Opinions on the Market Modifier

Law Centre

Why the Faculty Should Impose a Market Modifier

Iain Walker (3L)

Iain Walker serves as VP Social for the LSA.

A market modifier (MM) is a tool, used by the University of Alberta and the Government of Alberta to bypass restrictive tuition regulations. MMs provide flexibility to ensure that certain faculties and degree programs remain competitive with other similar programs across the country. While no one wants to pay more money for their university education, the fact of the matter is that an increase in tuition is absolutely necessary to ensure that our degrees retain their value over time, and that U of A Law grads remain competitive in an increasingly tight legal job market.

Tuition is currently tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that allows for a mere ~1.5% increase per year. Couple this tiny annual increase with the Government’s recent decision to slash the University’s funding, which resulted in massive cuts at the Faculty of Law, and we find ourselves in the current untenable position where, among other things, 1Ls are taught Property Law in a 180 student class. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am basically the President of the Professor Ziff Appreciation Society. That said, it’s simply not possible that this year’s crop of 1L students are being provided the same level of exposure and one-on-one instruction in Property Law, as they are in their other classes, despite Professor Ziff’s adorable quirkiness and genius level instruction.

This has resulted in a Law Faculty that is hamstrung by insufficient funding. We have lost professors and, in turn, course offerings have been reduced and class sizes (first year Property being only one of MANY examples) increased. Furthermore, the Faculty has lost a large portion of its support staff and, if this situation is not remedied, we run the risk of losing our best professors to institutions where they are not forced to do the myriad of administrative tasks they have been forced to take on. Drawing an analogy, imagine what would happen if you took all of the legal assistants out of a law firm; there would be a mass exodus!

The fact of the matter is that Law students at the U of A compete for articling positions with students from across the country (and sometimes from around the world). Furthermore, with the addition of new law schools in Ontario, BC, and potentially in Newfoundland, the strain on the legal job market is not likely to let up any time soon. In this environment, it is absolutely fundamental to ensure that U of A law students have access to a full arsenal of legal training and real world experience. This applies to the legal education we receive in school, as well as it does to the reputation of our degrees long term.

And that, my friends, is why this Faculty needs to take advantage of the flexibility a market modifier provides. Law school is an investment, and a tuition increase will give the Faculty the resources it needs to ensure the investments we all are making remain valuable.


Why the Faculty Should not Impose a Market Modifier

Karsten Erzinger (1L)

Like many students, I was surprised and a little annoyed when the proposed market modifier was announced out of the blue. Upon examining the proposal, you’ll find that for the additional thousands of dollars coming out of everyone’s pockets, we’re not getting much in return.

One of the repeated reasons for the market modifier is that all the other schools are doing it, so we should too. While that is suspect on its own, what’s even more dubious is the claim that we need to increase the price tag for law school in order to “remain competitive.” For some reason, law school is unlike anything else in the world in that offering a comparable product at a cheaper price than your competitors makes you less competitive.

Our law school has a good reputation, well-respected professors, and resides in the best legal market in the country; I’m a little confused as to how having cheaper tuition than our competitors would make us less attractive for prospective students. In fact, having lower tuition might be enough to lure more students from competing schools, which could raise our admission stats. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it is simply counter-intuitive and rather illogical to think that we would become more competitive by increasing costs for students.

The second problem with the proposal – and this is something that most students should take issue with – is that 20% of the increase is going towards “needs-based student aid support.” This is a textbook political move being utilized to blunt criticism and increase support for the market modifier. Another way of thinking about this is that some students will be subsidizing a portion of other students’ legal education. The proponents of the market modifier are trying to bribe students with their own money by dangling this promise in front of them as some sort of silver lining, when what it truly amounts to is wealth redistribution.

Here’s an idea: why not simply decrease the proposed market modifier increase by 20% and pass along the savings to every student? Why must we take money from students, place it in a pool, and then hand it out to a select few?  We’re being told that these substantial increases need to happen, but that we should be happy that some of us will get a portion of that money back. Sorry, but that’s anything but a silver lining.

These are merely two of the many points of contention with the proposed market modifier. The bottom line is that there has been little in the way of justification or reasons offered for the fee increase, apart from some bland but polished talking points.