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U of S law students face first fee increase in five years

|Written By Kelly Harris

University of Saskatchewan law students are facing a 7.5-per-cent fee hike as the school struggles with a $9.65-million budget shortfall, and a loss of $10 million in its investment portfolio over the past year.

While the increase is more than double those being faced by some other programs at U of S, dean Brent Cotter says it comes on the heels of four consecutive years of frozen fees.

“Even with this increase, the tuition at our law school at about $7,300, continues, by some margin, to be the lowest of all the common law schools in Canada,” Cotter says, adding the school is a “pretty darn good law school at the same time.”

Law school fee increases outpacing other programs is par for the course, says Canadian Federation of Students national chairwoman Katherine Giroux-Bougard. She says the increase at the U of S law school means tuition will increase to $7,353 this year from $6,840 in the 2008-09 school year.

“Tuition fee increases for law schools are usually higher than other programs,” she says.

She says it is still below the national average of $7,720 per year, but if the school “continues the trend it will soon be above it.”

The national students group lobbies both federal and provincial governments for post-secondary funding. Giroux-Bougard says fee increases generally do not go to improve programs, but rather to make up for funding shortfalls.

Other programs at U of S are facing fee increases of three to four per cent. The university has also begun offering fewer courses and cutting back on hours of operations at campus libraries. Cotter says similar cost-saving measures are not being contemplated at the law school.

“We have been able to maintain all of our full program at the law school in the face of the budget reductions and have still been able to add modestly to our need-based financial aid fund for law students,” he says.

Cotter says the four-year U of S tuition freeze was achievable through an agreement with the province while the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party was in power under former premier Lorne Calvert.

“The University has authority over tuition rates,” says Cotter. “But it agreed to freeze tuitions in an arrangement with the provincial government where the provincial financial support to the university included amounts that represented what tuition increases would have generated had they occurred.

“The province essentially insulated the university from the financial consequences of foregone tuition increases.”

The arrangement continued after the election of Premier Brad Wall’s right-wing Saskatchewan Party in 2007, but ended this year, says Cotter.

Brett Fairbairn, provost and vice president academic, said in May the tuition increases reflect the downturn in the economy, made necessary because of investment income shortfalls. This included areas of pensions, endowment funds, and operating income from investments.

“Adjusting our operating budget by about three per cent will give the University of Saskatchewan the flexibility it needs to address the effects of the current unstable economic situation in a timely and sustainable way over the long term,” he said in a press release. “It will enable the university to keep pursuing our key goals, improving the student experience, and enhancing research and scholarship.”