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Alberta budget promises millions for PSE

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The 2006 Alberta provincial budget holds a few good things for students, like, oh, the largest single-year increase in post-secondary education spending ever. Over $350 million will be added to Advanced Education's budget, a 19 per cent increase that will bring spending to $2.2 billion dollars for PSE.

Highlights of Advanced Education's portion of the budget include $87 million in on-going funding to keep tuition at 2004-05 levels. The money will be included in institutions' operating budgets, meaning the government has pledged to pay for tuition increases at public post-secondary institutions again this fall. Advanced Education is also promising to base a new tuition policy on 2004-05 levels, though full details won't be available until fall 2006, and the policy won't take effect until 2007.

University of Calgary Students' Union vice-president external Jen Smith said these early details of the new tuition policy aren't very encouraging, but noted the government is still at the drawing board. Smith chairs the Council of Alberta University Students, which is calling for a tuition roll-back to 1999-2000 levels.

"I'm still optimistic we can do better than 2004-05," she said, noting the overall amount of funding is a step in the right direction.

SU president Bryan West was not surprised, but happy with the announcements.

"The budget fulfills a lot of commitments we already knew about," said West. "Overall, Advanced Education seems to be consistently coming out as a winner over the past two years. It wasn't going to happen in a one-year fix."

Other highlights include six per cent annual increases to base operating grants from 2006-09, $61 million in funding to address enrollment growth, $1.1 billion for capital projects over the next three years, $45 million from the Access to the Future Fund and $27.1 million for apprenticeship training.

"Post-secondary education remains a top government priority and our record-breaking budget of $2.2 billion backs up that promise," said Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock.

West feels there's a ways to go.

"Klein talks about creating a system that will be unrivalled internationally," he said. "We're still not up to national standards yet."

The budget was released late Wed., Mar. 22, so check out the Gauntlet next week for coverage.

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