Provincial shortcomings cut to the bone

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

Demonstrating an eye for investments worthy of the current economic climate, the provincial government has declined to increase the University of Calgary’s base operating budget this year. This decision, in tandem with the poor performance of the university’s endowment funds, has led to the loss of 200 positions at the U of C by fall.

It should be obvious that, with a dearth of jobs currently available, there will be a higher interest in university education in the foreseeable future. This tendency is happily acceded to by a cash-starved U of C, which will create another 1,500 full-time spaces this fall. It is not hard to see that there will be a difficulty in simultaneously increasing enrolment and cutting staff.

While the school’s financial woes are in part due to the poor performance of its own investments, the situation is not helped by the provincial government’s poor investment in the school. As many of its own constituents will want to spend their time during this lean job market pursuing higher education, it would be wise for the provincial government to increase post-secondary education funding, not flat-line it. As it is provincial legislation from the ’90s necessitating the U of C not run a deficit, the province has an added imperative to aid the university.

Investing the money now, while there is a larger than normal segment of the population likely to pursue PSE, will be to the province’s great benefit in the future. This will ensure that a more highly-educated populace is available when it is needed. Investing in education will also increase the province’s ability to retain highly educated workers, as a vibrant university community will lead to a more robust intellectual climate that will both be more rewarding and support more jobs.

It must be acknowledged that the province has increased funding each of the last few years and that they continue to support large projects such as the Taylor Family Digital Library. But this does not exempt them from the need to continue pursuing excellence in PSE. A willingness to look back on past achievements with a sense of satisfaction while failing to pursue future goals will only lead to the debasement of the institution. It is good to invest in buildings on campus, but without the proper staff to run the ones currently here, there is no way they are going to be used to the full advantage of either students or researchers.

It is unfortunate that the provincial government does not see the current opportunity to bring PSE in Alberta to new heights. But perhaps making a worthwhile investment now doesn’t interest them.

Cam Cotton-O’Brien

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