Hopefully by now, students have heard of the deep cuts to education funding that Premier Allison Redford’s government announced in the spring provincial budget. Across the province, seven per cent was cut from post-secondary budgets, for a total of $147 million. This cut has affected schools differently. Mount Royal University was arguably hit the hardest, with a budget shortfall of $14 million, having suspended eight programs and looking to cut 600 full-load equivalent spots.
The University of Calgary has weathered the storm better this year, but will have to find between $20 and $25 million for the budget next year. The U of C has cut 200 seats in the faculty of arts, 30 nursing seats and 15 medical spots.
In April, following the announcement of the budget cuts, Redford announced a “tuition freeze,” which meant an additional $16.5 million for previously proposed 2.5 per cent tuition increases across the province. The U of C board of governors approved the tuition increase, which was the full amount they could approve under the regulations that state tuition increases can’t exceed the consumer price index for the year. While Redford called this a “freeze,” it’s really a one-time subsidy. Students will still pay the full amount next year for tuition. Redford is just hoping that with this announcement, students will not notice the cuts as much.
Advanced Education minister Thomas Lukaszuk doesn’t think that the cuts will affect students’ education. “They will continue to attend some of the best institutions in Canada and will not notice any appreciable change on campus,” he said. “Students have many more bona fide problems to worry about. I can assure them they will receive a second-to-none education. There won’t be any hardship.”
While he does have a point in saying that Albertan post-secondary schools still receive a lot of funding — the second highest in the country — saying that there won’t be any hardship is laughable. There will be larger class sizes and fewer instructors, and while future repercussions are hard to predict, investing in post-secondary training helps prepare the economy and culture for years to come. Also, the quality of a university education isn’t solely measured by how many students are enrolled or how many professors there are. Being able to access services, scholarships, extra-curricular activities and learning opportunities beyond the classroom also add to the student experience, and cuts to these services just come back to students in the form of mandatory non-instructional fees.
Redford tried to make the point that universities, colleges and technical institutions should work together to teach Alberta students, and that institutions should specialize in different areas, for example, asking, “Do we need to have a political science faculty at every university, at every university and post-secondary institution across this province where every single one of them is aspiring to be the same? Do we? I don’t think so.”
While the idea of specializing holds some value, the implentation has failed. Campus Alberta, an organization charged with co-ordinating post-secondary institutions across the province by sharing resources, eliminating redundant programs and lowering the cost of post-secondary sounds good on paper. However, Campus Alberta was criticized this July by Alberta Auditor General Merwin Saher, who said that the organization lacks a clear plan, communicates its goals poorly with the schools and is generally unsustainable in its current form. So to no one’s surprise, the organization meant to reduce ineffective and wasteful institutions actually just adds to the mess.
The Alberta government needs to stop breaking promises. They promised an increase to funding and made cuts instead. They touted efficiency and coordination among post-secondary institutions and just made the bureaucracy worse. While there is room for improvement and increased efficiency in Alberta’s post-secondary landscape, the government needs to get their act together or leave the schools alone. The uncertainty of how the universities are going to get by this year and in the years to come is frustrating for everyone.