a fact. But thanks for clearing up the history of it.

    I agree completely with your definitions.

    There’s also that wierd situation we’ve had occasionally where tuition has not been formally regulated (no regs, no laws) but provincial minsters have made it perfectly clear to universities that tuition must not rise more than “X”, or bad things will happen. I believe both NB and NS had this situation at various times in the 90s. Is that what you mean by “soft regulation”?

  10. Yes, that’s exactly what happened in BC. Originally, during the NDP’s first mandate in 2001-2006, government “suggested” to institutions that tuition fees should not increase more than x%. When that proved ineffective, institutions were told that they risked having their operating grants reduced by tuition fees in excess of the government “guidelines”. Perhaps “informal regulation” is a better term than “soft regulation”.

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